Chalabi: Politics afoot in Saddam trial.

The former director of the Iraqi war crimes tribunal said that interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has taken over the court and could rush forward with "show trials" of Saddam Hussein and other former Iraqi leaders to boost his popularity before nationwide elections scheduled for January.

In an e-mailed statement Thursday, Salem Chalabi, the former chairman of the Iraqi Special Tribunal, urged the international community to prevent Allawi's government from politicizing the trials.

Allawi has said he wants the trials to begin sooner than the one or two years the court argues it needs to delve into tons of documents and prepare to prosecute Saddam and the top members of his regime. Allawi replaced Chalabi with a member of his own party - though Chalabi insists the move was illegitimate.

In August, Iraq's Central Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant on murder charges for Chalabi, and the court said it wanted Chalabi's uncle, prominent exile politician Ahmad Chalabi, on counterfeit charges.

Those charges have since been dropped, but the murder investigation into the death of a Foreign Ministry official continues, Chalabi said.

"These murder charges were concocted in order to discredit me and the Iraqi Special Tribunal," he said.

Chalabi said his ouster was a violation of the court's U.S.-written founding law, which appointed him for a three-year term and holds the tribunal as independent from the government.

In addition, Chalabi said the court's independence was preventing the Iraqi government from granting amnesty to former top members of Saddam's government, who were worried about being indicted for previous crimes.

Chalabi said "the most senior" officials in Allawi's government asked him to resign from the tribunal on different occasions, but he has refused. He said the same officials urged the Central Court to issue and publicize the arrest warrant on murder charges, making it difficult for him to return to Iraq or maintain control over the court.

The Yale University-educated lawyer was in Britain when the charges were announced. "The caretaker government wants to begin the trials, and possibly even conclude them, before the Iraqi elections scheduled for late January because they believe this will help their popularity in the country," Chalabi said in the statement. "In addition, the accused have not had access to lawyers. How could fair trials begin quickly without the accused having access to legal counsel?"

He said the investigations were not ready for indictments or trials that would meet minimum legal standards.

"It is increasingly clear that the interim government does not intend to honor these principles," he said.

[Source: The Associated Press, Baghdad, Irq, 25Sep04]

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