BAGHDAD, Jan 14: The chief judge in the trial of Saddam Hussein has tendered his resignation in protest against pressure from the Iraqi government on himself and the court, a source close to the judge said on Saturday.

The revelation will fuel argument over the US-backed government’s ability to give the former president a fair trial in the middle of the bitter sectarian and ethnic conflict that has raged since Saddam Hussein’s overthrow three years ago.

High Tribunal officials were trying to talk Kurdish judge Rizgar Amin out of his decision, the source said, adding that Mr Amin was reluctant to stay because Shia leaders had criticized him for being too lenient on Saddam Hussein in court.

“He tendered his resignation to the court a few days ago but the court rejected it. Now talks are under way to convince him to go back on his decision,” the source said. “He’s under a lot of pressure; the whole court is under political pressure.

“He had complaints from the government that he was being too soft in dealing with Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants. They (government leaders) want things to go faster.”

International human rights lawyers have long urged US officials and the new Iraqi government to turn Saddam and his aides over to an international court abroad.

DEFENCE SCORN: “The defence team has long warned about the dangers of political pressure that has undermined the court’s independence and integrity,” Saddam’s chief attorney, Khalil Dulaimi, said.

“We expect the political pressures to mount on the court after ... the farce it has turned out to be,” he said.

“Regardless of whether the chief judge stays or faces are changed this will not alter the defence refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a court created by the illegal occupation.”

The source close to Mr Amin said: “There’s too much pressure ... it is a question of integrity ... I am not sure if he will go back on his decision. I don’t think it’s possible.”

Spokesmen for the High Tribunal were not available for comment on

a weekend following the Eidul

Azha holiday.

The first of an expected series of trials concerns the deaths of over 140 Shias from the town of Dujail after a failed bid to assassinate Saddam in 1982. The former leader and seven others are charged with crimes against humanity.

There is already a precedent in the trial, which opened on Oct 19, for replacing one of the panel of five judges — who quit to avoid a potential conflict of interest — so in principle Mr Amin’s departure may cause little upset.—Reuters

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