updated 1/17/2006 8:11:36 AM ET 2006-01-17T13:11:36

The chief judge who resigned from handling the Saddam Hussein trial amid claims of government interference is expected to be replaced by his deputy, the top Iraqi investigator in the case said Tuesday.

Judge Raid Juhi, who investigated Saddam before his trial started but is not one of the judges trying the deposed Iraqi leader, said the court was set up under a law stipulating the chief judge’s deputy would take over for him if need be. Saad al-Hamash is the second-ranking member of the five-judge tribunal headed by Rizgar Mohammed Amin.

The tribunal said Amin wanted to quit for “personal reasons” and not because of government pressure. His resignation was not expected to prevent the trial from resuming Jan. 24 as scheduled.

Also Tuesday, violence flared in Baghdad and in the northern city of Kirkuk, with gunmen killing at least eight Iraqis, including a senior army commander and his brother.

Col. Hussein Shiaa, commander of the 2nd Battalion of the Iraqi Army’s 4th Brigade, and his brother were abducted Sunday when they were leaving their base in Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, said army intelligence officer Capt. Ibrahim Abdullah. Their bodies were found riddled with bullet wounds Tuesday in western Baghdad’s dangerous al-Baiyaa district.

A police lieutenant was also gunned down in his car while driving through al-Baiyaa Tuesday morning, according to Lt. Mutaz Salahuldin. Two hours later, drive-by gunmen shot dead three more men — including an auto mechanic and his son — in the same area.

In Kirkuk, masked gunmen killed two people and wounded three in attacks on the regional headquarters of Iraq’s anti-corruption Integrity Commission and the nearby offices of the Kurdistan People’s Party, said police Capt. Farhad al-Talabani. Police suspect the attacks were linked.

Al-Talabani earlier said erroneously that the headquarters of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq was the site of the first attack.

Kirkuk, about 180 miles north of Baghdad, is a hotbed of ethnic tensions claimed by Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen.

Naval clash with Iran?
In southern Iraq, the governor of Basra accused Iranian naval forces of killing one Iraqi sailor and capturing nine others during a skirmish Saturday near the Shatt al-Arab waterway, or Arvand River.

Gov. Mohammed al-Waeli said the clash occurred after an Iraqi Navy ship spotted a suspicious merchant vessel flying an Iraqi flag and carrying smuggled Iraqi diesel. Al-Waeli claimed the merchant ship radioed Iranian forces for help and an Iranian Navy ship attacked the Iraqi patrol.

“We denounce this aggression by the Iranian navy against our vessels inside Iraqi waters and we are making contacts with the Iranians to ensure the release of those who were captured,” al-Waeli said.

No Iranian comment was immediately available.

The waterway runs along the Iran-Iraq border and has long been a source of tension between Iran and Iraq. The 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war broke out after Saddam claimed the entire waterway for Iraq.

Trial background
Saddam and seven co-defendants are accused in the slayings of more than 140 Shiites in the town of Dujail in 1982. His trial recessed on Dec. 22 after two days of testimony. Conviction could bring a sentence of death by hanging.

Amin would be the second judge to step down in the case. Another member of the panel removed himself in late November because one of the co-defendants may have been involved in the execution of his brother. That judge was replaced.

Amin, whose resignation has not yet been officially accepted, has become fed up with criticism that he has let the proceedings spin out of control, a court official said Saturday.

Saddam has often grabbed the spotlight during the nearly three-month-old trial, railing at Amin, refusing to show up at one session, claiming he was tortured and openly praying in court when the judge would not allow a recess.

Since the trial opened on Oct. 19, two defense lawyers also have been assassinated and a third has fled the country. Police also uncovered a plot to fire rockets at the courtroom in late November.

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