updated 2/7/2007 7:50:58 PM ET 2007-02-08T00:50:58

The only defendant acquitted in the trial that ended with Saddam Hussein and two of his top henchmen convicted and hanged was released Wednesday, an aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said.

The U.S. military had handed over Mohammed Azzawi into the custody of the Iraqi government last week, more than three months after he was acquitted, said aide Bassam Redha. He said the delay was due to legal procedures.

Azzawi and seven other defendants went on trial in 2005 for the killings of 148 Shiites after a 1982 attempt on Saddam’s life in the mainly Shiite town of Dujail, north of Baghdad.

The court sentenced Saddam, his half brother Barzan Ibrahim and Bandar Awad, former head of the Revolutionary Court, to death on Nov. 5. Saddam was hanged Dec. 30 and the other two last month.

Saddam’s former deputy, Taha Yassin Ramadan, was sentenced to life in prison, but an appeals court is expected to change that to death by hanging. Three other defendants were sentenced to 15 years in jail.

Redha said the government is providing Azzawi with protection and that he was given the choice of living in Iraq or moving abroad for his safety. He declined to say what Azzawi planned to do.

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