Iraq's Prime Minister Iyad Allawi declared that Saddam Hussein will be handed over to Iraqi custody on Wednesday and face charges before an Iraqi court the following day.
Allawi made the announcement during his first news conference held since the U.S.-led coalition transferred sovereignty to the Iraqi interim government.
"We will see the commencement of legal proceedings against Saddam Hussein and others," he said.
Allawi promised an open proceeding.
Saddam will appear before an Iraqi judge to face charges related to his 23 years of rule, Allawi said. However, he will remain in a U.S.-run jail because the Iraqi government lacks a suitable prison.
"The accused will be afforded the right to counsel," he said. "The accused may not be held to testify against themselves and may remain silent."
The trials for Saddam and 11 others will not occur for months and he urged the Iraqi people to be patient.
Lawyer contests Saddam handover
A day earlier, the Jordanian lawyer claiming to represent Saddam said the ousted leader should be released because handing him over to Iraq’s new government would violate international law.
Ziad al-Khasawneh, one of 20 Jordanian and foreign lawyers appointed by Saddam’s wife, Sajidah, said the United States has no legal basis to keep prisoners, including Saddam, now that it has transferred authority to an interim Iraqi government.
“International law dictates that in such a situation, the occupation authority must release all prisoners of war — including Mr. President Saddam — and let them choose to leave to any country they wish to go to and under the protection of the occupying power and the United Nations,” al-Khasawneh told The Associated Press.
“The United States would violate international law if it handed the president (Saddam) or other prisoners of war over to the interim Iraqi government.”
Saddam was granted prisoner of war status after his capture. Although he is alleged to have committed crimes against his own people, he has not been charged with any offense.
Saddam to be tried for alleged atrocities
The Iraqi Special Tribunal, established six months ago, is expected to try Saddam for atrocities committed during his 23 years as president, including the deaths of some 300,000 people.
Al-Khasawneh said the defense team — which has enlisted 1,500 other lawyers from across the Arab world, Europe and the United States since Saddam’s capture in December — sent letters to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations, the U.S. Embassy in Jordan and other diplomatic missions urging them to help free Saddam.
One letter, addressed to the Red Cross, said the coalition authority should have released all Iraqi prisoners of war, including Saddam, when President Bush announced the end of military operations in May 2003.
“Under the law, all Iraqi prisoners should have been freed, especially since none of them was charged,” said the letter made available to the AP.
Al-Khasawneh said a similar letter also was sent to Qatar’s emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, because of news reports suggesting the Iraqi president may have been held in Qatar.