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Saddam Legally Transferred to Iraqi Custody - 2004-06-30

Iraq on Wednesday officially took legal custody of former dictator Saddam Hussein along with 11 of his top lieutenants. Most Iraqis say they are happy Saddam will face legal proceedings.

Saddam Hussein lost his prisoner of war status Wednesday when he officially became a detainee of the Iraqi criminal justice system. For the time being, however, he will remain in the physical custody of the coalition forces.

The former Iraqi leader and 11 top members of his regime were transferred to the legal custody of Iraq where they will face charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, including those stemming from the 1980s Iran-Iraq war; the 1988 gassing of Kurds in northern Iraq and the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

It is believed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were ordered executed and buried in mass graves during the more than three decades of Saddam Hussein's rule.

The overwhelming majority of Iraqis say they are pleased the former dictator will face trial. Among them is medical surgeon, Dr. Ghaib al-Kassam.

"There was a lot of suffering. It was something that you can't imagine. Saddam's regime was something that you can't describe. It's probably the worst dictatorship the world has ever seen or will ever see again," Dr. al-Kassam said.

The former Iraqi leader and the 11 other defendants were told Wednesday they would be formally charged Thursday before a special Iraqi tribunal judge.

Several reports indicated that Saddam was said to look stunned Wednesday when he was informed he is now under Iraq's criminal justice system. It was reported he wanted to ask a few questions, but was told he would have to wait until he is formally charged Thursday.

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said Tuesday that Saddam would receive a fair and open trial but that it would take several months before court proceedings actually begin.

Interior ministry officials have said that some of the other defendants may be offered plea bargains in exchange for cooperation in proving Iraq's legal case against Saddam. The officials say it is unlikely that he will be the first to be tried.

Iraq's interim President Ghazi al-Yawar was quoted as saying Iraq would reinstate the country's death penalty and that Saddam could face that penalty if found guilty.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces will maintain physical custody of the defendants to assure their safety.