BAGHDAD, Iraq - Lawyers with the Iraqi Special Tribunal will likely center their case against Saddam Hussein on 12 charges of crimes against humanity selected from up to 500 cases that they could bring against the deposed leader, an Iraqi government spokesman said yesterday.
The lawyers will be focusing on 12 charges as a matter of expediency, said Laith Kuba, an Iraqi government spokesman. Even before the capture of Hussein in December 2003, tribunal lawyers were gathering evidence against Hussein and other high-ranking Baath Party loyalists.
"We are sure that these 12 charges are enough to bring Saddam severe punishment," Kuba said. "There is no use wasting time in dealing with them all."
It is the first time the Iraqi government has stated the exact number of charges that Hussein will face, but Kuba did not detail them yesterday. Kuba reiterated the government's intention to get the trial started in about two months, repeating a statement Iraqi President Jalal Talabani made last week.
The Associated Press reported that Issam Ghazawi, a Jordan-based spokesman for Hussein's legal team, criticized Kuba's comments, saying: "It's illegal to issue charges against the Iraqi president this way."
By scheduling an early trial for Hussein on a fraction of the accusations against him, the Iraqi Special Tribunal has effectively given in to pressure from Iraq's transitional government, settling a behind-the-scenes power struggle involving U.S. lawyers who have guided the tribunal's work since it was established last year.
The Americans favored trying at least some of Hussein's aides first, saying this would help build up a pattern of "command responsibility" that led conclusively to Hussein. Their approach would have delayed Hussein's trial until at least 2006 and brought him to court on multiple counts of genocide and crimes against humanity.
The progress of Hussein's legal cases has been kept largely out of the spotlight since plans to try him for war crimes were announced by the Iraqi government last year.
In July, days after the interim Iraqi government took over control from the Coalition Provisional Authority, Hussein was brought before an Iraqi Special Tribunal judge for the first time and seven charges were laid out against him.
Kuba said one of the charges stems from the poison gas attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja on March 16, 1988, but did not elaborate on the others, the Associated Press reported. About 5,000 people were killed and 10,000 injured in the attack.
On Saturday, Kuba said that the Iraqi security forces' major operation in Baghdad, dubbed Operation Lightning, is going well. Officials say the Iraqi-led mission has 40,000 Iraqi police and soldiers conducting raids and manning checkpoints in the Baghdad area in an effort to rid the capital of insurgents.
During the weekend, the Iraqi security forces began turning their attention to the volatile area just south of Baghdad, where Kuba said security forces rounded up about 30 suspects.
Overall, more than 1,200 suspects have been arrested since the beginning of the operation, the Interior Ministry told Agence France-Presse. But some Sunni Muslim leaders have complained that the operation is misguided and is leading to many innocent civilians being detained or mistreated.
Kuba acknowledged yesterday that police and soldiers might have made some mistakes.
"There is a price to be paid for any tangible progress in Baghdad," Kuba said. "The complaints I heard from people were the aggressiveness of some of these forces as they do things. Some people have half hinted that they have copied some of the mannerisms of other foreign troops. I think that is a valid criticism in some cases."
He declined to elaborate.
For the second time in as many days, the Iraqi government announced the arrest of a high-ranking terrorism suspect in Mosul with ties to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the most-wanted man in Iraq.
Mutlaq Mahmoud Mutlaq Abdullah, also known as Abu Raad, was arrested recently, the government said yesterday.
Abdullah was a facilitator and financier of the suspected head of al-Zarqawi's terror cell in Mosul. On Saturday, Iraqi officials announced the capture of Mullah Mahdi, who is tied to the Ansar al Sunnah group.
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The New York Times contributed to this article.