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Iraq to Assume Legal Custody of Saddam, Allawi Says

Despite the legal move, all of the detainees will physically remain in U.S. military custody, Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi told reporters Tuesday.

“This government has formally requested the transfer of the most notorious and high-profile detainees,” Allawi said.

Allawi told a news conference that Saddam will be formally charged on Thursday, although the trial would not begin for months. The new prime minister also said Saddam and the 11 other former Baathist leaders would remain in U.S. custody until Iraq’s police force was capable of detaining them securely.

“These people … will face justice before the special Iraqi court created in January to try members of the former regime for crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes,” he said.

Saddam and other senior officials, including former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, would have the right to lawyers to defend them in open and fair trials, Allawi said.

Once Saddam is charged by an Iraqi court he will lose prisoner of war status, which affords him certain rights under international law, Justice Minister Malik al-Hassan explained.

“He is charged with crimes committed in Iraq. He is considered a person charged with ordinary crimes, without prisoner status,” he said.

Hassan told the reporters that if there was enough evidence, Iraqi courts would also try fugitive Baathists such as Saddam’s former lieutenant Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, suspected of continuing to orchestrate insurgent attacks, in absentia.

Despite the handover of authority, violence against coalition and Iraqi forces continued Tuesday. In one of the deadliest attacks in recent weeks, three U.S. Marines were killed and two wounded in a roadside bomb blast in Baghdad.

Iraqi militants also shot to death an American soldier they had held hostage for three months, saying the killing was punishment for U.S. policy in the Mideast nation, Al-Jazeera television reported Tuesday.

The Arab-language station reported the slain soldier was Spc. Keith M. Maupin, but the U.S. military said it could not confirm whether a man shown being shot in the murky videotape was the 20-year-old from Ohio who was taken hostage after an April attack outside Baghdad.

Also Tuesday, a group tied to Jordanian militant and suspected al-Qaida ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi released three Turkish hostages.

Another American soldier, shown on a videotape released Sunday, continued to be held hostage. The U.S. Marine’s father issued a plea for his son’s release.

“I appeal to the kidnappers and to their conscience and faith to release my son,” Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun’s father, Ali Hassoun, said in an interview with The Associated Press at his house in the northern Lebanon.

Hassoun, an American Marine of Lebanese descent, was shown blindfolded, with a sword brandished over his head in a videotape aired on Al-Jazeera on Sunday. The militants threatened to behead him unless all Iraqis “in occupation jails” are freed. They did not set a timeframe.

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