Iraq's Odious Debts

Iraq: Bush wants to hand over Saddam

Sameer N. Yacoub
The Guardian (U.K.)
June 15, 2004

Baghdad, Iraq (AP): President Bush is eager to hand over Saddam Hussein, but Iraq must have adequate security guarantees in place before it can take custody of him, Iraq’s interim president said Tuesday.

President Ghazi al-Yawer’s comments came amid intense speculation whether Saddam would be handed over by the transfer of sovereignty June 30 – or soon after. The former Iraqi dictator has been in U.S. custody in an undisclosed location since he was found in December, but his status has been under discussion as the end of the U.S.-led occupation approaches.

“Even President Bush himself was asking me,” al-Yawer said in Baghdad after returning from the G-8 summit in Sea Island, Ga. “The United States is very keen to hand over the ex-president to the Iraqi authorities.”

On Tuesday, interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said Saddam and other detainees would be transferred to Iraqi authorities in the next two weeks. Allawi said Saddam would stand trial “as soon as possible” but gave no timeframe.

However, al-Yawer cautioned that security precautions must exist in order for Iraq to take custody.

“We must first make sure that we can maintain protection for his life until he goes to trial,” al-Yawer said. “We must make sure that the trial goes as a legal process, he has his own fair chance of defense and the government has its own chance.”

Coalition spokesman Dan Senor said the United States wanted Saddam tried by an Iraqi court and that talks were under way to determine how and when.

“I wouldn’t call them negotiations,” Senor said. “I would call them discussions. Both sides have an interest in handing over Saddam Hussein to the Iraqis. The only matter is when is the appropriate time. That is something we are discussing with the prime minister right now.”

U.S. officials have said they plan to continue to hold up to 5,000 prisoners deemed a threat to the coalition even after the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty. They say as many as 1,400 detainees will either be released or transferred to Iraqi authorities.

The 6-month-old Iraqi Special Tribunal has struggled to put appropriate security safeguards in place.

War crimes experts have cautioned that as long as violence prevails in Iraq, the trial of Saddam and at least 100 others suspected of committing atrocities against the Iraqi people should wait – unless a foreign venue can be found.

Judges have refused to work for the tribunal after five potential candidates were killed since Saddam was toppled last year. Tens of millions of dollars have been spent on security alone.

Al-Yawer said that his government’s top priority would be regaining security in Iraq and rehabilitating Iraqi security institutions.

“But things do not happen overnight,” he said. “Of course, the increase in political assassinations and bombings target the Iraqi people. The victims of this assassinations are all qualified Iraqis, with no political leanings.”

He said he believed Iraq was moving toward democracy, and that it was unacceptable to declare a state of emergency.

Al-Yawer also said he expected donor nations to make good on pledges to reduce Iraq’s debt and provide financial aid.

“We asked them to offer support and cooperation so that we can rehabilitate our security forces and begin the process of reform, development and reconstruction of Iraq. They promised to make good on this,” he said.

“In addition to this, we asked them to extinguish Iraq’s debts through the Paris Club and other gatherings. They promised to make good,” he said.

A top International Monetary Fund official said Monday the issue of forgiving Iraq’s $120 billion debt was up to creditors. Although Bush has lobbied hard to have members of the elite club forgive the debt, his push has met with resistance.

Iraq owes the Paris Club members about $42 billion, mainly to Russia, Japan, France and Germany. The Paris Club has set a goal of reaching a debt relief agreement for Iraq by the end of 2004.

French President Jacques Chirac has said he favors a substantial reduction in the debt – perhaps up to 50 percent – but stressed it would be hard to justify complete forgiveness for a country with significant oil wealth when similar offers have not be made to other poorer and more heavily indebted nations.

Al-Yawer said he met with the leaders of Japan, Germany, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as Chirac, whom he described as “extremely cooperative and understanding.”

Al-Yawer also said Iraqi’s government wants the United States to give up control of Saddam’s palace that was used as headquarters for the coalition and return it to Iraqi control.

U.S. officials had said they anticipated using the Republican Palace as a “spillover” for the staff of the new U.S. Embassy, which will assume its duties after the Coalition Provisional Authority dissolves.

“There is no talk of inviting the United States to keep the Republican Palace as an embassy supplement,” al-Yawer said. “We asked that the Republican Palace be vacated in the fastest opportunity for us to use it as Iraqis, as a Republican Palace or a museum.”

“It is a symbol of Iraqi sovereignty.”

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