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Man once in charge of trying Saddam Hussein faces murder allegations

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Salem Chalabi, the man once in charge of organizing the trial of Saddam Hussein, was in court himself Saturday, facing two-month-old allegations that he was involved in the murder of the director general of Iraq's Finance Ministry.

Reporters were barred from viewing Chalabi's appearance. An hour after he met with the judge, he was released on bond after authorities concluded he did not pull the trigger in the death. The chief investigative judge, Zuhair al Maliky, said Chalabi is still under investigation on suspicion he paid to have Haithem Fadhil murdered.

"The murder case is still standing," al Maliky said.

But in an interview with Knight Ridder, Chalabi said he had been cleared of the murder charges and now only faced charges of threatening the official, "which is something completely minor compared to murder."

Chalabi's court appearance came on a day when Baghdad was relatively calm.

A bomb hidden in a curbside drain exploded in the wealthy neighborhood of Jadriyah as an American convoy passed, missing its target but killing an Iraqi and maiming another in a car that was following too closely. Later, smoke rose from an Iraqi guard compound in Baghdad after it was struck by a series of mortar rounds. There were no reports of injuries.

In Khalis, 40 miles northeast of Baghdad, insurgents targeted Iraqi national guard officials, shooting and killing Gen. Nashe Jawad Hassan as he drove toward Baghdad and kidnapping the wife and three children of a guard colonel and burning down his home.

And in Basra, an explosion outside a building that houses the U.S. consulate and a British military unit killed at least one person.

Chalabi was first charged in the murder of the Finance Ministry official in July, at the same time his uncle, Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress, was charged with dealing in counterfeit Iraqi currency. At the time, both men were out of the country, Ahmed in Iran and Salem in London. Both said the charges were part of a vendetta against them by U.S. officials who once favored Ahmed Chalabi to succeed Saddam.

Ahmed returned last month and was allowed to go free by the court amid reports that the charges against him were dismissed. No future court date has been set, though al Maliky said Saturday that Ahmed Chalabi remains under investigation.

Salem Chalabi returned Thursday, after he was removed from his position organizing Saddam's trial. He has denied he was involved in Fadhil's murder and said the charges were trumped up to force him off the tribunal.

Government officials told two Iraqi newspapers that he was dismissed from the Saddam tribunal, in part, because he had disrespected the court system by not turning himself in. They said that they would not have removed him simply for being a suspect.

Chalabi appeared with his lawyer around 2 p.m. local time at the court building, which used to be a museum dedicated to gifts given to Saddam. Chalabi was taken into a separate room, and defendants waiting to meet with one of the court's six judges were asked to leave the lobby so Chalabi could make his way to the judge's court.

Chalabi's role in directing Saddam's trial had been controversial, primarily because of his uncle's position as head of the INC, which will be among the political parties vying for power in any upcoming Iraqi elections.

The Iraqi government has said Chalabi's removal from the tribunal will not affect the trial, which Minister of State Kasim Daoud said last week would start in the next several weeks.

Saddam has been held in an undisclosed prison since his December capture. During a preliminary court hearing July 1, the judge read seven charges against the former dictator: the killing of religious figures in 1974; gassing of Kurds in Halabja in 1988; killing the Kurdish Barzani clan in 1983; killing members of political parties in the last 30 years; the 1986-88 "Anfal" campaign of displacing Kurds; the suppression of the 1991 uprisings by Kurds and Shiites; and the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

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(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Iraq

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