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Salem Chalabi reportedly removed from post overseeing Saddam trial

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Salem Chalabi, the man charged with organizing the trial of Saddam Hussein, will be removed from his post by the interim government because he failed to return to the country to face murder charges, the Iraqi National Congress said Tuesday.

There was no confirmation from the office of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, where a spokesman said the prime minister hadn't signed any document that would remove Chalabi from his post overseeing Saddam's trial.

But Chalabi, reached by Knight Ridder in London, said he had been removed and declined to comment further. INC spokesman Haider Musawi said in Baghdad: "We have heard from some people close to the government that he has been sacked."

What effect Chalabi's reported removal as executive vice president of Iraq's Special Tribunal for Crimes Against Humanity would have on Saddam's trial was unclear. He had appointed the seven judges and four prosecutors who will try Saddam, and the government said earlier this week that it plans to begin the trial within weeks.

Talib al Zubaidi, a lawyer and the second in command of the tribunal, will now lead it, according to Musawi and reports in two Iraqi newspapers.

The action, however, prompted Chalabi to make plans to return to Iraq on Thursday to fight charges that he murdered a finance minister official and to fight for his position on the tribunal, Musawi said.

Chalabi had been in Britain since July when he was named a suspect in the death of Haithem Fadhil, director general of the Finance Ministry. He has denied he was involved in the murder, and his supporters have said the charges were trumped up to force him off the tribunal.

Saddam has been held by the Americans since his December capture in an undisclosed prison.

Chalabi's role directing Saddam's trial has been controversial, primarily because his uncle, Ahmad Chalabi, is head of the INC and was once a Pentagon favorite to lead a post-Saddam Iraq. But Ahmad Chalabi has fallen out of favor with both the United States and Iraqi government officials after allegations that members of his staff passed secret U.S. intelligence to Iran. In July, an Iraqi magistrate charged Ahmad Chalabi with dealing in counterfeit Iraqi currency.

Musawi blasted Salem Chalabi's reported removal from the tribunal, saying it and the murder charges are "unjustified."

"Those who have a lot of doubts about Chalabi now should have doubts about the trial itself," he said. "It is totally unjustified. The whole saga is a conspiracy."


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