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Custody battle

From Wolf Blitzer

Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It's an extremely sensitive subject -- one that dominated President Bush's Rose Garden press conference with Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai on Tuesday.

It's also an issue that that potentially could up-end the emerging relationship between the Bush administration and the new interim Iraqi government. At issue: when does the United States hand over Saddam Hussein to the Iraqis?

"We're working with the Iraqi government on a couple of issues. One is, you know, the appropriate time for the transfer of Saddam Hussein. And secondly, we're working to make sure there's appropriate security," President Bush said Tuesday.

The new Iraqi leadership is making clear they want custody of Saddam Hussein right around the time the United States hands over sovereignty on June 30.

"We definitely will be trying our best to get custody of Saddam and the other criminals," said interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Alawi on CNN Tuesday.

And Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawar says, "I think that would be happening after June 30. He should be transferred to Iraqi sovereignty, given that we can make sure we can protect him until we have the trial."

While Bush administration officials insist Saddam eventually will be handed over to the Iraqis, the president says it's not as simple as it might appear.

"Look, nobody wants Saddam Hussein to leave. And where there's a transfer of responsibility, we want to make sure that he is secure. He's a killer. He's a thug. He needs to be brought to trial. We want to make sure that the transfer to a sovereign government is done in a timely way and in a secure way. That's what we're discussing with the government," said the president.

Legal experts say there may be a compromise that would satisfy the Bush administration and the new Iraqi government.

"It would be legal for a sovereign Iraqi government to take custody -- however that's defined -- and to make a request for coalition forces to continue to provide security for that custody," says Neil Kritz of the U.S. Institute of Peace.

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