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Iraq to get Saddam legal custody

Allawi said Saddam would not go on trial for "a number of months."
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Iraqis await transfer of Saddam Hussein to their custody.

Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi faces daunting task.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The new Iraq government will assume legal custody Wednesday of former dictator Saddam Hussein and as many as 11 other key officials of his regime, Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has said.

The prisoners will remain physically in coalition military custody until the Iraqi security apparatus is ready to hold them, but legally they will be in Iraqi custody until their trials, Allawi said Tuesday.

The head of the Iraqi tribunal that will try Saddam and others said his primary concern is the possibility prisoners could escape.

"That's why we reached this agreement with the coalition," said Salem Chalabi, executive director of the Iraqi Special Tribunal. "I'm worried ... Clearly, my number one concern is the protection of the key personnel as well as the detainees."

Allawi announced the news at a press conference.

"Saddam Hussein, along with up to 11 other high-value detainees, will be transferred to legal custody of Iraq tomorrow and will be charged by an Iraq investigative judge on the following day," Allawi said.

He said the prisoners would face trial on charges of crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes at the Iraqi Special Tribunal set up late last year for this purpose.

"We will likely not see the trial of Saddam and his associates for a number of months," the prime minister said. "I urge the Iraqi people to be patient."

Allawi said all the defendants would receive a fair trial.

"The accused will appear in front of the Iraqi court, and they will be afforded rights that were denied by the former regime," he said. "The accused will have access to legal counsel and they will have the right to appoint legal counsel."

They also will have the right to represent themselves if they so choose, he said, raising the specter of a trial like that of Slobodan Milosevic. The former Serbian president is serving as his own counsel at his international war crimes trial at The Hague in the Netherlands, and at times Milosevic has turned the proceedings into a propaganda showplace.

Allawi said of Saddam: "I don't think that he will be able to stage a propaganda tool, but it will be a full trial and an open trial."

Iraqi Justice Minister Malik Dohan al-Hassan, who appeared with Allawi at the news conference, added that some former regime officials who remain at large -- such as Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, the highest-ranking former official not in custody -- could face trial in absentia.

Of the U.S. Defense Department's 55 most wanted Iraqis, 45 are in custody.

Iraqi Special Tribunal Chief Salem Chalabi later released the names of those who would be transferred to Iraqi legal custody.

They are: Abd Hmood Mahmoud, Aziz Saleh al-Numan, Ali Hassan al-Majid, Barazan Ibrahim al-Hassan, Kamal Mustafa Abdallah Sultan Tikriti, Muhammed Hamza al-Zubaidi, Sabir Abdul Aziz Al-Douri, Sultan Hashim Ahmad, Taha Yasseen Ramadhan, Tariq Aziz and Watban Ibrahim al-Hassan.

Saddam was captured in December by U.S. forces near his hometown of Tikrit.

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