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Iraq Transition

Court picks interim lead judge for Hussein trial

Nine Iraqi coast guard members detained in Iran

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- If the court accepts the resignation of the top judge at the Saddam Hussein trial, he will be replaced by another justice from the courtroom, an official with the Iraqi High Tribunal told CNN on Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, Arab TV network Al-Jazeera aired a video in which the kidnappers who abducted a freelance American journalist demanded that the United States release all female Iraqi prisoners within 72 hours.

Journalist Jill Carroll, 28, was kidnapped January 7 in western Baghdad while on assignment for The Christian Science Monitor. (Full story)

The choice of an interim leader for Hussein's trial came after the current chief judge, Rizgar Mohammed Amin, submitted his resignation Sunday.

However, Amin's resignation has yet to be accepted, the official said.

Judge Mohammed Saeed al-Hammash, a Shiite judge from Najaf who often sits near Amin during the trial proceedings, would serve as interim chief judge and would likely become the permanent chief judge, the IHT official said.

Another IHT official said the four other judges on the tribunal will meet Tuesday or Wednesday about whether to accept the resignation of Amin, who has presided over the trial since October.

The war crimes trial of the former Iraqi president and seven others is set to resume January 24.

Amin has said he would stay on through January 24 and added that he wants to remain a judge on the tribunal, but not chief judge.

The second tribunal official said if Amin insists on resigning, his resignation would be accepted.

No reason has been given for Amin's resignation, but security for people involved in the proceeding has been a prime concern.

Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, a member of the defense team, has criticized the lack of protection for the Iraqi attorneys and their families. Two defense attorneys have been killed since the trial began.

Eight defendants, including Hussein, are standing trial in connection with the killing of more than 140 men 23 years ago in the mostly Shiite town of Dujail. The killings occurred after an assassination attempt on Hussein, Iraq's leader at the time.

The trial began on October 19 but after a few hours was postponed for 40 days to give the defense more time to engage in the meticulous discovery process. It has since had other delays.

Iran detains Iraqi coast guardsmen

Iran is holding nine members of Iraq's coast guard prisoner, a source in the Iraqi prime minister's office told CNN on Tuesday.

The nine were taken in an incident in waters near Basra in southern Iraq, the source said.

The prime minister's office says it doesn't know why the coast guard members were detained.

Iraq's Foreign Ministry is trying to contact Iranian officials to clarify the situation, the source said.

In June, Iran briefly held eight members of the British military who were caught in a controversial waterway that divides the two countries. Iran said the two sailors and six marines sailed into Iranian waters in the Shatt al-Arab waterway, but released the men three days later and said the incursion was unintentional.

The 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war broke out when Hussein claimed the entire waterway.

Other developments

  • Two U.S. Army pilots were killed in Monday's crash of an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter north of Baghdad Monday, the U.S. military said. It was the third time in 10 days that a U.S. helicopter has crashed in Iraq. Since the beginning of the Iraq war, 2,219 U.S. troops have been killed. (Full story)
  • Gunmen killed seven Iraqi men working at a Baghdad company that provides food for Iraqi soldiers, police said Tuesday night. About eight to 10 gunmen opened fire on the building about 9 p.m. then fled in two vehicles.
  • A spokesman for the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq said the agency will issue a report on Thursday concerning complaints about Iraq's December election. On Monday, Iraqi election officials said 58 serious complaints from the December 15 parliamentary vote had been validated and the ballots from 227 boxes have been annulled. The 227 ballot boxes make up less than 1 percent of the 31,700 used during the vote to elect parliament members, who will serve four-year terms.
  • CNN's Terence Burke and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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