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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Iraqis Take Legal Custody of Hussein

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's new authorities took legal control of Saddam Hussein and 11 others Wednesday, a government statement said, setting the stage for a court appearance for the former dictator to face war crimes charges on his 24 years in power.

In a one-line statement, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's office said that the Iraqis had assumed legal -- but not custodial -- control, "today, 30th June, at 10:15 in the morning." The 12 defendants are expected to appear in court on Thursday for a formal reading of the charges.

"The first step has happened," said Salem Chalabi, the director of the Iraqi Special Tribunal.

"I met with [Hussein] earlier today to explain his rights and what will happen."

He refused to elaborate.

The defendants were informed individually of their rights, said an international official who spoke on condition of anonymity. An Iraqi judge witnessed the proceedings.

Hussein will remain in an U.S.-controlled jail guarded by Americans until the Iraqis are ready to take physical custody of him. That is expected to take a long time.

However, the legal transfer means that Saddam and the others are no longer prisoners of war -- subject to rights under the Geneva Conventions -- but criminal defendants whose treatment will be in accordance with Iraqi law.

Iraqis and the world will get their first glimpse of Saddam since his capture in December when he and 11 of his top lieutenants are brought to court Thursday to face war crimes charges likely to include the 1988 chemical weapons massacre of Kurds and the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Already there are pretrial negotiations over permitting Saddam's foreign legal team to work in Iraq, whether to televise the proceedings and whether to reinstate the harshest penalty in Iraq's legal code: hanging.

Abdel Rahim al-Rifaei, a spokesman for Allawi, told the Arabic language television station Al-Jazeera, that under Iraqi laws, Saddam will be granted 24 hours to respond to this list of accusations and get a lawyer.

"Tomorrow his trial officially starts," he said.

The first batch of Saddam's lieutenants to face the tribunal include Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as "Chemical Ali"; former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan; former deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz; and two of Saddam's half brothers.