Iraq president promises to protect Saddam's judges from anti-Baath purges

Iraq's President Jalal Talabani Thursday promised to protect the staff of the special court set up to try Saddam Hussein from purges because of their former membership in the ousted dictator's Baath party.

President Jalal Talabani made the pledge during a meeting with the Iraqi Special Tribunal's investigating judge Raid Juhi, one of 17 judicial employees who face dismissal under legislation due for parliamentary approval Sunday.

"I will exert efforts so that they will be respected by other governmental bodies, especially the de-Baathification Committee," Talabani said in a statement. "And I hope that the members of the tribunal court will be respected and appreciated for their efforts in order to achieve justice."

Parliament votes Sunday on legislation to establish the Supreme Iraq Criminal Court. A provision in the legislation states that any former member of the Baath party - regardless of rank - cannot work for the court, says the AP.

Ali al-Lami, executive director of the Supreme National Commission for de-Baathification, said current plans call for the ex-Baath members to be dismissed in stages following the end of Saddam's forthcoming trial.

Saddam is expected to go on trial in September for his alleged role in the 1982 massacre of Shiite Muslims in Dujail north of Baghdad. It will be the first of what are expected to be about a dozen trials involving Saddam and his key henchmen.

Dismissals before the trial even begins could disrupt the proceedings. However, al-Lami said there was opposition within parliament to delaying the dismissals. He would not identify those pushing for a faster purge of the court.

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