In a surprise announcement yesterday, Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi promised that former officials in Saddam Hussein's regime will go on trial next week, before elections...

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BAGHDAD, Iraq — In a surprise announcement yesterday, Iraq’s interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi promised that former officials in Saddam Hussein’s regime will go on trial next week, before elections scheduled for January.

“I can now tell you clearly and precisely that, God willing, next week the trials of the symbols of the former regime will start, one by one, so that justice can take its path in Iraq,” Allawi told members of Iraq’s National Council, an advisory body, in a live televised address.

Allawi did not name those who would go on trial or say whether Saddam would be among the first Baath party leaders to be called to account for crimes committed by the former regime. But other government officials have said recently that Saddam will not go on trial before the election scheduled for Jan. 30.

Allawi’s announcement seemed to catch U.S. and Iraqi government officials off guard.

On Monday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters he did not expect the trials of officials in Saddam’s regime to start until at least 2005, and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said in Rome that there was no “specific date” for the trials.

Saddam and 11 of his top lieutenants are expected to be tried by a special tribunal on charges including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, though no formal charges have been filed.

Senate panel to air criticism of war plans

WASHINGTON — The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold hearings on the Iraq war when the new Congress convenes next month, including an examination of criticism that the Defense Department failed to prepare for the insurgency and went into action with a shortage of armor for trucks and Humvees, the panel’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said yesterday.

Levin, speaking from Belgium in a conference call with reporters, was returning with Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the committee’s chairman, from a round of talks in Baghdad with U.S. military leaders, and criticized the administration’s “poor planning and rosy scenarios” before the invasion.

Criticism over armored vehicles in Iraq intensified last week, when a soldier asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a televised meeting in Kuwait why troops were having to scavenge for armor plating in junkyards. Rumsfeld replied: “As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

Rumsfeld was widely criticized for his response, and on Monday Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told The Associated Press in an interview that he had “no confidence” in Rumsfeld, although he said he was not calling for the defense secretary’s resignation.

Prepare for rotation, combat units told

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon notified U.S. military combat units based in seven states yesterday that they are likely to be part of next year’s planned rotation of forces into Iraq and Afghanistan.

The units told to prepare to leave in mid-2005 were the 172d Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Fort Wainwright, Alaska, as well as units from Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, New York and Texas. Other units will be notified later.

Bush honors Tenet, Bremer, Franks

WASHINGTON — President Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom yesterday to three figures who were central to his Iraq policy, former CIA Director George Tenet, former Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer and retired Gen. Tommy Franks.

Bush lauded all three for playing “pivotal roles in great events” and for advancing the cause of liberty in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Tenet, who left the CIA in July after seven years as director, has been criticized for intelligence failures leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the Iraq war.

Bremer, the top civilian U.S. official in postwar Iraq, oversaw the transfer of power to an interim Iraqi government in June.

Bremer has taken some blame from administration critics who say the planning for postwar Iraq was inadequate. Adding fuel to that debate, Bremer suggested this fall that the United States had paid a price in Iraq in the immediate aftermath of major combat because it did not have enough troops in place to stop looting.


About 1,000 soldiers at the sprawling Camp Liberty base in western Baghdad took a break yesterday from the war’s day-to-day grind to be entertained by comedian Robin Williams, former NFL quarterback John Elway, and sportscaster and model Leeann Tweeden.

Poland will cut its troop strength in Iraq by nearly a third in mid-February as part of long-standing plans to reduce its presence there, the government said yesterday. Poland’s 2,400-member contingent will be cut to 1,700, with 700 soldiers remaining on standby in Poland, Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski told a news conference.

Laborers digging on a construction site in northern Iraq yesterday uncovered human skulls and bones, which interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said were part of a mass grave believed to contain some 500 bodies. Allawi told Iraq’s National Council in Baghdad that the grave was found near the city of Sulaimaniya in the autonomous Kurdish region in the northeast of the country, where Saddam’s forces carried out atrocities in the late 1980s.