BAGHDAD -- The United States will hand over Saddam Hussein and all other detainees to Iraq's new government over the next two weeks as sovereignty is restored, the interim prime minister said yesterday.
US officials have said they plan to continue to hold up to 5,000 prisoners deemed a threat to the coalition even after the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty at the end of this month. They say as many as 1,400 detainees will either be released or transferred to Iraqi authorities.
However, in an interview with Al-Jazeera television, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said Iraqi officials expect to take possession of Hussein and all other detainees with the transfer of power.
''All the detainees will be transferred to the Iraqi authorities and the transporting operation will be done within the two coming weeks," Allawi said. ''Saddam and the others will be delivered to the Iraqis."
He said the former Iraqi president would stand trial ''as soon as possible" but gave no specific time frame. The detainees and ''Saddam as well will be handed to the Iraqi government, and you can consider this as an official confirmation," he added.
Hussein has been in American custody at an undisclosed location in Iraq since his capture last December near Tikrit.
In Geneva, the spokeswoman of the International Committee of the Red Cross said yesterday that coalition authorities must file criminal charges against Hussein or let him go when sovereignty is transferred.
Under international and military law, prisoners of war and civilian internees are supposed to be freed at the end of the conflict and occupation, unless there are charges against them, Red Cross spokeswoman Nada Doumani said.
Hussein was granted prisoner of war status after his capture. He has not been charged.
In Geneva, the chief spokeswoman of the international Red Cross, Antonella Notari, said the organization was simply stating the rules under international law.