BAGHDAD -- The chief judge in Saddam Hussein's genocide trial was replaced yesterday amid complaints from Shi'ite and Kurdish officials that he was too soft on the former Iraqi leader, a move that could raise accusations of government interference in the highly sensitive case.
The government spokesman's office announced that judge Abdullah al-Amiri was removed but did not say who would take his place or why he was replaced. He was replaced on the five-member panel by Mohammed al-Uraibiy, who was his deputy in the trial, said a court source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Al-Uraibiy is a Shi'ite Arab, the source said.
The Arab satellite stations Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera said Amiri was removed after a request from Iraq's prime minister.
Hussein al-Duri, an aide to the prime minister, said one reason was Amiri's comments last week in a court session, in which the judge told Hussein , ``You were not a dictator."
``The head of the court is requested to run and control the session, and he is not allowed to violate judicial regulations," Duri told Al-Arabiya television. ``It is not allowed for the judge to express his opinion."
Amiri's comment angered many Kurds and Shi'ites, fueling their criticism that he was too lenient with Hussein . Prosecutors had already asked for Amiri to be replaced after he allowed Hussein to lash out at Kurdish witnesses during a court session.
The change could revive complaints that the government is interfering in the tribunal trying Hussein and his regime members to ensure a quick guilty verdict. In the current trial, Hussein faces a possible death penalty if convicted on genocide charges over the Anfal military offensive against Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s.
Amiri presided over the latest session of trial yesterday , in which more Kurdish survivors of Anfal recounted chemical bombardment of their villages by the Iraqi military.
One witness, Iskandar Mahmoud Abdul-Rahman, a major in the Kurdistan security force, told the court that an attack on his village began on March 20, 1988, when Iraqi aircraft appeared.
``We dropped to the floor; white smoke covered us, it smelled awful," Abdul-Rahman testified in Kurdish. ``My heart raced. I started to vomit. I felt dizzy. My eyes burned and I couldn't stand on my feet."
Abdul-Rahman said he was treated at two hospitals in Iran, and lost consciousness for 10 days.
Hussein and six other defendants are on trial for alleged atrocities against Kurds during Operation Anfal, a crackdown on Kurdish guerrillas in the late 1980s. The prosecution alleges some 180,000 people died in the campaign, many of them civilians killed by poison gas.
Hussein and his cousin, ``Chemical" Ali al-Majid, are charged with genocide, and the others are accused of various offenses. All could face death by hanging if convicted.
Two other witnesses also testified yesterday, Tuesday, repeating allegations of abuse suffered in the crackdown.