BAGHDAD, Iraq – Saddam Hussein (search) could be tried "in the next few weeks" and could be executed if convicted, an Iraqi Governing Council (search) member said Monday. Other council members said the televised trial would likely begin later, perhaps by summer.
The trial will begin "very soon, in the next few weeks," Mouwafak al-Rabii, a Shiite Muslim council member, told The Associated Press.
President Bush said Monday it was up to the Iraqis to determine Saddam's fate but said the United States will "work with the Iraqis to develop a way to try him that withstands international scrutiny."
"They need to be very much involved in the process and we will work with the Iraqis to develop the process," Bush told reporters in Washington.
Al-Rabii and other council members said they were sure the United States would hand Saddam over to the new Iraqi special tribunal for crimes against humanity, but differed on how soon a trial could be mounted against the former dictator.
"I can tell you he is going to be the first," al-Rabii said.
But Dara Noor al-Din, another council member, told AP that the order of trials would depend on the evidence.
"Maybe he will be the first one, maybe he won't," he said.
Noor al-Din, a leading Kurdish judge, offered a more conservative estimate for the trial date: "Maybe four to six months." A third council member, Adnan Pachachi, said he expected the trial to start "sometime in March."
There is a July 1 deadline for the U.S.-led occupation authority to hand over sovereignty to a new, transitional Iraqi government. The occupation authority has suspended executions in Iraq, but al-Rabii said it wouldn't take long for them to be reinstated -- especially for Saddam.
"We will get sovereignty on the 30th of June, and I can tell you, he could be executed on the 1st of July," said al-Rabii, a longtime human rights activist.
He said Saddam would have a fair trial, and that Saddam will have "the right to employ the best lawyers in the world, if he wants."
All three council members said the trial would be televised.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair's (search) office said the Iraqi people should be the ones to try Saddam, rather than an international tribunal.
"It was people inside Iraq who were gassed. The mass graves inside of Iraq are full of Iraqis," Blair's official spokesman said, briefing reporters in London on customary condition of anonymity. "It is just that his fate should rest with Iraqis."
The Arab world, which largely opposed the war, offered a more muted response. The Jordanian Bar Association said Monday that lawyers should step forward to defend Saddam.
"The Jordanian Bar Association considers President Saddam Hussein as the head of the resistance to liberate a dear part of our occupied Arab land," said the bar's president, Hussein Mejali. He urged the world, and Arab leaders in particular, to provide Saddam with "the legitimate protection he deserves as a leader of a liberation movement against occupation."
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov, whose country opposed the war, also said only Iraqis could decide Saddam's fate.
Saddam was captured Saturday night in a raid by U.S. soldiers in northern Iraq. At least 300,000 people are believed to have been killed during his 23-year presidency, many of them buried in mass graves.