BAGHDAD, Iraq – The United States will soon release to Iraq's new government the ruthless dictator who ruled over Iraqis with an iron fist for more than 30 years, the Iraqi interim prime minister said Tuesday.
But U.S. officials say not so fast.
Prime Minister Iyad Allawi (search) said Saddam Hussein and all other detainees would be turned over to the Iraqi people to face justice during the next two weeks as the June 30 date to turn over sovereignty to the new government nears.
He elaborated on this statement in an interview with Fox News Tuesday morning.
"This is what we are discussing now with coalition authorities in Baghdad — discussions are fruitful and positive — we are trying to prepare all the requirements," Allawi said on "Fox and Friends." "We hope in due course to get control of these people."
But U.S. 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.
"We're working with the Iraqi government on a couple of issues," including the specific time of Saddam's transfer and, "secondly, we want to make sure there's appropriate security," President Bush told reporters Tuesday during a joint press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Dan Senor, a spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority (search) in Iraq, said the U.S.-led coalition plans to turn over Saddam after June 30.
"President Bush said after we captured Saddam Hussein that he would be meted out with justice — the justice he denied to millions. This will be an Iraqi process," Senor told Fox News on Tuesday. "We have every intention and desire to turn Saddam over to the Iraqi people," but can't do it until after June 30, when the government has full sovereignty, according to the Geneva Conventions, Senor continued.
"We'll work that out with the Iraqi government, with the Iraqi tribunal once they're ready to receive him," Senor said, adding that over half of the Iraqi government is already in complete Iraqi control.
But Allawi told Arab TV network Al-Jazeera that Saddam would be handed over sooner rather than later.
"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.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters Tuesday that Saddam "will be turned over at the appropriate time" and that "discussions are ongoing."
Senior defense officials told Fox News that a probable handover of Saddam — if in name only — is being negotiated with Iraqi officials, and may take place within two weeks.
U.S. officials have great concerns about security and aren't convinced that the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps is up to the job of keeping the former dictator under guard. It is likely that U.S. troops will continue to keep watch over Saddam once he is turned over — but that will have to develop with a formal request from the Iraqis.
Interim Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawer said Bush is anxious to hand over Saddam, but Iraq must have adequate security guarantees in place before the government can take custody of him.
"Even President Bush himself was asking me," al-Yawer told reporters in Baghdad after returning from the G8 summit in Sea Island, Ga. "The United States is very keen to hand over the ex-president to the Iraqi authorities."
Al-Yawer cautioned that security precautions must exist in order for Iraq to be able to take custody.
"We must first make sure that we can maintain protection for his life until he goes to trial," al-Yawer said. "We must make sure that the trial goes as a legal process, he has his own fair chance of defense and the government has its own chance."
Iraqi authorities hope to file criminal charges against Saddam and other top officials of the former regime before June 30, Salem Chalabi, the Iraqi official in charge of setting up a tribunal to charge members of the ousted regime, said Tuesday.
"I suspect that there will be an arrest warrant filed not only against Saddam but also against the other high-ranking officials before June 30," Chalabi said. "We have been working quite hard in the last few days on that, believe me."
Red Cross: Charge Saddam or Let Him Go
Saddam has been in American custody at an undisclosed location in Iraq since his capture last December near Tikrit. His status has been under discussion.
The Baghdad-based spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (search) said coalition authorities must file criminal charges against Saddam or let him go when sovereignty is transferred.
In Geneva, the chief spokeswoman of the international Red Cross, Antonella Notari, said the organization was not calling for Saddam's release but simply stating the rules under international law.
"We're not making any ultimatums or calls for release," Notari said. "What we're saying is: Saddam Hussein, as far as we understand today, is a POW, prisoner of war, protected by the third Geneva Convention as all prisoners of war are.
"In theory, when a war ends and when an occupation ends, the detaining force has to release prisoners of war or civilian detainees if there are no reasons for holding them," she said.
But Notari added that, "of course, he must be prosecuted, tried, through a legal proceeding."
Mohammed Rashdan, a Jordanian attorney who claims to represent Saddam, said the Red Cross' stand "violates international and military law."
"Under the provisions of international laws and conventions, ICRC should have only called for Saddam Hussein's release," Rashdan said. "The ICRC should help Saddam's defense lawyers to meet with him — the minimum requirement of the due process in developed nations."
Allawi: 'Law and Order Will Emerge'
Although Iraqis will run their own affairs after June 30, tens of thousands of coalition troops will remain in the country to maintain security under a resolution approved unanimously last week by the U.N. Security Council (search).
Allawi said Iraq needs the support of the full Security Council.
"We wanted really to get all the Security Council — important members of the international community — we hope governments wavering so far will put their weight behind us, a free, stable democratic Iraq," Allawi said.
Allawi told Fox News that progress is being made in the security arena, a judicial system is being developed and Iraqi militias are being disbanded. But he said he hopes for more progress dismantling the militia loyal to radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr (search). U.S. forces conducted an overnight raid in Karbala and captured Rida Al-Hassani, who is described as a senior aide to Al-Sadr.
"We hope he’ll [al-Sadr] dismantle his militia," Allawi said. "We hope they’ll embark on a peaceful mission. We hope law and order will emerge in Iraq and that’s what we intend to do."
Even though no weapons of mass destruction have so far been found in Iraq, Allawi said that was only one reason Saddam needed to be ousted.
"I say that weapons of mass destruction are only part of the problem — [Saddam was a] tyrant, a potential and a real ally of terrorists," the prime minister said. "All decent people of the world need to unify against terrorists. We are going to prevail; we believe very strongly that the international community should fight terrorism make world a safer place for everyone."
Fox News' Bret Baier, Ian McCaleb, Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.