BAGHDAD, Iraq – Saddam Hussein (search) could go on trial as early as next month for his alleged role in a massacre 23 years ago, a top judge said Wednesday. He said the ousted dictator could face the death penalty.
Raid Juhi, chief judge of the Iraq Special Tribunal (search), said the investigation into the July 8, 1982 massacre in Dujail, a predominantly Shiite village 50 miles north of Baghdad, is complete.
Juhi said four other former senior officials would stand trial in the Dujail massacre (search), in which Saddam's security agents allegedly shot dead at least 50 people after a plot to assassinate him was uncovered.
Juhi said the trial would begin "in August or September, but we would like it to begin before that." Saddam and the others could be sentenced to death if convicted, Juhi said.
Iraqi officials have announced the imminent start of Saddam's trial before, only to have the proceedings delayed. The Americans privately have urged caution about rushing into a trial, saying Iraq must develop a good court and judicial system first.
U.S. officials say there are also concerns a trial could interfere with the important process of writing a constitution and inflame sectarian tension. The Iraqi government must finish a draft by mid-August so it can hold a referendum on the charter ahead of December elections for a full-term government.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari (search) said last month he hoped the trial would take place "sooner" than the end of the year. Zebari said investigators already have "an abundance of evidence of the crimes of Saddam. ... We don't need any further evidence."
Saddam, 68, has been jailed under American control at a U.S. military detention complex near Baghdad airport.
In an interview with The Associated Press in Brussels, Belgium last month, Justice Minister Abdul Hussein Shandal said he was confident Iraqi investigators would wrap up the case against Saddam by the end of the year.
Shandal accused the United States of trying to hinder the Iraqi investigation of Saddam's regime, saying "it seems there are lots of secrets they want to hide."
Saddam is also expected to face charges for his alleged role in the 1987-88 campaign to drive Iraqi Kurds from wide areas of the north and for crushing the Shiite revolt in the south after U.S.-led forces drove Iraqi invaders from Kuwait in 1991.