BAGHDAD, Iraq – Nine staff members of the Iraqi Special Tribunal preparing to try Saddam Hussein (search) have been dismissed because of links to the ousted dictator's Baath Party (search), an official said Wednesday.
The cases of 19 others, including the chief investigative judge, are under review.
The executive director of the Supreme National Commission for de-Baathification, Ali al-Lami, said the nine dismissed staffers held administrative jobs such as the witness security protection program and tribunal security.
Al-Lami said that the committee is preparing another list of 19 people, mostly judges, for possible dismissal. They include chief judge Raid Juhi, he said.
The head of the government committee in charge of purging former Baath officials is Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi (search), a former Pentagon favorite.
"We believe that many Baathists have infiltrated the special tribunal and they should be dismissed," said Entifadh Qanbar, Chalabi's spokesman. "The reasons behind the delay in the trial of Saddam is the presence of Baathists in the special tribunal, and they represent an obstacle to the trial of the former regime members."
On Sunday, the tribunal filed its first criminal case against Saddam for a 1982 massacre of Shiites and said a trial date would be set within days, despite U.S. fears a trial would inflame tensions at a time the Shiite-led government is trying to lure Sunnis away from the insurgency.
The tribunal said the investigation into the July 8, 1982, massacre of an estimated 150 Shiites in Dujail, 50 miles north of Baghdad, has been completed, and the case was referred to the courts for trial. Saddam is accused of involvement in the massacre as retaliation for a failed assassination attempt as he drove through the city.
The date for the trial of Saddam and three others was expected to be determined in "the coming days," said Raid Juhi, chief judge of the tribunal. If convicted, Saddam could face the death penalty.
President Jalal Talabani has said the trial would help reduce insurgent attacks.
"We are for a swift trial of those criminals. They are war criminals who committed terrible crimes against the Iraqi people," Talabani said.
"Hurrying in their trial will help in reducing terrorism," he added.