BAGHDAD, Iraq – The chief judge who resigned from Saddam Hussein's trial amid claims of government interference is expected to be replaced by his deputy, the top Iraqi investigator in the case said Tuesday.
Judge Raid Juhi, who investigated Saddam before his trial started but is not one of those trying the deposed Iraqi leader, said the court was set up under a law stipulating the chief judge's deputy would take over for him if needed. Saad al-Hamash is the second-ranking member of the five-judge tribunal headed by Rizgar Mohammed Amin.
The tribunal said Amin wanted to quit for "personal reasons" and not because of government pressure. His resignation was not expected to prevent the trial from resuming Jan. 24 as scheduled.
Also Tuesday, violence flared in Baghdad and in the northern city of Kirkuk, with gunmen killing at least eight Iraqis, including a senior army commander and his brother.
Col. Hussein Shiaa, commander of the 2nd Battalion of the Iraqi Army's 4th Brigade, and his brother were abducted Sunday when they were leaving their base in Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, said army intelligence officer Capt. Ibrahim Abdullah. Their bodies were found riddled with bullets Tuesday in western Baghdad's dangerous al-Baiyaa district.
A police lieutenant also was gunned down in his car while driving through al-Baiyaa on Tuesday, Lt. Mutaz Salahuldin said. Two hours later, gunmen shot and killed three more men — including an auto mechanic and his son — in the same area.
In Kirkuk, masked gunmen killed two people and wounded three in attacks on the regional headquarters of Iraq's anti-corruption Integrity Commission and the nearby offices of the Kurdistan People's Party, said police Capt. Farhad al-Talabani. Police suspect the attacks were linked.
Kirkuk is a hotbed of ethnic tensions claimed by Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen.
Two policewomen were abducted in eastern Baghdad's Sadr City while waiting for a bus, said police Lt. Laith Abdul Al said.
In comments aimed at curbing the violence, President Jalal Talabani predicted Iraq's most prominent Sunni Arab political group would form part of a national unity government once results of the Dec. 15 election are announced. No date has been set for the release of the results.
He was speaking about the Sunni Arab Iraqi Accordance Front, whose leaders have been in talks on forming a national unity government with Talabani's Kurdish coalition and the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, the religious bloc with that preliminary results show has a strong lead in the elections.
"We are keen that the government does not only include Kurds and Shiites but also the Accordance Front and other blocs," Talabani said at a news conference.
Sunni Arabs form the backbone of Iraq's rampant insurgency, and including them in the political process is seen as a way to try to defuse the violence. Shiite leaders need to form a coalition to be able to control the parliament.
The U.S. military said its troops Monday shot and killed two Iraqis who failed to stop a tractor they were driving close to a checkpoint near Samarra. Lt. Col. Ed Loomis said the shootings happened after soldiers saw what appeared to be gunfire flashes coming from the vehicle.
Saddam and seven co-defendants are accused in the slayings of more than 140 Shiites in the town of Dujail in 1982. His trial recessed Dec. 22 after two days of testimony. Conviction could bring a sentence of death by hanging.
Amin would be the second judge to step down in the case. Another panel member removed himself in November because one of the co-defendants may have been involved in the execution of his brother.
Since the trial began Oct. 19, two defense lawyers also have been assassinated and a third has fled the country. Police also uncovered a plot to fire rockets at the courtroom in November.