The first criminal case has been filed against Saddam Hussein (search), stemming from the 1982 massacre of dozens of Shiite villagers in retaliation for a failed assassination attempt against the former leader, the head of an Iraqi tribunal said Sunday.

The date for the trial of Hussein and three others will be determined in a few days. If convicted, they could face the death penalty.

Raid Juhi (search), chief judge of the Iraq Special Tribunal, said the preliminary investigation into the July 8, 1982, massacre in Dujail, 50 miles north of Baghdad, has been completed, and the case was referred to the courts for trial.

"The date for the trial will be determined within the few coming days by the gentlemen in the criminal court," Juhi said.

The announcement roughly corresponds to an indictment in the U.S. legal system, legal officials said. However, Hussein and the others will be considered "charged" when they appear in court.

The court now has 45 days to announce a start date for the trial.

Hussein's co-defendants in the case are Barazan Ibrahim, intelligence chief at the time and Hussein's half brother; former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan (search); and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, at the time a Baath party official in Dujail.

Iraqi officials previously have announced the imminent start of Hussein'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 judicial system first.

U.S. officials say there also are concerns that a trial could interfere with the 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.

Hussein, 68, has been jailed under American control at a U.S. military detention complex near the Baghdad airport since his December 2003 capture near his hometown, Tikrit.

The tribunal will try the former dictator on war crimes charges stemming from 14 incidents, according to a list obtained by The Associated Press. Those incidents include the 1987-88 campaign to drive Iraqi Kurds from wide areas of the north and the 1991 suppression of a Shiite revolt in the south after U.S.-led forces removed Iraqi invaders from Kuwait.

Hussein also is being investigated for a 1988 chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja that killed an estimated 5,000 people and the execution of 8,000 members of the Barzani tribe, a powerful Kurdish clan to which the current Kurdistan Democratic Party leader, Massoud Barzani, belongs.