The judge presiding over the Iraqi tribunal trying former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein has submitted his resignation after criticism over his running of the court, an official close to the tribunal said yesterday.
"Judge Rizkar Mohammed Amin submitted his resignation shortly before the Eid al-Adha [Muslim holiday on Jan. 10] and efforts are under way to try to get him to change his mind," the official said.
The judge wants to resign because of strong criticism by politicians at the way he has allowed Saddam and his seven co-defendants to speak out in court and disrupt proceedings, the official said.
"The resignation has not yet been accepted," he added.
Amin, a Kurd, is presiding over the trial of Saddam and seven co-accused, charged with ordering the massacre of more than 140 Shiites from the town of Dujail following a 1982 assassination attempt on the former Iraqi leader.
Amin has come under pressure, both at home and abroad, for allowing what critics see as theatrics by the defense counsels and the co-accused.
Saddam and his half-brother Barzan Ibrahim Tikriti have repeatedly sought to disrupt proceedings, with the former Iraqi leader alleging he was tortured in detention by US forces.
On one occasion, he even refused to attend a court session. Barzan, for his part, called one witness a dog and exchanged harsh words with the prosecutors.
Amin has sought to give the defendants, who face a possible death penalty, as much leeway as possible in a bid to ensure the trial is seen as fair.
"It is notable that the judge has succeeded in getting [the defendants] to address the issues in the case to [a] greater degree," said Nehal Bhuta of Human Rights Watch, noting recently that most of the comments by defendants in the past sessions at least pertained to the testimony.
But "the court does need to manage this better, to reduce exchanges of insults or shouting at witnesses and to keep the defendants to the point," he added.
Saddam's antics have struck a chord with Iraqis chafing under the humiliation of the occupation.
Because of security concerns, Amin is the only judge on a panel of five hearing the case who had been publicly identified and who is shown on television when the court is in session.
Tribunal rules specify that a judge must submit his resignation to Jamal Mustafa, president of the three-chambered tribunal, who then passes it to the Cabinet.
One of Saddam's judges recused himself early in November, shortly after the case opened on Oct. 19, because of a possible conflict of interest as he knew one of the alleged victims in the case.
He was replaced by one of the reserve judges.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Jan. 24.
Saddam's leading defense counsel, Khalil Dulaimi, welcomed the news of Amin's resignation offer, but said it made no difference to the case as the defense team considered the court illegal.
"For the defense team, it makes no difference whether this judge stays or goes, because in spite of our respect for his ethics, we do not recognize the legality of the court," he said in a statement.