Salem Chalabi, a US-educated attorney, said on Friday the US occupation forces were releasing detainees linked to the toppled leader without consultations, thereby undermining the process of bringing Saddam to trial.

"The US military just releases detainees without consulting with us. They are releasing people with valuable information on Saddam. They are undermining the process of putting him on trial," Chalabi said.

Frustrated council

The lawyer said frustrations over the releases were growing in the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, with some members discussing putting on hold the special tribunal expected to try Saddam and his top aides if they were not consulted.

There were about 100 detainees with ties to Saddam who could provide evidence against him. But the US military has released 15 of them.

"There a feeling that it is a pointless exercise. Important figures are being released and we are not even consulted. These people are leaving the country," Chalabi said.

US clarification

Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of operations for the US Army in Iraq, said the release of detainees from American custody did not preclude the Iraqi authorities from taking action against them.

Although many Iraqis believe Saddam was guilty of widespread crimes against humanity, proving it in a court may not be easy in some cases.

Chalabi said prosecutors would seek to establish a chain of command that proved Saddam ordered atrocities such as a chemical attack on the Kurds in 1988 and the crushing of a 1991 Shia uprising that allegedly sent thousands to mass graves.

Saddam's trial is not expected to be held this year, though some of his close aides may face prosecution in 2004.