Iraq's Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi on Tuesday said Saddam and up to 11 top members of his ousted government would appear before Iraqi judges to be charged on Thursday.

"The tribunal would give them a fair and open trial but it would not start for several months," Allawi said.

US soldiers would keep physical custody of Saddam and the other 11 until Iraq's nascent police force was capable of detaining them securely.

Salem Chalabi, a lawyer leading the work of a tribunal that is to try Saddam said the former Iraqi president be charged with crimes against humanity for a 1988 massacre of Kurds, the 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Defiant Saddam

French lawyer Emmanuel Ludot, one of a 20-strong team appointed by Saddam's wife to represent him, said the deposed Iraqi leader would refuse to acknowledge any court or any judge.

"The tribunal would give them a fair and open trial but it would not start for several months"

Iyad Allawi,
Iraq's Interim Prime Minister


"It will be a court of vengeance, a settling of scores," Ludot said. The French lawyer said he expected Saddam to say last year's US-led war was illegal.

Iraq's ambassador to the United States, Rend Rahim said the trials were "a cleansing, reconciliation process" and "a kind of reverse trauma the Iraqis need to go through."

Meanwhile, three US soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb blast in Baghdad, raising to 632 the number of US soldiers killed in action since the invasion in March last year.

Aljazeera tape

Aljazeera television broadcast a video tape showing what a group claimed was the execution of a captive US soldier.

The soldier was named in the video footage as Private Keith Maupin. He had been seized in April. A man was seen firing a shot at the soldier, wearing greenish overalls and seen only from behind. The body fell into a hole.

Three Turks taken hostage in Iraq have meanwhile been released by a group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The group had earlier threatened to behead the Turks unless their government told companies to stop dealing with US forces in Iraq.

"Jama'at al-Tawhid and Jihad announces the release of the Turkish hostages for the sake of Muslims in Turkey and their demonstrations against US President George Bush," a masked man said on a video tape.