The Iraqi prime minister's spokesman said on Sunday that Saddam could face up to 500 charges, but he will be tried on only 12 because prosecuting all would be a "waste of time".

Iraqi Special Tribunal judge Raed Juhi told a newspaper on Saturday that the toppled leader was expected to go on trial within two months and described his morale as "low
because he realises the volume of accusations for which he will be judged".

Saddam is being held by US forces at a base near Baghdad along with 11 former high-ranking government members, on an array of charges of crimes against humanity, including the alleged use of chemical weapons against the Kurds.

Al-Zarqawi aide held

A military official said on Sunday that Iraqi forces had arrested a close aide to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the purported frontman for al-Qaida in Iraq, during an operation in the northern city of Mosul.

"The terrorist Mullah Mehdi, one of Zarqawi's deputies, was arrested late Friday during raids in eastern Mosul," General Khalil Ahmad al-Obaidi said, adding that the suspect was not an Iraqi national but was from an Arab country. 

Al-Zarqawi is at large and able
to carry out large-scale attacks

"Five other terrorists, including Mehdi's brother, were also arrested during the operation," the general said, accusing Mehdi of various crimes including murder and ordering attacks.
  
Several aides to the Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi have been arrested recently, according to Iraqi authorities, but his al-Qaida organisation in the Land of Two Rivers is still active.
 
The group has claimed many of the bloodiest attacks in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003.
  
The rebel leader tops the US most-wanted list in Iraq with a $25 million bounty on his head and is hounded by US forces.
  
But al-Zarqawi remains at large and is able to organise and communicate with his troops, experts say.

Weapons, bunker found

In another development, US forces said on Sunday they had discovered what they called an insurgent lair in Iraq's Anbar province, including a bunker system the size of four football pitches and dozens of weapons caches.

The US military announced the discovery of the bunkers dug into an abandoned quarry near Karmah, west of the capital, along with 50 weapons caches unearthed in the past 72 hours.

"The terrorist Mullah Mehdi, one of Zarqawi's deputies, was arrested late Friday during raids
in eastern Mosul"

General Khalil Ahmad al-Obaidi,
Iraqi military official

The whole complex was 170m wide and 275m long or bigger than four football pitches, it said, and fresh food inside showed the hideout had been recently inhabited.

Fully furnished living spaces were found in the warren, along with a kitchen, showers and an air conditioner, hi-tech combat equipment such as night-vision goggles and a large haul of weapons and ammunition.
  
"Coalition forces and ISF (Iraqi security forces) found numerous types of machine guns, ordnance, including mortars, rockets and artillery rounds, black uniforms, ski masks, compasses, log books, night vision goggles, and fully charged cell phones," it said.

Meanwhile, in Hilla, north of Baghdad, 10 members of the Green Zone Protection Brigade were wounded when a bomb targeted their convoy, Aljazeera reported.

Australian hostage 

In other news, a Muslim cleric has said he had met an ailing Australian contractor who has been held captive for weeks in Iraq by militants.

Wood is said to be well and has
received medication

In Australia, a spokesman for the country's top Muslim cleric said Shaikh Taj al-Din al-Hilaly had met contractor Douglas Wood, who was kidnapped in late April, and that he had received medication for a serious heart condition.
  
"He said to me: 'I've seen him eye to eye', those were the words he used, eye to eye, it was Douglas," Sydney-based Ikbal Patel of the Federation of Islamic Councils told Australian television.
  
"What we do know is he is alive. The mufti's words is: 'He is OK under the circumstances. He is well,' and the aim is to now try and get him out of there asap [as soon as possible], to try get him the urgent medical attention that is required."