The video, released on Monday, showed a bearded Saddam wearing a dark-coloured jacket and white open-collared shirt being questioned by a man in the dark robes of a judge.

It is unclear when the video was made.

An announcement accompanying the tape said Saddam was being questioned about crimes related to the execution of at least 50 Iraqis in 1982 in the Shia town of Dujail, 80km north of Baghdad, in retaliation for a failed assassination attempt against him.

Iraqi officials say that Saddam will be put on trial within two months.

He is likely to face charges of crimes against Iraq's Shias and Kurds, as well as against Iran and Kuwait. He is expected to deny the charges.

The killings of Shia men from Dujail - by some accounts more than 140 - pale in comparison with some of the accusations against Saddam, who looked relaxed, if sombre, bearded and wearing a dark jacket, as on his last appearance in July.

Test case

A government source has told Reuters that prosecutors believe they can build a strong test case for Saddam's personal role at Dujail, possibly based on testimony from a half-brother and the former vice-president, accelerating the trial process.

Saddam under interrogation in
a videograb released on Monday

Proving guilt for genocide and crimes against humanity in broader cases, such as the suppression of Shia and Kurdish uprisings, may take much longer - as four years of proceedings against former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic have shown.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's office declined comment.
 
His half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti and vice-president Taha Yassin Ramadan are among five men already charged over Dujail.

"Answer the question, answer the question," presiding judge Raad Jouhi could be seen telling Saddam in the silent film. The tribunal said Saddam's lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi was present.

The lead attorney engaged by Saddam's family in Jordan declined to comment as he said he had not known of the hearing.

Lawyers' reaction

In London, Giovanni di Stefano, who says he is among the many lawyers working for Saddam, questioned whether the film was new and stressed that no charges had yet been brought.

The tribunal also released a list of four other people, including Barzan Abdel Ghafoor, a general and cousin of Saddam, and Muzahim Saab al-Hassan, a former air defence commander, who were questioned on the 1988 Anfal campaign against the Kurds, during which poison gas killed 5000 civilians at Halabja.

Monday saw at least four major
attacks on Iraqi and US forces

Film of their hearings was also released.

There were at least four major attacks on Iraqi and US forces on Monday, including a car bombing in Saddam's home town of Tikrit, near where he was captured 18 months ago.

In all, at least 12 uniformed Iraqi personnel were killed.

A senior US diplomat was unscathed when a car bomber struck a US military convoy in Baghdad, killing two civilians, police said. The US embassy played it down, saying that an unidentified diplomat happened to be in the area.

A spokesman for the Iraqi Islamic Party, a moderate Sunni Arab grouping that has had strained relations with Washington, said a senior US official had just left its compound in western Baghdad when his convoy was hit by an explosion which shattered windows in the party's headquarters.

Witnesses saw three US soldiers, apparently wounded, being airlifted away.

Mosul accord

Tribal chiefs in northern Iraq agreed on Monday to hand over suspected assailants to Iraqi security forces in a show of support by influential local leaders, Iraq's Defence Ministry said.

Anti-government attacks have been rampant in northern areas like Mosul and Tal Afar, bent on derailing Iraq's new Shia Muslim-led government.

Mosul in the north has been a
frequent scene of attacks

"For the first time, tribal leaders in northern Iraq agreed to turn in terror suspects to the Iraqi security forces," the ministry said in a statement.

The US military also announced that Mosul shaikhs turned over a "terror suspect" to US soldiers on Saturday. No further details were available on the detainee.

Iraqi authorities also issued a $50,000 reward for the capture of Ibrahim Yousif Turki, a former member of Iraqi's once ruling Baath Party, which was disbanded after the US-led invasion two years ago that ousted Saddam Hussein.

Turki is wanted for allegedly attacking Iraqi security forces in Mosul, 418km north of Baghdad, and killing innocent Iraqis, a government statement said.

Najaf meeting

In a separate development, the Russian ambassador to Iraq flew to Najaf and started talks with Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr.

Al-Sadr has been a strong critic
of US military presence in Iraq

Ambassador Vlidimer Chamov was making the first visit by a Russian envoy to al-Sadr's office since the US-led war started in Iraq more than two years ago, Russian embassy protocol chief Ivan Zhurba said on Monday.

Zhurba had no details on the purpose of the talks, but Russia and al-Sadr were fierce opponents of the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Incidentally, Shaikh Jalil al-Nuri, an al-Sadr aide in Najaf, has confirmed that talks have started and that a delegation of Sunni tribal leaders from the towns of Ramadi and Falluja in Anbar province are expected to meet al-Sadr later.