Rizgar Mohammed Amin, the presiding judge overseeing the Saddam case, has offered to resign, a court official said on condition of anonymity on Saturday.

The statement came after news reports emerged on Friday that Amin would resign.

Two judges said earlier on Saturday that the reports were not true amid apparent behind-the-scenes efforts to get Amin to change his mind.

The chief judge was dismayed by the way he had been attacked in the media by critics who said he allowed the proceedings to spin out of control, the court official said.

Saddam grabbing spotlight

Saddam has often grabbed the spotlight during his trial on mass murder charges for killings in Dujail in 1982 in retaliation for an assassination attempt.

He has railed at the judge, refused to show up at one session, said he was tortured and openly prayed in court when the judge would not allow a recess.

Saddam Hussein refused to show
up for a court session

Arlen Specter, the US Senate judiciary chairman, met Amin in late December and told him to take stronger control of the proceeding.

Amin is a Kurd who before the Saddam trial was virtually unknown outside his home region. He heads the panel of five judges who are both hearing the Saddam case and will render a verdict in the trial.

The trial began in October and is scheduled to resume on 24 January.

British reporter rescued


In other news, Phil Sands, a British journalist kidnapped in Iraq, told on Saturday how his captors threatened to behead him before he was freed by chance when US soldiers raided the farmhouse where he was being held.


Sands, a reporter for Dubai-based newspaper Emirates Today, was rescued after being held captive for five days last month on the outskirts of Baghdad.


No one had reported him missing and family and colleagues were unaware he had been abducted.


"From the moment I was taken hostage I was certain I would be killed. A strange calmness fell over me. I thought 'what is the point in panicking - I am dead'"

Phil Sands,
freed British journalist

The 28-year-old journalist from Poole in southwest England said he was captured by armed men on 26 December after he had set out with a local driver and interpreter to interview academics in the Iraqi capital.


He has locked in the trunk of a car and driven away. The fate of his driver and interpreter is unknown.


"I was treated very respectfully and courteously apart from the fact that I was detained against my will and threatened with beheading," Sands told The Associated Press.


"I was not beaten, starved or treated badly.


"From the moment I was taken hostage I was certain I would be killed. A strange calmness fell over me. I thought 'what is the point in panicking - I am dead'."


The newspaper said Sands was discovered handcuffed and blindfolded by US soldiers as they entered the farmhouse on 31 December during an unconnected operation.