WASHINGTON, June 15 (UPI) -- The United States is likely to keep custody of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein beyond the June 30 handover of power to Iraqis though Iraq's new leaders have said they expect the former leader to be transferred to their authority in the next two weeks.
U.S. officials said Saddam and others would be handed over to Iraqi control once the almost daily anti-U.S. and coalition violence ends. The comments came as Iraq's new prime minister said he had been told Saddam would be turned over for trial by June 30. The International Committee of the Red Cross, meanwhile, said that holding Saddam and others in U.S. custody beyond June 30, the date the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority ceases to exist, without charges may be a violation of the Geneva Conventions, which govern the treatment of prisoners.
"These are issues that remain under discussion between the United States and Iraq," U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Tuesday. "We have always made clear that we were prepared to turn over Saddam Hussein and other detainees when the Iraqis were in a position to take him and try him."
Speculation about Saddam's fate was raised Monday when an official of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Baghdad said holding Saddam without charge after June 30 would be a violation of international law as they go against the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions. Saddam is regarded as a prisoner of war under the conventions.
Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi told Qatar-based al-Jazeera television in an interview broadcast Tuesday that all those now in U.S. custody will be turned over to the Iraqis in the next two weeks.
"To put it exactly, Saddam and the others will be turned over to the people and government of Iraq," he said, adding he had been given official notice of that.
Interior Minister Falah Naqib told al-Jazeera Monday that Saddam would be tried publicly on charges of "murder and killing, exile, the (pillage) of the (resources) of Iraq, the destruction of this entire nation."
"It's my belief that everyone knows about the murders and others perpetrated by Saddam Hussein against the people of Iraq," he said.
Naqib also said the Iraqis did not regard him as a prisoner of war, "but rather someone who committed criminal acts against Iraq."
Also Tuesday, interim Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawar said President Bush was eager to hand over Iraq back to Iraqis, but added security guarantees must first be in place in his country.
Those sentiments were echoed at the State Department. Boucher said Saddam would be turned over "when the Iraqis are ready and able to take over this responsibility." He also said holding the former Iraqi leader and other prisoners beyond June 30 would not be a legal problem because international law allowed for the detaining of prisoners of war as long as hostilities continued. The Bush administration says U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1511 and 1546 give it authority to remove and hold imminent security threats in Iraq.
"The legal basis, therefore, we think, is adequate, more than adequate," Boucher said.
He acknowledged, however, that a transfer of prisoners would occur before all hostilities end, adding the Iraqi government had indicated it would get tribunals up and running and take responsibility as soon as possible.
"I think it's quite clear at this point that hostilities continue," he said. "I would expect the Iraqi government to be in a position to take over this responsibility a lot sooner than we could say that there's perfect quiet in Iraq."
An ICRC spokesman told United Press International that "in general" a prisoner of war should be released as soon as possible after the end of hostilities unless he or she is charged.
"That does not exclude the possibility of someone being freed and rearrested immediately under Iraqi law," the spokesman, Florian Westphal, said.
In such a case, he said, the Geneva Conventions won't apply because the arrest would be under Iraqi law.
With just two weeks to go for the hand-over of power, the Coalition Provisional Authority has already transferred two-thirds of all ministries to Iraqi control. Fifteen of 26 ministries, including the crucial oil sector, are now in Iraqi hands and more than 700,000 Iraqis now work for Iraqi bosses at the departments.
Security continues to remain a problem, however. The CPA had warned of increased attacks ahead of the handover of power and there are almost daily attacks against U.S. and allied interests. Iraqis who are seen as collaborating with the U.S.-led coalition are also targets. The situation has led many Iraqis to criticize the U.S. presence in the country.
Following the hand over, a U.S.-led multinational force will remain on the ground and help restore stability to the country.
"We'll listen to them, we'll work with them, we'll talk to them in partnership to help provide the kind of security that they want, that they've analyzed the situation and decided that Iraq needs," Boucher said.
The United States invaded Iraq last April citing a threat from Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. Although Saddam was deposed, no WMD have been found.