Red Cross meets with Hussein in custody

Officials observe his care for 1st time since capture

later elections considered

February 22, 2004|By Christine Spolar | Christine Spolar,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Saddam Hussein, the former dictator who has been held by U.S. forces since December, was visited for the first time by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, a spokesman said yesterday.

The brief visit to Hussein was revealed as more questions were raised about the future of the country, and specifically whether direct elections for a new democratic government would require as much as 15 months of preparation.

Hussein was visited by two ICRC delegates, including a doctor, who monitored his living conditions and gave him an opportunity to write a message to his family, said Nada Doumani, a spokesman who works in Baghdad and Amman, Jordan.

Doumani, reached by phone in Amman, said Hussein's letter to his family would be scrutinized by U.S. authorities, which she called a "usual procedure."

"The detaining authorities can censor messages," she said.

Hussein, 66, has been undergoing interrogations by U.S. authorities and intelligence officers since his capture Dec. 14, at a farm near the town of Tikrit. He had been on the run from invading U.S. forces for nine months at the time of his capture.

Doumani would not say where Hussein was during the ICRC visit. She said his location was undisclosed because of security concerns. "In cases where there are security concerns, we can agree to not discuss his location," she said.

The ICRC has the authority to visit prisoners of war and detainees under the Geneva Convention. The organization, wherever it operates, does not comment on such visits.

Doumani said Hussein would be visited as long as he is in detention. She said the representatives who visited Hussein were "part of a visiting team in Iraq" who monitor other detainees.

Hussein's status was reviewed as the top U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq raised questions about when direct elections could be held.

During an interview on Arabic television, U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer III said technical difficulties could make elections in Iraq unlikely for at least 12 to 15 months.

Bremer noted U.N. estimates for addressing what he called technical problems and what his aides later described as building an "electoral infrastructure."

"Iraq has no election law. It has no electoral commission. ... It has no law governing political parties, it has no voters' lists, it has not had a credible, reliable census in almost 20 years. There are no constituent boundaries to decide where elections would take place," Bremer said on Al Arabiya, a Dubai-based television station.

"These technical problems will take time to fix - the U.N. estimates somewhere between a year and 15 months. It might be that it could be sped up a little bit.

"But there are real important technical problems why elections are not possible," Bremer said.

The clamor for direct elections has troubled the U.S. effort to hand over sovereignty. An influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, agreed Friday with a United Nations assessment that Iraq was not prepared to hold elections before a scheduled June 30 transfer of power.

But al-Sistani chastised the U.S.-led occupation for failing to "prepare for elections in these past months."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Killed in Iraq

As of yesterday, 544 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations, and 2,685 U.S. service members have been wounded. Since May 1, when President Bush declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ended, 406 U.S. service members have died.

Latest Identifications

Army 2nd Lt. Jeffrey C. Graham, 24, Elizabethtown, Ky.; assigned to 1st Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, Fort Riley, Kan.; killed Thursday in an attack in Khaldiyah, Iraq.

Army Spc. Roger G. Ling, 20, Douglaston, N.Y.; assigned to 1st Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, Fort Riley, Kan.; killed Thursday in an attack in Khaldiyah, Iraq.

- Associated Press

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