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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Saddam Hussein and his top lieutenants are likely to face trial in an Iraqi court if they are captured alive, the U.S. adviser to Iraq's Justice Ministry said Thursday.
The issue of how -- and where -- to try Saddam is certain to be an explosive issue in Iraq, where the deposed dictator and his Baath Party are still regarded with terror. Options for trying the Iraqi leader could include a world court, a U.S. proceeding or an Iraqi-convened trial.
"There is a broad consensus that people who committed crimes previously against the Iraqi people should be tried within the Iraqi system," said Clint Williamson, the Justice Ministry adviser.
"In all probability, we will see some sort of special chamber set up within the Iraqi system, composed of Iraqi judges, using Iraqi prosecutors, who will handle this," Williamson said.
Saddam could be tried for, among other charges, crimes against humanity or specific crimes against the Iraqi people.
Saddam's fate isn't known. He was targeted by two U.S. "decapitation" airstrikes during the war. But some Iraqis claimed to have seen him later in Baghdad, an appearance that was videotaped and broadcast by Abu Dhabi television. Some U.S. officials dispute the authenticity of the tape.
Williamson spoke in front of an Iraqi courthouse as the country's criminal courts started their postwar work, bringing in 13 suspected looters and other suspects for questioning.
Williamson said the courts that resumed work Thursday will apply Iraqi law, but that certain new laws introduced after Saddam's Baath Party took power in 1968 -- ones that, for example, make it illegal to insult the president -- will be invalidated.
"There will be some small changes in the former Iraqi law," court president Ibrahim Malik al-Hindawi said as he stood in front of the courthouse, one of two now functioning.
"There will be punishment for everyone, even if they have high positions," he said. "The Iraqi justice system is completely independent and we will not accept and British or American interference."
The world's first permanent war crimes court, the International Criminal Court in The Hague, was launched earlier this year. The United States tried to block the court's creation, fearing the tribunal could be used for politically motivated prosecutions of Americans.
Not everyone wants Saddam tried, however. In eastern Baghdad's Zayouna neighborhood, pro-Saddam slogans appeared Thursday on a pedestrian bridge that passes over a street.
"This is a warning: We swear to God -- we swear to God -- that we will chop all the hands that wave to American soldiers whose hands are stained by the blood of our great martyrs," read one banner.
And another: "Long live the leader Saddam Hussein."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)