The United States will hand over Saddam Hussein and all other detainees to Iraq's new government over the next two weeks as sovereignty is restored, the interim prime minister said Monday.
U.S. officials have said they plan to continue to hold up to 5,000 prisoners deemed a threat to the coalition even after the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty at the end of this month. They say as many as 1,400 detainees will either be released or transferred to Iraqi authorities.
However, in an interview with Al-Jazeera television, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said Iraqi officials expect to take possession of Saddam and all other detainees with the transfer of power.
"All the detainees will be transferred to the Iraqi authorities and the transporting operation will be done within the two coming weeks," Allawi said. "Saddam and the others will be delivered to the Iraqis."
He said the former Iraqi president would stand trial "as soon as possible" but gave no specific timeframe. The detainees and "Saddam as well will be handed to the Iraqi government, and you can consider this as an official confirmation," he added.
Saddam has been in American custody at an undisclosed location in Iraq since his capture last December near Tikrit. His status has been under discussion as the formal end of the U.S.-led occupation approaches.
In Geneva, the spokeswoman of the International Committee of the Red Cross said coalition authorities must file criminal charges against Saddam or let him go when sovereignty is transferred.
Under international and military law, prisoners of war and civilian internees are supposed to be freed at the end of the conflict and occupation, unless there are charges against them, Red Cross spokeswoman Nada Doumani said.
Saddam was granted prisoner of war status after his capture. Although he is alleged to have committed crimes against his own people, he has not been charged with any offense.
"If he is not charged, then the law says that at the end of war, of occupation, he should be released," Doumani told Associated Press Television News.
In Geneva, the chief spokeswoman of the international Red Cross, Antonella Notari, said the organization was not calling for Saddam's release but simply stating the rules under international law.
"We're not making any ultimatums or calls for release," Notari said. "What we're saying is: Saddam Hussein, as far as we understand today, is a POW, prisoner of war, protected by the third Geneva Convention as all prisoners of war are.
"In theory, when a war ends and when an occupation ends, the detaining force has to release prisoners of war or civilian detainees if there are no reasons for holding them," she said.
But Notari added that "a prisoner of war who is suspected of having committed a crime must not just be released. Of course, he must be prosecuted, tried, through a legal proceeding."
She said it was up to U.S. authorities to decide what they will do about Saddam - whether to charge him, or hand him over to the Iraqis for trial.
Although Iraqis will run their own affairs after June 30, tens of thousands of coalition troops will remain in the country to maintain security under a resolution approved unanimously last week by the U.N. Security Council.
After the handover of sovereignty, detainees held by the Iraqi authorities will be subject to Iraqi law.
Mohammed Rashdan, a Jordanian attorney who claims to represent Saddam, said the Red Cross's stand "violates international and military law."
"Under the provisions of international laws and conventions, ICRC should have only called for Saddam Hussein's release," Rashdan told The Associated Press in neighboring Jordan.
He accused the Red Cross of serving the United States "in every possible way."
"The ICRC should help Saddam's defense lawyers to meet with him - the minimum requirement of the due process in developed nations," Rashdan said.