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Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Paw is preparing to leave next week for Iraq to join the team of American lawyers advising Iraqi prosecutors and judges who will be handling the trial of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Paw, who joined the Philadelphia U.S. Attorney’s Office in 1997 and has served as chief of the narcotics section since August 2002, said in an interview last week that he expects the Iraq assignment to last six to nine months.

But beyond the time frame, Paw said he has little in the way of concrete expectations.

“This has to be a process that the Iraqis have confidence in,” Paw said. “As I see it, I’m going to be bringing my skills as a prosecutor here over there.”

According to recent news reports, Iraqi leaders have established the tribunal of judges and prosecutors who will try Hussein and other members of his Baathist regime.

Salem Chalabi, a U.S.-educated lawyer, was named general director of the tribunal, and he has named a panel of seven judges and four prosecutors. For now, however, the identities of the 11 members named by Chalabi are being kept secret. Chalabi is the nephew of Ahmed Chalabi, the controversial head of the Iraqi National Congress and a member of the Iraqi Governing Council.

The judges and prosecutors will undergo training, including in international law, war crimes and crimes against humanity. A committee of Iraq’s Governing Council selected Chalabi as head of the court under a law enacted earlier by the council and approved by L. Paul Bremer, top administrator of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority.

Paw said he will be joining the Iraq Regime Crimes Advisors Office, a group of American lawyers who will be assisting the Iraqi tribunal in preparing for the trial.

The assignment, he said, came from a longtime friend, Gregory Kehoe, the first assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida, who heads the IRCAO.

Paw and Kehoe met when they worked together for a congressional subcommittee investigating allegations that President Reagan had struck a secret deal with Iranian officials to delay the release of American hostages. The committee ultimately concluded there was no evidence of any arms-for-hostages deal.

Kehoe later worked for the War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague, Netherlands. And in Florida, Kehoe earned a solid reputation as a trial lawyer, trying more than 250 cases to verdict.

Paw said the American lawyers will be assisting the Iraqis in the investigation of Hussein’s crimes. The task will be a daunting one, he said, due to the secrecy of Hussein’s regime.

According to a report from the U.S. State Department, Hussein could face a wide range of charges.

The State Department’s report says Hussein allegedly authorized the use of poisonous gas and other atrocities against Iran during the Iran-Iraq war in 1980-88. Iraq also allegedly killed thousands of Iranian prisoners of war.

To suppress rebellion by Kurds in northern Iraq in the late 1980s, Hussein allegedly authorized the use of poisonous gas on cities. In one of the worst mass killings in recent history, Iraq dropped chemical weapons on Halabja in 1988, killing as many as 5,000 people. International analysts estimate that in all, Hussein’s government destroyed 3,000 villages in northern Iraq and displaced 900,000 citizens.

Kuwaiti officials say that during Iraq’s brief takeover of their country in 1990-91, Hussein’s troops committed murder, rape and torture.

Hussein’s regime has also been accused of committing crimes against humanity in crackdowns on Marsh Arabs and Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq. Villages were destroyed as government forces burned houses and fields. Thousands of civilians were executed.

And during Hussein’s regime, the State Department report says, thousands of political foes and other critics were executed or simply disappeared. In some cases, the wives and daughters of Hussein’s political foes were raped.

Since Hussein’s regime fell, some 300,000 bodies were found buried in mass graves, victims of his regime’s persecution of political enemies, Kurds and Shiite Muslims, and other groups, U.S. officials say.

Paw said he believes the people of Iraq will benefit from a public trial in which Hussein’s crimes are aired.

“An open courtroom is one of the most important doctrines of a democracy,” Paw said.

Paw’s boss, U.S. Attorney Patrick L. Meehan, said, “Greg’s acceptance of this assignment is a marvelous testament to his commitment to his country and his calling as a prosecutor. As importantly, like the Nuremburg trials, it has the very real likelihood of being a once-in-a-lifetime event.”

Meehan has named Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathy Stark to take over Paw’s job as chief of the narcotics section.

Paw said that he intends to return to Philadelphia when he is finished with his assignment in Iraq but that he isn’t sure whether he will be assigned to the narcotics chief post when he does.

“If I’m not [chief], I’d be just as happy returning to my work on corruption cases,” Paw said.

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