Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi dictator, could go on trial for crimes against humanity within weeks, according to Jalal Talabani, the country’s president.

Condemning Mr Hussein as a “war criminal”, Mr Talabani expressed “hope” that the trail would start “within two months”.

“The Iraqi government is now doing its best to prepare the ground for a court which will be able to decide… about Saddam Hussein’s future,” he told a conference marking the 25th anniversary of CNN in Atlanta, via satellite.

Mr Talabani also expected US-led coalition forces to start withdrawing from Iraq within 18 months.

“When we are able to establish [a] new Iraqi army and security forces within one and a half years there will be no need for coalition forces in Iraq,” he said.

Mr Talabani blamed Iraq’s neighbours for supporting terrorism inside the country and called for interference to stop, without naming specific countries.

“If our neighbours will stop their interference in Iraq these [terrorist] actions will soon stop,” he said.

The president said he believed reports that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the man accused by the US of masterminding terrorist operations in Iraq, had been injured but he did not know any more about his condition or whereabouts.

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