THE visit to Saddam Hussein made yesterday by the International Committee of the Red Cross served as a reminder of one of the biggest items of unfinished business that the Americans and British will hand over to the provisional government of Iraq on 1 July - the trial of the man who led the country from 17 July 1968 to 1 May 2003. From the moment it assumes office the provisional government will have to take responsibility for a huge number of formidable problems although it will lack the authority that would come from having been directly elected. Foremost among these problems will be the trial of Saddam Hussein. An indication of just how sensitive and volatile an issue this will prove to be was given yesterday by Muwaffaq al-Rubaiye, a member of the Iraq Governing Council whose members are thought likely to provide the core of the provisional government. He said that Saddam Hussein's trial should start “very soon, in the next few weeks” and added “he could be executed on 1 July”.

Some kind of consensus seems already to have been reached that Saddam's trial should be an Iraqi affair with, possibly, one or two international observers. Whether this is right, given that his crimes were not confined to his own people and that an international coalition brought him down, does not really matter. The Iraqis will want to dispense justice themselves. But international opinion will want to be satisfied that justice is seen to be done. That will mean a lengthy process of the preparation of charges and an equally lengthy trial - unless, of course, the accused decides to plead guilty to war crimes, crimes against humanity and, even, genocide. But would any man, however broken, want to admit to such atrocities?