ROME - Saddam Hussein, captured by United States forces a year ago, will stand trial in Iraq for crimes against humanity after national elections on January 30, Iraqi foreign minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on Monday.

Following a morning audience with Pope John Paul, Zebari said he had told the Vatican that Saddam's human rights and those of his lieutenants would be respected, in the wake of concern from members of the Church.

"We assured the Vatican that all of these people would be given a fair trial ... The same justice they denied us, we will give it to them," he told a news conference.

When asked about Saddam's trial, Zebari said there was no "specific date" yet set.

"All I know (is) it will happen after the election. I hope it will be soon, weeks. This is my personal desire," he said.

Prime minister Iyad Allawi called in September for the trial against Saddam and his aides to begin before the election. The tribunal's ousted chief administrator, Salem Chalabi, accused Allawi at the time of manipulating the courts to boost his popularity and planning hasty show trials.

Since then Saddam's trial date has been pushed back, and deputy prime minister Barham Salih said last month the case required more time than similar cases against his lieutenants due to its complexity.

"This trial is an important event to us, to prove our credibility. It will be open. It will be fair. It will be transparent," Zebari told reporters.

Saddam's trial could be preceded by a case against two of Saddam's top allies, including Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali", for his alleged role in using poison gas against Kurds and Iranians.

"There are plans to try two of his lieutenants as soon as possible," he said.

Saddam has been visited several times by the International Committee for the Red Cross but has not seen a lawyer, a complaint shared by other detainees.

On Sunday, a Catholic priest said he had put together a five-member Italian legal team to provide free counsel to Saddam's former deputy prime minister Tareq Aziz, who is a Christian. The priest, Father Jean-Marie Benjamin, said he had won tacit support from the Vatican.

When asked about the case, Zebari said only: "These people, Aziz, Saddam Hussein, and others, have access through the proper channels to the Red Cross ... They are free to communicate with their families, with their people, send letters and so on."