Iraqi tribunal judge, lawyer killed; car bombs kill 10 Iraqi army troops

Gunmen killed a judge and lawyer working for the tribunal that will try Saddam Hussein and members of his former regime, a day after the secret court referred five of the ousted dictator's aides to trial for alleged crimes against humanity, officials and a relative of the slain men said Wednesday. News of the deaths came as two car bombs exploded in the capital, killing 10 Iraqi soldiers and wounding dozens of others. The first blast targeted an Iraqi army base in central Baghdad, killing six troops and wounding at least 25. A second car bomb an hour later at an army checkpoint in south Baghdad killed four soldiers, police said. The two slain men were judge Barwez Mohammed Mahmoud al-Merwani and his son, lawyer Aryan Barwez al-Merwani, according to one of the judge's son, Kikawz Barwez Mohammed al-Merwani. He said gunmen in a speeding car raked the pair with gunfire as they were trying to get into a vehicle outside their home. The shootings in northern Baghdad's Azamyiah district on Tuesday marked the first time any legal staff working for the Iraqi Special Tribunal have been killed, a court official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. A day before the killings, the tribunal had issued referrals for five former regime members _ including one of Saddam's half brothers for crimes against humanity. Referrals are similar to indictments, and are the final step before trials can start. It wasn't immediately clear, however, if the killings were related to the court actions. While a tribunal official indicated the shootings may have been due to a personal dispute, the judge's surviving son disagreed. He said the two were assassinated either because they worked for the court, or because they were minority Kurds. "We believe that the murder is politically motivated, because the two killed were working in the special tribunal and the son was a senior member in the PUK office in Baghdad. The late judge had no personal problems with anybody at all," the son said. "This is a terrorist act carried out by Baathists and terrorists." The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is one of two key northern Kurdish parties. U.S. authorities dissolved Saddam's former ruling Baath party after ousting him from power. Despite the heavy presence of U.S. and Iraqi security forces in Baghdad, many parts of the city remain lawless and it can be difficult to distinguish between insurgent killings and common crimes. Iraqis perceived as collaborating with U.S. and the government are targeted relentlessly. Judges and other legal staff working at the court have not even been identified in public because of concerns for their safety, and tribunal officials have kept a low-profile for the same reason, even refusing to say where the court is located. The Iraqi Special Tribunal was set up in late 2003 after Saddam was toppled. But after five potential candidates were killed, some judges declined calls to work at the court. At least half of the tribunal's budget has gone to security. The first car bomb exploded outside an Iraqi army base in central Baghdad that occupies the former Muthanna airport, which has been targeted by insurgents several times over the last year. An Interior Ministry security official, Ayad Hadi al-Maliki, said six people were killed and 25 people were wounded in the blast 15 of them civilians. The explosion could be heard across the city, and a plume of black smoke billowed into the air afterward. Flames leapt from two destroyed civilian vehicles. Debris from the blast was strewn around the area, and witnesses said the severed head of a female soldier lay on the ground. U.S. and Iraqi troops blocked roads and sealed off the area after the attack, preventing people from entering. Helicopters hovered overhead. Police officer Salam Hashim Mahmoud said the bomber drove up to the base gate, where army recruits normally line up to apply for jobs. Residents said Iraqi security forces opened fire after the incident. About an hour later, another car bomb exploded in southern Baghdad's Doura neighborhood, killing four Iraqi soldiers at an army checkpoint and wounding three others, police said on condition of anonymity. The court official said the slain judge was one of more than 60 investigative, appellate and trial judges working at the court. An official familiar with the court said al-Merwani was an investigative judge. The killing came just one day after five former members of Saddam Hussein's regime including one of his half brothers were referred to trial for crimes against humanity. The announcement Monday by the tribunal marked the first time that the special court issued referrals. No date was given for that trial. The five referred to trial Monday included Barzan Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti, one of Saddam's half brothers, and former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan. The three others were senior Baath Party members. U.S. military officials transferred 12 of the top defendants to Iraqi custody in June with the handover of sovereignty. They're being held at an undisclosed location near Baghdad International Airport, west of the capital. Associated Press

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