Saddam's lawyer to ask for a 3-month adjournment at opening session; says Saddam in high spirits on eve of trial

Saddam Hussein is in high spirits and "very optimistic" on the eve of the start of his trial for allegedly ordering the massacre of Shiite Muslims, his defense lawyer said after a meeting Tuesday with the ousted dictator. The lawyer said he would ask the court for an adjournment of at least three months.

"I have just left him five minutes ago. His morale is very, very, very high and he is very optimistic and confident of his innocence, although the court is ... unjust," Khalil al-Duleimi told.

He met with Saddam for 90 minutes at a location that al-Duleimi said was not his usual place of detention. He would not specify where the meeting took place. Saddam's location has been kept secret since his capture by American troops in December 2003, but it is believed that he has been held at a U.S. facility at Baghdad International Airport.

Al-Duleimi said that at Wednesday's opening session, he would ask for the adjournment to give him time to better prepare Saddam's defense and arrange for Arab and Western lawyers to join him in the defense team.

The defense will also raise a motion challenging the court's competence to try Saddam.

"We will dispute the legitimacy of the court as we've been doing every day. We will claim it is unconstitutional and not competent to try the legitimate president of Iraq," al-Duleimi said.

The court is expected to grant an adjournment if the defense asks for one, though it is known how long it would be, court officials have said.

Saddam and seven senior members of his toppled regime go on trial Wednesday to face charges they ordered the 1982 killings of nearly 150 people from the mainly Shiite town of Dujail following a failed attempt on Saddam's life.

If convicted, Saddam and his co-defendants could face the death penalty, but they could appeal before another chamber of the special tribunal set up to try the former leader and officials from his ousted regime.

Court officials have said they are trying Saddam on the Dujail massacre first because it was the easiest and quickest case to put together. Other cases they are investigating _ including a crackdown on the Kurds that killed an estimated 180,000 people _ involve much larger numbers of victims, more witnesses and more documentation.

Saddam and his co-defendants are expected to hear the charges against them during Wednesday's hearing, and the court will address procedural matters, AP reported. V.A.

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