Hussein's attorneys refuse to attend court hearing

Lawyers for Saddam Hussein and his codefendants refused to attend a special court hearing Sunday, expressing worries about violence and the recent assassination of one of their colleagues.

The defense attorneys have demanded that the Iraqi government and U.S. forces let them deputize their own relatives and tribesmen as armed bodyguards before they agree to continue to take part in the trial, which began Wednesday.

Prosecutors interviewed a dying former intelligence officer Sunday in a private hospital in the presence of an investigative judge but without defense lawyers. They said they had offered the defense several ways to take part in the session.

The lead prosecutor said the witness testified against Hussein and his deputies in connection with charges stemming from the alleged revenge killing of 146 Shiite villagers in the town of Dujayl after a 1982 assassination attempt against Hussein.

The dispute over security came as bombs and shootings left at least nine Iraqis dead Sunday and cut off vital exports from Iraq's northern oil fields. American troops have suffered at least 1,996 deaths since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, and Associated Press reported that five were wounded in attacks in Baghdad on Sunday.

The discord concerning safety foreshadows the difficulties that may arise in conducting a sensational trial in one of the world's most dangerous countries, reports

The killing of the 58-year-old lawyer, who was defending the former head of Saddam's Revolutionary Court, Awad Hamed al-Bandar, has sparked an uproar among defence lawyers, who have demanded an international investigation.

Mr Kubba said the defence lawyers rebuffed Government offers of the same protections and security it has given other officers of the court. They also rejected an offer to obscure lawyers' faces during the trial and keep their names private.

The lawyers say they mistrust the Interior Ministry, which they claim is infiltrated by Shiite militiamen who wish them harm.

"We want our relatives to protect us," said Khamis Ubaidi, a lawyer who represents several of the defendants. "We want the people in charge to issue licences for them to carry weapons."

On Sunday, prosecutors interviewed Wadha Ismail Sheikh, a senior intelligence official who is apparently dying of cancer, about the defendants' involvement in the Dujail case, which might be the first of several cases against Saddam, informs the Age.


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