Saddam's chief attorney says team waiting for response on protection request

The chief Iraqi attorney for Saddam Hussein said Sunday that the defense team was not sure if it would attend next week's hearing because its demands for protection had not yet been answered.

Khalil al-Dulaimi said he also submitted a request two days to the judge to postpone the Nov. 28 hearing but had not received a reply.

Last week about 1,100 lawyers withdrew from the defense team, citing inadequate protection for themselves and their families following the assassination of two defense lawyers. They said other members of the team would continue their duties in Baghdad under "dangerous circumstances" but al-Dulaimi suggested at the time that defense lawyers would not show up for Nov. 28 session.

His comments on Sunday seemed less definite. He outlined two main demands: that the court assign an international committee to investigate the deaths of the two lawyers; and that it provide protection for lawyers and their families, 20 bodyguards of the lawyers' choosing, at the government's expense. He suggested that the court would be act in the defense team's favor if it had the right pressure.

The lawyer also denied recent media reports that Saddam had been punched by court employees. State-run Iraqiya television reported last week that two court employees attacked the former dictator and punched him several times after he cursed two Shiite Islam saints. The report, quoting people close to the investigative judges, did not say when the incident occurred.

Saddam and seven co-defendants are on trial for the 1982 deaths of 148 Shiite Muslims. Proceedings began Oct. 19 and are set to resume Nov. 28. If convicted, they could be executed by hanging, AP reports.

A. A.