French engineer kidnapped in Baghdad

Unidentified gunmen abducted a French engineer from outside his home as he was on his way to work Monday in Baghdad, police said, just hours before Saddam Hussein's trial resumed. The kidnappers in three cars surrounded the man as he was getting into a car outside a house in the wealthy Mansour district of Baghdad, police Capt. Qassim Hussein said. The man was on his way to work at the Risafa Water Plant, in the center of the capital, he added.

The man taken hostage worked for a French company that had a contract with the Eastern Baghdad Water Company to work on a sewage project, police said. No other details were immediately available. A photo identification card found at the scene was for Bernard Planche, the head of mission for AACCESS NGO, a group that works on U.S.-funded water projects. There was also a small amount of blood next to one vehicle.

Phone calls by The Associated Press to the French embassy in Baghdad were not answered. The French Foreign Ministry said it was verifying the reports with the French embassy in Baghdad.

A U.S. statement said Monday that a soldier assigned to Task Force Baghdad was killed when a patrol hit a roadside bomb on Sunday. No other details were released and the name of the victim was withheld pending notification of kin.

Defense attorneys walked out Monday after judges on the Iraqi High Tribunal refused to hear arguments over the court's legitimacy. Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, a member of the defense team, was later allowed to make the argument and the defense attorneys returned.

Saddam and seven co-defendants are standing trial for the 1982 killing of more than 140 Shiites after an assassination attempt against the former president in Dujail.

As the trial began, small explosions reverberated through Baghdad that apparently came from mortar rounds, but there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties. Such explosions are not uncommon in Baghdad and most do not cause any harm.

In Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, a demonstration of support for the former ruler turned violent when protesters began tearing down election posters. Police intervened and arrested three people. A statement released Sunday by the office of Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser, said the 1920 Revolution Brigades, one of the country's best-known insurgent groups, planned to attack the building during the court session. The statement said Iraqi intelligence uncovered the plot but gave no further details, including whether anyone had been arrested.

On Sunday, a court official said one of the five judges stepped down because one of the co-defendants may have been involved in the execution of his brother.

Since the trial opened, two defense lawyers have been assassinated and a third has fled the country. Each of the eight defendants will have at least one attorney in court Monday.

The slow pace of the trial, which has included only two one-day sessions so far, has drawn criticism from Shiite politicians. Some Shiite figures have urged supporters to vote for the main Shiite ticket on Dec. 15 to prevent Saddam from escaping justice. During the Nov. 28 session, Saddam lashed out at his treatment by American "occupiers and invaders" and lectured the chief judge about leadership.

In Najaf on Sunday, about a dozen men, some armed with clubs, tried to block former Prime Minister and parliamentary candidate Ayad Allawi from entering the Imam Ali mosque, one of the holiest Shiite shrines in Iraq. Allawi's bodyguards fired shots in the air to disperse the crowd.

Once Allawi and his entourage were inside, the crowd grew to about 60 and as the group left, they were showered with stones and shoes, a sign of contempt in Iraqi culture. Allawi and his security force knocked over barricades as they scampered to their vehicles and sped away.

Allawi later said the group was armed with pistols, knives and swords and at least seven shots were fired from the crowd. "They were planning to kill the whole delegation, or at least me," Allawi told reporters. Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told CNN's "Late Edition" that it was unclear whether the incident was an assassination attempt "or just a disruption by the angry crowd who might not agree with Dr. Allawi's policy," reports the AP. I.L.

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