Start of new session of Saddam Hussein's trial delayed

The start of a new session of Saddam Hussein's trial was delayed Wednesday as his defense lawyers boycotted the proceedings, demanding a new chief judge be removed because of alleged bias against the former Iraqi leader. The day's proceedings had been due to begin at 11 am, but an hour later, the court was still not convened.

A court official blamed the delay on "procedural issues," but did not elaborate. He said the court will hold a closed session in the morning before opening the proceedings to the press later in the day. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The new problems come after a stormy session on Sunday, when chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman tried to clamp down on the court, throwing out one defendant and a defense lawyer. The entire defense team walked out in protest and Saddam was escorted out after he rejected new court-appointed attorneys.

The defense team now says it will boycott the trial until Abdel-Rahman is replaced, raising the question of whether Abdel-Rahman will continue the trial with appointed defense lawyers whom Saddam and three other co-defendants have rejected.

Saddam's top lawyers, Khalil al-Dulaimi and Khamis al-Obeidi, have demanded Abdel-Rahman's removal, calling him biased against Saddam. They pointed to the fact that Abdel-Rahman, a Kurd, was born in the village of Halabja, which was subjected to a 1988 poison gas attack allegedly ordered by Saddam. Some 5,000 Kurds were killed in that attack, including several of Abdel-Rahman's relatives.

Speaking to Al-Jazeera television Wednesday morning from the Jordanian capital Amman, al-Dulaimi also claimed that Abdel-Rahman had been tried in absentia and sentenced to life in prison under Saddam's regime in 1977. He also said the judge was a member of a Kurdish opposition party that "was an enemy to my client."

Al-Dulaimi's claims could not be immediately confirmed. "During our search in the archives, we have found that (Abdel-Rahman) has a personal and political feud with president Saddam Hussein and the (Baathist) command," al-Dulaimi told Al-Jazeera.

He said he presented a motion to the tribunal to remove the judge and that the defense would not attend if the motion is refused. "We can not be part of an illegitimate and unconstitutional tribunal founded by the occupation," he said.

He also said Saddam and the seven other defendants would refuse to attend. "If they force my client to attend the session, the president and his companions will not obey his orders, and they could stand beside their chairs rather than sitting," he said.

Chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Mousawi said Tuesday that Saddam and his co-defendants would be brought to the court by force if necessary. Saddam and co-defendants, including his half brother and one-time intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim, are on trial for the killing of more than 140 Shiites after a 1982 attempt on the ex-president's life in the town of Dujail north of Baghdad. They face death by hanging if convicted. Arab media reports claimed Abdel-Rahman was detained and tortured in the 1980s by Saddam's security agents. Efforts to contact Abdel-Rahman were unsuccessful, reports the AP. I.L.

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