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Iraq: Assassination Of Another Lawyer In Hussein Case Throws Trial Into Question

  • Valentinas Mite --> Saddam Hussein's trial could be delayed or moved to another country (epa) Gunmen have ambushed two of the defense lawyers taking part in the trial of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and top members of his regime. The attack yesterday killed one lawyer and seriously injured the other, and follows the killing of another defense lawyer, Sad'un Antar al-Janabi, last month. The incidents might seriously threaten the trial of the former dictator.

Prague, 9 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- No party has claimed responsibility for the attacks that have killed two defense lawyers and injured another.

In the most recent attack, gunfire killed Adil al-Zubaydi, who is representing former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan. The attack also wounded defense lawyer Thamir Hamud Hadi al-Khuza'i, who is representing Saddam Hussein’s half-brother, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti.

The assassins escaped, leaving analysts and politicians guessi who is responsible.

Mustafa Alani, a regional expert at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, told RFE/RL that he suspects Shi’ite militia groups. "The first suspect actually is a Shi’a militia. This is the first suspect. We cannot really confirm it; this is a suspicion," he said. "But in terms of who is benefiting from that and who is issuing threats before [assassinations], basically many observers believe that in this sort of activities a Shi'ite militia is behind."

However, some say that former Ba'athists might be behind the attacks. Government spokesman Laith Kubba said yesterday that Iraq's former leader and his followers were ready to do anything to block the work of the court.

But Alani said he finds little practical reasons why former Ba'athists should attack Hussein's defense lawyers. "I don't think the Ba'athists have an interest in [disrupting] this trial because they believe that the previous leadership -- Saddam Hussein and his group -- are going to have a good performance in front of the public," he said. "Basically [they are] going to embarrass the political parties now in [power] in Iraq and Americans and other Arab governments. So I don't really see there is reason for the Ba'athist or ex-Ba'athists to do this sort of activities."

Alani also said that, looking at the broader picture, the U.S. forces and the new Iraqi government share responsibility for the deaths. He said that is because they should have taken better measures to ensure the defense lawyer’s safety.

"[If] the American side or the [Iraqi] government had decided to take Saddam to a proper court, they need defense [lawyers.] They have to accept the reality. They have to provide the defense team with the protection and this is the responsibility of the government actually and the American forces," Alani said.

However, government spokesman Kubba told reporters on 23 October that defense attorneys were offered, but declined, protection from the government before the trial began. Kubba told reporters that the government would gladly provide security to the defense attorneys upon request in the future. So far, there is no such a request.

If defense lawyers were to pull out of the trial over security concerns, the trial might be disrupted at least temporarily. Defense attorneys refused to attend a special court session at a Baghdad hospital on 23 October, where lawyers and judges were to hear the testimony of a dying witness in the case. The defense attorneys cited security issues.

David Hartwell, who follows the Middle East for the London-based Jane's Information Group, said it is unlikely the trial will be disrupted but it might be moved to a safer country.

"I think it is very unlikely that the trial would be abandoned or cancelled simply because the defense team is subject to intimidation," he said. "I think more security measures will be taken. And if necessary they may well move the trial out of Iraq if that was necessary for a while for due process to take place." Hartwell said the new Iraqi government sees the trial as a test for the new Iraqi justice system and everything will be done to proceed with it.

Meanwhile Issam Ghazzawi, a spokesman for Hussein's defense team, said yesterday the team does not believe the trial can be conducted fairly in such security conditions. The trial is due to reconvene on 28 November.

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