BAGHDAD (Reuters) â€” Gunmen killed a second defence lawyer acting in Saddam Hussein’s trial for crimes against humanity on Tuesday, renewing questions over whether the former president can get a fair trial amid Iraq’s daily violence.
Another defence lawyer was slightly wounded in the attack on their car in Baghdad, police and defence team sources said.
The shooting followed the murder of another defence lawyer who was shot the day after the televised start of proceedings on October 19. It stoked controversy about whether the high-profile trial should be delayed or moved abroad.
The defence team, which had already threatened to boycott the next hearing on November 28 unless measures are taken to protect them, said a fair trial was impossible in current circumstances.
In the latest attack, Adil Zubeidi was killed and his colleague Thamer Hamoud Khuzaie was wounded when their car, a plain red saloon, came under fire in the western Baghdad district of Hay Adil, police and defence team sources said.
Both men were on a team defending Saddam’s half-brother Barzan Tikriti and former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan, legal sources said. In last month’s attack, Saadoun Janabi, representing another of the eight defendants, was kidnapped from his office and shot by men who local people said identified themselves as interior ministry employees on October 20, the day after the lawyer’s court appearance at the start of the trial.
Khuzaie was among lawyers who appeared on the same bench with Janabi in the trial, lawyers who know both men said.
“There can be no fair trial without providing security for witnesses, judges and lawyers on an equal footing. No trial can take place in such conditions,” Issam Ghazzawi, a spokesman for Saddam’s Jordan-based defence team, told Reuters in Amman.
Nicole Choueiry, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International in London, said: “The safety of these people is very important if the trial is to go on. It is the responsibility of the Iraqi government and the US military to provide protection.
“These people are risking their lives,” she added.
Thabit Fahad, a senior lawyer in Baghdad, said the entire judicial system was at risk from such attacks: “A lawyer wants to defend his client even if he is the Devil himself. That is his job and the nature of his profession.” The government has denied involvement in Janabi’s death but the killing renewed accusations of sectarian violence involving government forces and pro-government Shiite militias ranged against Saddam’s fellow minority Sunni Arabs.
One of the reasons the judge gave for adjourning the trial last month was that witnesses had been too scared to turn up. Human rights organisations have expressed concern about the safety of all concerned in the trial. Only one of the five judges in the trial has been identified or seen in public.
Iraqi forces hit
Bomb attacks aimed at Iraqi security forces killed at least nine people on Tuesday as violence continued unabated just over five weeks before a December 15 election that Washington hopes will set Iraq more firmly on the road to peace and democracy.
Four Iraqi soldiers were killed and a fifth critically wounded when a bomb blew up near their patrol car in the small town of Dali Abbas, northeast of Baghdad, police said.
Another bomb targeted a police patrol in Daquq, near Kirkuk, killing two policemen and wounding three, police said.
Another policeman was killed in Baqouba, north of Baghdad, and a bomb blast killed a security forces colonel and his brother in the southern city of Basra.
On Monday, a suicide bomber killed four US soldiers and an Iraqi translator at a checkpoint near Baghdad in one of the deadliest single attacks on US forces in recent weeks.
In western Iraq near the Syrian border, Operation Steel Curtain entered its fourth day with Marines and Iraqi troops pushing through the dusty town of Qusayba in search of Al Qaeda insurgents. The US military says it has killed 36 rebels so far in the operation and has lost one US Marine dead.
Operation Steel Curtain is the latest in a series of offensives aimed at securing western Iraq against Sunni Arab insurgents and foreign fighters before the election.
Sectarian tensions are dominating campaigning for the poll, in which Sunni Arabs are expected to vote in large numbers for the first time since the fall of Saddam in April 2003.