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Hussein lawyers threaten to boycott trial

They ask the court to assure safety

BAGHDAD -- The defense team in Saddam Hussein's trial said yesterday that it will not attend the next session Nov. 28 unless the court accepts its demands for ''neutral international intervention" to guarantee security.

The declaration followed the assassination Tuesday of a second defense lawyer in the trial, already threatened by the insurgency and questions about legal standards. Adel al-Zubeidi, lawyer for former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan, was killed by gunmen in Baghdad and another lawyer was wounded.

Khalil al-Dulaimi, head of the defense team, told reporters that the US-led coalition and the Iraqi government bear some responsibility for the assassinations because they have been unable to maintain order in a country racked by insurgency -- much of it fomented by Hussein's supporters.

Dulaimi released a statement declaring that the defense considers the Nov. 28 trial date ''null and void" because of the ''very dangerous circumstances that prevent the presence" of the lawyers ''unless there is a direct, neutral international intervention that guarantees" security.

Abdel-Haq Alani, a key coordinator on the defense team, when asked whether he expected the Hussein lawyers to appear in court Nov. 28 replied: ''I believe not."

He said by telephone from London that the Americans were obliged to protect defense lawyers as ''the occupying power." The United States maintains that status ended when the coalition returned sovereignty to the Iraqis on June 28, 2004.

Hussein and seven codefendants went on trial Oct. 19 in the deaths of 148 Shi'ite Muslims who were executed after an 1982 attempt on the former president's life in Dujail, a Shi'ite town north of Baghdad. The defendants could receive the death penalty if convicted.

Also yesterday, the US command announced that a US Marine died of injuries suffered when a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle Monday in western Iraq. The death brings to 2,055 the number of US military service members who have died since the start of the war in 2003, according to an AP count.

Elaborate security measures have been taken to protect judges, prosecutors, and witnesses in the Hussein trial, including keeping their names secret as long as possible.

Concern for the safety of the defense team rose when lawyer Saadoun al-Janabi was abducted by masked gunmen the day after the opening session. His body was found later with bullets in his head.

After Janabi's killing, the rest of the defense team announced they were suspending dealings with the special court trying their clients until their security was guaranteed. The latest statement appeared to harden that position.

However, the government says the defense twice turned down offers to move into the heavily guarded green zone, where the courtroom is located, for the duration of the trial. President Jalal Talabani renewed the offer yesterday.

In an interview with Time magazine the day before his death, Zubeidi, a Shi'ite, said he was working on the defense team because of his allegiance to the law and not to the Sunni-dominated former regime.

''We are professionals. We are not related to a political party," Zubeidi said. He told the magazine he spent 14 months in jail in the 1960s and 1970s and had a history of Shi'ite radicalism.

The Iraqi High Tribunal, which is trying the case, expressed regret over the attacks on the lawyers but said it would ''spare no effort" to ''achieve justice" in the case. The statement appeared to rule out halting the trial or moving it out of the country.

''The tribunal will take every necessary step to guarantee that all the defendants have a complete defense in the next sessions," the statement said.

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