- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 16, 2004

BAGHDAD — Former dictator Saddam Hussein met with an attorney yesterday for the first time since his capture a year ago, officials said.

Saddam’s meeting in his cell with a member of his legal team came as the Iraqi government is gearing up to begin the trials of some of Saddam’s top deputies next week, ahead of the country’s elections in January.

Saddam and the lawyer, an Iraqi, met for four hours at the undisclosed location where the ousted leader is being detained, said Ziad al-Khasawneh, head of the legal team hired by Saddam’s wife.

“He was in good health and his morale was high and very strong,” Mr. al-Khasawneh said, speaking in Jordan. “He looked much better than his earlier public appearance when he was arraigned a few months ago.” Mr. Al-Khasawneh would not identify the lawyer.

A U.S. military official familiar with the case confirmed that Saddam met with a lawyer in his cell and that the visit was the first made by an attorney to the former Iraqi dictator, who was captured a year ago Monday.

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi announced Tuesday that war crimes trials against Iraq’s former Ba’ath Party leaders will begin next week. Saddam won’t be among those to appear in court.

One official said Ali Hasan al-Majid, the former general known as “Chemical Ali” for his use of chemical weapons, will be the first among 12 former regime members to appear at the initial investigative court hearing next week.

Few of the top regime officials have been able to meet with lawyers. Defense attorneys have complained about not having access to their clients, saying that any proceedings held under those conditions would be seen as political show trials.

Many have speculated that Mr. Allawi’s surprise announcement was linked to the start of campaigning for the Jan. 30 vote for Iraq’s new 275-member National Assembly, in which he is running for office at the head of a coalition list.

Insurgents continued their campaign to derail the vote by mounting a series of attacks in Baghdad and elsewhere.

Unidentified gunmen fatally shot Qassim Mehawi, deputy head of the Communications Ministry, as he was heading to work, police said. Eight of Mr. Mehawi’s bodyguards were injured and hospitalized.

In western Baghdad, a roadside bomb exploded near a passing sport utility vehicle, severely damaging the vehicle, police said.

After the blast, gunmen opened up on the survivors with automatic fire, killing a foreigner and wounding two others, police said.

Three Iraqi national guardsmen died and six others were injured when another roadside bomb exploded in western Baghdad as their pickup truck was driving by, police said.

Meanwhile, militants said they fatally shot an Italian citizen after he tried to break through a roadblock on a highway outside the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi.

An Italian passport and Lebanese residency permit that the gunmen displayed identified the man as Salvatore Santoro. A document from the Italian Embassy in Beirut seeking an Iraqi visa for the man called him an aid worker helping Iraqi children.

One of the terrorists, who stood next to a banner identifying them as members of the Islamic Movement of Iraqi Mujahideen, said the slaying was “a present to Berlusconi’s stupidity” — referring to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a close U.S. ally who has sent troops to Iraq.

The Italian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday it was investigating to determine whether the victim was the 52-year-old Mr. Santoro, a longtime resident of Britain. The ministry said in a statement that Italian officials were not aware that Mr. Santoro was in Iraq.

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