- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 23, 2005

BAGHDAD — Attorneys for Saddam Hussein yesterday sought to hire bodyguards, fearing that Iraqi forces are riddled with Shi’ite hit squads who kidnapped and killed a colleague on Thursday and could kill them as well.

“We don’t want [Iraqi] government protection or American protection. We can arrange our own protection,” Khamees Hamid al-Ubaidi, one of Saddam’s two attorneys, told The Washington Times.

Mr. al-Ubaidi said the 12 surviving attorneys for Saddam and seven co-defendants had rejected an Iraqi government offer for security after the execution-style slaying of fellow defense-team lawyer Saadoun Sughaiyer al-Janabi.

“We refused because we don’t trust the Iraqi security agencies. Everyone knows there are elements in the Interior Ministry who assassinate Iraqis,” Mr. al-Ubaidi said in an interview.

Thursday night, about 10 armed men dressed in business suits and identifying themselves as officials from Iraq’s Interior Ministry, stormed Mr. al-Janabi’s Baghdad office and kidnapped him, witnesses said. His body was found on a nearby sidewalk several hours later.

The Interior Ministry denied any connection to the slaying.

In a joint statement released yesterday, the 12 defense lawyers complained that they had been denied protection in the past, despite “asking the Iraqi and U.S. authorities many times to provide personal security for us and our families.”

They maintained there had been a lack of evenhandedness in addressing their security concerns, compared with those of the prosecution team and judges.

Iraqi officials yesterday said they had repeated their offers of protection, which they claimed had previously been rebuffed.

The lawyers also said they were holding the Iraqi and U.S. governments responsible for Mr. al-Janabi’s slaying.

Mr. al-Janabi had represented the chief judge in Saddam’s Revolutionary Court, who had sentenced thousands of Shi’ites to death, including at least 143 from a town near Baghdad, for which Saddam and the others are being tried.

The lawyers also demanded a United Nations and Arab League investigation into their colleague’s death, and warned that they would make “final and important decisions” on their safety if they don’t get what they think is adequate security.

Mr. al-Ubaidi’s claim that the defense team had rejected Iraqi and U.S. government offers of protection since the slaying seemed inconsistent with the lawyers’ joint statement, in which they appeared to demand protection.

The defense team’s fear of further attacks was so great that none attended their colleague’s funeral. Some have left town and gone into hiding.

Death-squad assassinations by men wearing the uniforms of Iraqi police or security forces have become common in Iraq.

They are variously attributed to both Shi’ite and Sunni terrorists, who disguise themselves to get to their targets.

Lately, Sunni suspicions have focused on hit squads from inside the Interior Ministry or in league with the ministry, which is controlled by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a key Shi’ite party that includes members of the Iranian-trained Badr Brigades militia.

Witnesses to be called in the trial are reluctant to testify and are thought to be in a witness-protection program. Judges and lead prosecutors are confined to the U.S.-protected “green zone,” sometimes separated from their families.

The lawyers’ statement refrained from demanding that the trial be moved out of Baghdad, as requested by some judges.

The Iraqi government insists that the trial be held in Baghdad, to show it is in full control and is holding a dictator to account in the capital city he once dominated.

Laith Kubba, the spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, told an Arabic television channel last night that the trial would stay put.

At Wednesday’s opening hearing, the trial was adjourned until Nov. 28. However, the court is to convene briefly this week to hear evidence in favor of the prosecution from a prisoner who has cancer.

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