Some 1,100 Iraqi lawyers have withdrawn from Saddam Hussein's defense team, citing insufficient protection following the slayings of two peers representing co-defendants of the ousted Iraqi leader.
In a statement obtained Sunday, the lawyers did not say whether Saddam's chief Iraqi attorney, Khalil al-Dulaimi, was among those who withdrew. But the statement said other members of the team in Baghdad were continuing their duties "under complex and dangerous circumstances."
Support lawyers for Saddam's team in Jordan were not immediately available for comment.
However, the head of the investigative judges in Saddam's dozen cases, Raid Juhi, said Sunday the withdrawal of the defense team "will not affect the work of the court and it will continue its legal measures."
"Suspending the members is not acceptable in Iraqi law," Juhi told The Associated Press by telephone. "The court will continue to give legal consultation through naming defense lawyers in case the defense team does not show up" on Nov. 28, when the trial resumes, Juhi said.
"The defense lawyers chosen by the country can ask the court to postpone the trial until they study the case, then the court will study any such demand," Juhi said. "We have many legal experts and lawyers and it will choose who will defend."
Saddam and seven co-defendants are on trial in a special Iraqi tribunal, charged in the 1982 deaths of 148 Shiite Muslims in Dujail after an assassination attempt against Saddam in that town north of Baghdad.
The 1,100 lawyers repeated their call for canceling the trial in Iraq, which opened Oct. 19. The lawyers do not recognize the Nov. 28 date for its scheduled resumption.
The lawyers said they pulled out because "there was no response from the Iraqi government, U.S. forces and international organizations to our demands for providing protection to the lawyers and their families," according to the statement released Saturday in Baghdad.
The lawyers have been unable to carry out their defense tasks, including contacting witnesses and preparing defense argument, because of "organized, intentional and systematic threats," the statement said.
Two Iraqis defending Saddam's colleagues have been killed since the trial started.
Adel al-Zubeidi, lawyer for former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, died Tuesday when bullets were sprayed into his car in a largely Sunni Arab neighborhood of western Baghdad. The shots also wounded Thamir al-Khuzaie, attorney for another co-defendant, Saddam's half brother Barazan Ibrahim.
Al-Zubeidi was gunned down three weeks after the kidnap-slaying of defense lawyer Saadoun al-Janabi. His body was found Oct. 20, one day after the trial's opening session, where he had represented Awad al-Bandar, a former Baath Party official.
After the killing of the first lawyer, defense attorneys announced they would not cooperate with the court and would refuse to appear at the next session until they were satisfied with security.
Laith Kubba, spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, said the lawyers twice turned down invitations to move to the Green Zone, where they could be protected by U.S. and other international troops.