TOKYO – Saddam Hussein's (search) chief lawyer said Thursday that the murder this week of a judge appointed to a tribunal to try the former dictator and his aides shows that Iraq remains too dangerous for such trials and urged authorities to delay proceedings by at least another year.
Ziad al-Khasawneh (search), who heads a committee set up to provide the former Iraqi president's legal defense, said he expects violence in Iraq to escalate unless the tribunal's proceedings are delayed.
"I can't imagine how the court would begin," he said in an interview with The Associated Press. "The streets are burning, the judges are killed. There are a lot of problems in Iraq."
"The advocates and the judge, they need a quiet area to read, to study, to discuss," al-Khasawneh said in Japan, where he was trying to raise support. "It is impossible to make these things this year, or after this year."
On Tuesday, three gunmen in a speeding car killed Judge Barwez Mohammed Mahmoud al-Merwani (search) and his son, lawyer Aryan Barwez al-Merwani, outside their Baghdad home.
The shootings marked the first time any legal staff working for the Iraqi Special Tribunal (search) have been killed.
"A lot of people are against (the trials)," al-Khasawneh said. "The judges cannot be shown on TV or have their pictures taken because they are afraid that if the people in Iraq know him, they will kill him when they see him. ... This is the future of these people."
Though the motive for the killings was still not clear, on Monday the tribunal had issued referrals for five former regime members, including one of Saddam's half-brothers, for crimes against humanity. Referrals are similar to indictments and are the final step before trials can start.
No date for the trials has been set.
Al-Khasawneh, who is based in Amman, Jordan, said he has also received threats that he will "be cut to pieces" if he travels to Iraq to defend Saddam, who had been in custody since December 2003.
The Iraqi Special Tribunal was set up in late 2003 after Saddam was toppled.
But after five potential candidates were killed, some judges declined calls to work at the court. At least half the tribunal's budget has gone to security. The slain judge was one of more than 60 investigative, appellate and trial judges working at the court.
Al-Khasawneh said he opposes the tribunal in principle and considers Saddam to be Iraq's legal president.
"Under Iraqi law, President Saddam could not be tried in any court," he said. "The tribunal is illegitimate."
Still, he said he intends to be ready to defend Saddam in court if the tribunal goes forward. But he added that his job has been made almost impossible by authorities' refusal to give him access to his client.
Saddam and his 11 top lieutenants have been held for months at an undisclosed location, believed to be near the Baghdad International Airport, west of the capital. They appeared before the Iraqi Special Tribunal in July 2004 to face preliminary charges for war crimes and genocide.
Al-Khasawneh said his committee is now comprised of roughly 2,000 volunteers from around the world, including former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark.