BAGHDAD, Iraq – The trial of Saddam Hussein (search) took startling turns Thursday when prosecutors said the first witness would be a bedridden cancer patient who helped run Iraq's feared intelligence agency. In the first setback, a lawyer for one of the dictator's co-defendants was kidnapped.
Iraq's premier, meanwhile, said he was proud the court gave Saddam — whom he called "one of the world's most hardened criminals" — so much freedom to talk at Wednesday's opening session. A defiant Saddam refused to answer the chief judge's questions and said he did not recognize the legitimacy of the proceedings because he was still president.
Also Thursday, the U.S. military announced the deaths of five service members, including three killed Wednesday by a roadside bomb near Balad, north of Baghdad, and another by a suicide car bomb near the Syrian border. A fifth soldier died from a non-hostile gunshot, the military said.
At least 1,988 members of the U.S. military have died since the war started in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Violence in and around Baghdad (search) killed at least 15 Iraqi civilians and police. In one attack, a rocket hit a Baghdad public school for students aged 12-15, killing a student and a nearby shopkeeper and wounding five students.
At the hospital, an injured girl writhed in pain, her head bandaged and her white shirt and blue overalls stained with blood.
Several schools have been attacked recently. On Oct. 9, masked gunmen in police commando uniforms burst into a school in Samarra (search), north of Baghdad, pulled a Shiite teacher out of the classroom and shot him dead in the hallway.
Last month, insurgents killed four Shiite teachers in an empty classroom as school let out.
The U.S. military said raids in western Iraq last weekend killed at least 12 insurgents, including Saad al-Dulaimi, a senior militant in the Al Qaeda in Iraq organization blamed for numerous attacks on foreigners and Iraqis.
The prosecution of Saddam and seven of his regime's henchmen in a mass-murder case could be a lengthy process. It is the first of up to a dozen that prosecutors plan to bring to trial against Saddam and his Baath Party (search) inner circle for atrocities during their 23-year rule.
Wednesday's opening session saw the 68-year-old former president proclaim his innocence to charges of murder, torture, forced expulsion and illegal imprisonment stemming from a 1982 massacre of 148 Shiites in Dujail, a mainly Shiite town north of Baghdad, following a failed attempt on Saddam's life. The former dictator and his co-defendants could be sentenced to death if convicted.
The trial will resume Nov. 28, but the court will interview a key witness Sunday because of his poor health.
Wadah Ismail al-Sheik, director of the investigation department at Saddam's Mukhabarat intelligence agency at the time of the Dujail massacre, will give his testimony in a hospital Sunday, court officials said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. They declined to say which hospital.
The United States says the agency is the same one that tried to assassinate former President Bush in Kuwait in 1993.
Prosecutors said al-Sheik played an important role in the events at Dujail. If he recovers, they said, he may be a defendant in a separate, related case. The officials did not give details on the other case and did not specify al-Sheik's age.
In another trial development, 10 masked gunmen kidnapped the lawyer for one of Saddam's co-defendants, police said. Saadoun Sughaiyer al-Janabi, who was in the courtroom Wednesday, is one of two lawyers representing Awad Hamed al-Bandar, one of the seven Baath Party officials also being tried.
The gunmen pulled up outside al-Janabi's office in Baghdad's eastern Shaab district in the evening, broke into the building and dragged him out, said Police Maj. Falah al-Mohammedawi of the Interior Ministry.
Al-Janabi was one of 13 defense lawyers in Wednesday's session. His client was the head of Saddam's Revolutionary Court at the time of the massacre and is accused of issuing the execution orders.
Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search), a Shiite who has pressed for a quick trial, said Thursday the proceedings "presented a watching world a judiciary that's fair and transparent."
"I can be proud before every nation that we have a court that allowed one of the world's most hardened criminals to have so much leeway," he said.
A journalist for a British newspaper who was kidnapped by gunmen was released unharmed Thursday after a day in captivity, the publication said. Rory Carroll (search), 33, an Irish citizen who is The Guardian's Baghdad correspondent, was on assignment when he was abducted Wednesday.
A resident of Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood said Carroll was kidnapped by criminals, and a group of Sadr City residents freed him during a raid. The resident spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want his involvement in the release to be known.
His account could not be confirmed.
Meanwhile, teams of international and Iraqi election officials went to several provinces to start auditing initial results from Saturday's key constitutional referendum that showed an unexpectedly high number of "yes" votes.
Sunni Arabs, who largely oppose the charter, charged fraud when initial results showed it had been approved and accused the government's Shiite and Kurdish leaders of fixing the balloting.
A crucial question is whether the audit will review data from two provinces that could determine the outcome — Ninevah in the north and Diyala in the east. Both are believed to have slim Sunni Arab majorities, but initial results reported by provincial officials showed around a 70 percent "yes" vote in each.
Sunni Arab opponents need to get a two-thirds "no" vote in either Ninevah or Diyala to veto the charter. They appear to have reached that threshold in Anbar and Salahuddin provinces but need a third.
The Electoral Commission (search) would not say which provinces the auditing team traveled to, and officials have refused to say if the audit will look at Ninevah and Diyala.
The commission and U.N. officials supervising the count have not mentioned fraud and have cautioned that the unexpected votes are not necessarily incorrect.
Interior Minister Bayan Jabr claimed a major break in the fight against the Sunni-led insurgency with Wednesday's arrest of one of Saddam's nephews during a pro-Saddam demonstration in Tikrit.
The capture of Yasir Sabhawi Ibrahim (search), a son of Saddam's half brother Sabhawi Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti, could help track down other Saddam relatives living in nearby Arab countries who are the source of financing for Iraq's insurgency, Jabr said.
Iraqi security officials said Ibrahim was in Syria before the government there forced him to return. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to deal with the media.