Iraqi lawyers defending Saddam Hussein (search) said Wednesday they had suspended further dealings with the Special Tribunal trying him until their safety is guaranteed, citing the kidnapping and murder of a lawyer representing one of the former dictator's co-defendants last week.
A statement signed by Khalil al-Dulaimi (search), who leads the former dictator's defense team, said poor security put the lawyers and their families in danger.
"Due to the extreme deterioration of the security situation in Iraq, and the repercussions facing the Iraqi defense team and their families, we are stopping all dealings with the court until the situation is reversed," the defense said in the statement, which was faxed to The Associated Press.
One of Saddam's lawyers, Khamees Hamid al-Ubaidi (search), said last week that the entire defense team had rejected an offer of guards from the Interior Ministry, pointing to frequent Sunni Arab accusations that ministry forces or Shiite militias linked to the government have killed members of the minority that was dominant under Saddam.
He said then that they were talking with U.S. officials about getting protection from American troops.
But the defense team statement signed by al-Dulaimi said Wednesday that it would seek United Nations protection for the Iraqi lawyers because they do not trust either the U.S. military or the Iraqi government to ensure their safety.
"One Iraqi lawyer was assassinated and others received several death threats, and they don't trust either the Americans or the Iraqi government," an adviser with Saddam's legal team, Issam Ghazzawi, told AP in a telephone interview.
He said he was drafting a petition to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) asking the world body to provide protection for Saddam's lawyers. He also urged the U.N. to lead an international investigation into al-Janabi's murder.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the United Nations (search) had not received a request yet and could not comment. The world body would be extremely unlikely to fulfill such a request because its own staff in Iraq rely on U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq for their security.
The murder of lawyer Saadoun al-Janabi last week terrorized the 12 remaining attorneys who appeared at the first session of Saddam's trial last Wednesday representing the ousted dictator and seven former officials from his Baathist regime.
Al-Dulaimi arrived in Amman, the Jordanian capital, earlier Wednesday for meetings with other members of the defense team, including former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark (search). He did not answer repeated telephone calls from The Associated Press seeking further comment.
The defense statement also claimed "U.S. troops had attacked al-Duleimi's office and documents and money were stolen." There was no other detail given to support the charge, which also called on "U.S. and Iraqi forces to stop assaulting the homes and offices of Saddam's defense team."
The Pentagon had no comment on the matter, and referred questions to U.S. military officials in Baghdad, where Sgt. 1st Class Scott Speaks said he had no immediate comment.
Al-Janabi, who was representing Awad Hamed al-Bandar (search), the former head of Saddam's Revolutionary Court, was kidnapped by gunmen wearing police and military uniforms who walked into his Baghdad office on Thursday. Hours later, his body, bearing signs of torture, was found on a sidewalk near a Baghdad mosque.
Saddam's defense team, which includes some 1,500 lawyers who act as advisers, is led by al-Dulaimi and Abdel Haq Alani, an Iraqi-born lawyer based in Britain. Alani is the top legal consultant to Saddam's daughter, Raghad, and believed to be backbone of defense team.