BAGHDAD, Iraq – After another delay brought on by lawyers' security concerns, the trial of Saddam Hussein and seven of his co-defendants is set to resume Monday.
Despite new measures put in place after members of the defense team complained about their safety and threatened a boycott, two of Saddam's lawyers didn't show up in court Nov. 28 when proceedings resumed, forcing the judge to adjourn court a week, until Dec. 5. The 28th was the second session in the trial.
Two other lawyers working on Saddam's defense were murdered in the past month, gunned down by those wishing to disrupt the trial at any cost.
Sources have speculated that the killers could be insurgents, former Saddam loyalists looking to delay the proceedings or even Shiites who want to derail efforts to support Saddam's legal defense.
No one has officially claimed responsibility for the murders. But the bloodshed was enough to spur those Saddam lawyers who are still alive to temporarily threaten a boycott.
Mere days before the trial was set to resume, however, they changed their tactics and said it would go forward out of fears the court could appoint other lawyers to defend the former Iraqi president and dictator.
Saddam, 68, and his co-defendants are charged with committing crimes against humanity stemming from the 1982 torture and massacre of 148 Shiite men, women and children in Dujail, a town north of Baghdad. The killings Saddam is alleged to have played a role in followed an attempt on the Iraqi leader's life.
Saddam was president of Iraq from 1979 until the U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2003.
The trial delays have pleased Saddam's legal team but infuriated many Iraqis.
"Why another delay? And another?" fumed Basam Ridha, adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. "This judge doesn't know what he's doing. We are not pleased. Witnesses were ready to testify. This trial is already taking too long."
But a U.S. source close to the proceedings told FOX News the judge is in a tight spot, because he has to allow defendants enough time to get proper legal representation while ensuring that the defense team is not deliberately delaying the proceedings.
"They are afraid to contact us. When we contact them, they are afraid to answer the telephone," Ghazzawi told FOX News. "If you bring them to court, you are signing their death. Maybe they will be killed before the court session or immediately after."
The source said that as many as two dozen witnesses will appear in court next week and testify behind a curtain to conceal their identities, to protect them from becoming targets for assassination.
The court will take another short break during the week leading up to Dec. 15, when Iraqis will go the polls to elect a permanent government.
Several American legal experts who have assisted the Iraqi tribunal believe this trial — representing the first of 12 cases filed against Saddam — could take as little as two months of court time and end as early as February.
The next trial against the former dictator would likely be for the al-Anfal Campaign, an anti-Kurdish campaign led by the Saddam regime between 1986 and 1989 that is said to have led to the deaths of 182,000 civilian Kurds.
But while that second trial is under way, according to the U.S. source, a possible guilty verdict from the first trial could be handed down — including a death sentence against Saddam that would be immediately carried out.