BAGHDAD, Iraq – Saddam Hussein's lawyers are asking for a delay in his trial because of the turmoil that swept Baghdad after the bombing of a Shiite shrine, one of his lawyers said Sunday. A court official said a postponement was possible for the next session on Tuesday.
The defense team's request comes amid sectarian violence and movement restrictions after the bombing Wednesday of a revered Shiite Muslim shrine in Samarra and ensuing reprisal attacks on Sunni mosques and clerics across Iraq. More than 200 people have been killed.
"We have asked for a delay because of the security situation. It will be difficult for our colleagues to attend and there is a curfew as well," said Khamis al-Obeidi, one of Saddam's lawyers. "We have asked the court and are still waiting for an answer."
Some of Saddam's lawyers, among them foreigners, will have to fly into the country.
The government imposed a daytime curfew in Baghdad and three nearby province in the three days after the shrine bombing. On Sunday, the curfew was lifted but driving was banned in Baghdad and its suburbs. Officials said roads would reopen Monday.
Judge Raid Juhi, a court spokesman, said he believed the next trial session might be put off if the situation continued unchanged. "In the end it is the decision of the chief judge," he said.
Saddam and co-defendants have been on trial since Oct. 19 in the killing of nearly 150 people from the town of Dujail after a 1982 assassination attempt against Saddam there. They face death by hanging if convicted.
The trial has been dogged by the assassination of two defense lawyers, replacement of the chief judge and criticism by international human rights groups questioning whether Saddam can get a fair trial in Iraq's polarized climate.
Al-Obeidi, the lawyer, said Saddam and some of his co-defendants had ended a hunger strike they started two days before the last trial session on Feb. 14. Members of the defense team also met with their clients for the first time in weeks, he said, without giving a specific day.
He added that members of the defense team planned to return to court when the trial resumes.
The court said Wednesday that the lawyers would be allowed back to defend their clients, reversing a decision taken after they walked out of the trial Jan. 29, accusing chief Judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman of bias against Saddam.
Court-appointed lawyers were named to replace the defense team, but Saddam and other defendants have rejected them.
The trial has been repeatedly disrupted since it began. The first chief judge stepped down last month amid charges of political interference in the case and criticism accusing him of failing to control the proceedings. Two defense attorneys have been assassinated.
Chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi, who confirmed that some of the defense lawyers met with their clients recently, said the next trial session will include reading the testimony of six witnesses and presenting more documentary evidence.
The court has heard 26 prosecution witnesses, mostly recounting their imprisonment and torture at the intelligence service headquarters in Baghdad, Abu Ghraib prison and a desert detention camp near the Saudi border.
None linked Saddam directly to their ordeal, but some witnesses identified his half brother Barzan Ibrahim, who also is on trial, as having personally taken part in their torture.
Another defendant, former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, was linked by witnesses to the destruction of Dujail's orchards and farm fields.