BAGHDAD, Iraq – A relative of the new presiding judge in Saddam Hussein's genocide trial was shot and killed in Baghdad on Friday, an attack condemned by the country's top prosecutor as an attempt to move the trial abroad.
With sectarian violence rising during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, police also found the corpses of 14 people who had been tortured in and around the capital, all blindfolded with their hands and legs bound — likely victims of the death squads that roam Baghdad.
The Cabinet decided late Friday to impose an immediate ban on all vehicular and pedestrian traffic in Baghdad through to Sunday morning, said Haider Majeed, spokesman for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He refused to say why.
A source at the Interior Ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk with the press, said "intelligence information on the security situation made a curfew necessary" but refused further details.
Iraq's prosecutor general, Jaafar al-Mousawi, said the attack on a car carrying the judge's brother-in-law and nephew, the latest in a string of violence linked to proceedings against the former Iraqi leader, would not stop the court from moving ahead. During Saddam's first trial, three defense lawyers were killed, and a fourth fled the country in fear of his life.
"The terrorists and criminals are aiming through this act to stop the justice and the democratic process in Iraq," al-Mousawi told The Associated Press. "Killing a lawyer or a judge or their relatives is an attempt to prevent the trial from continuing, and then to transfer it abroad, but that goal will never be achieved."
Saddam's defense team has wanted to move the trial to another country in the belief that the current judges are biased against their client and that he is not receiving a fair trial. However, al-Mousawi did not elaborate on why those who attacked the judge's relatives may want the trial moved.
It was even unclear whether Judge Mohammed Oreibi al-Khalifa's relatives were targeted because of his role in the trial, or if the shooting was just another of the sectarian attacks that have been plaguing Baghdad.
His brother-in-law, Kadhim Abdul-Hussein, was one of at least six people who died in violent attacks in Iraq on Friday.
Abdul-Hussein was driving through the capital's western Ghazaliyah neighborhood when unidentified assailants shot at his car, killing him and wounding his son, Karrar, police 1st Lt. Thaer Mahmoud said.
The attack in the predominantly Sunni neighborhood came a half-hour before a weekly ban on vehicular traffic in the capital — a measure designed to prevent suicide bombings on the Muslim holy day.
Al-Khalifa, a Shiite, took over Saddam's trial last week. Al-Khalifa had been deputy to the original chief judge, Abdullah al-Amiri, who was removed on accusations he was too soft on Saddam. Among other things, al-Amiri had angered Kurdish politicians by declaring in court that Saddam was "not a dictator."
Saddam's nine lawyers walked out of the trial Monday to boycott the proceedings as a protest of al-Amiri's removal. Al-Khalifa later adjourned the trial until Oct. 9, saying he wanted to give the defendants time to persuade their original lawyers to end the boycott, or to confer with new attorneys.
The trial, Saddam's second, began Aug. 21. He and six co-defendants face genocide charges for their roles in a bloody crackdown against Kurdish rebels in the late 1980s. The defendants could face the death penalty if convicted.
Meanwhile, U.S. troops on Friday afternoon raided the home of Adnan al-Dulaimi, the head of the largest Sunni bloc in parliament, detaining his guard Khudhir Farhan, al-Dulaimi told the AP. Al-Dulaimi said 10 Humvees circled his western Baghdad home, then troops went through the building with a dog.
"I condemn this act and I demand they free the guard," he said, adding that they had the "illusion ... of the guard's involvement with terrorist activities."
U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Johnson said he had "no reason to dispute his claims" that U.S. forces raided his house, but that he could not comment further on "our ongoing operational activities."
"They found nothing," al-Dulaimi said.
The commander of U.S. forces in Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's volatile western Anbar province, said the insurgency can be beaten but probably not until after U.S. troops leave the country.
"An insurgency is a very difficult thing to defeat in a finite period of time. It takes a lot of persistence — perseverance is the actual term that we like to use," Army Col. Sean B. MacFarland, commander of 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, said in a video-teleconference with reporters at the Pentagon.
"Who knows how long this is going to actually last?" he added. "But if we get the level of violence down to a point where the Iraqi security forces are more than capable of dealing with it, the insurgency's days will eventually come to an end. And they will come to an end at the hands of the Iraqis, who, by definition, will always be perceived as more legitimate than an external force like our own."
In Ramadi, the insurgency has become so entrenched and feared by residents that the city has no Iraqi mayor. Recently, however, the tide has begun to turn against Al Qaeda in Iraq, which has become the dominant anti-government force, the colonel said.
"It's a situation that's beginning to spiral in our favor," he said.
A U.N. report released Wednesday said fewer foreign fighters have been killed or captured in Iraq in the last few months, suggesting that the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq "has slackened."
Still, the report said Al Qaeda "has gained by continuing to play a central role in the fighting and in encouraging the growth of sectarian violence; and Iraq has provided many recruits and an excellent training ground."
In an audio tape released Thursday attributed to the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the group made its first known acknowledgment of its losses.
Al-Masri said 4,000 foreign militants had been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Analysts suggested that since martyrdom is revered among Islamic fundamentalists, the disclosure might have been an attempt to recruit new followers.