Saddam Hussein, Co-Defendants on Hunger Strike to Protest Lawyer's Death

Saddam Hussein and his seven co-defendants went on a hunger strike Wednesday to protest the killing of an attorney on the defense team, Saddam's chief lawyer said.

Khalil al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press, "President Saddam and other members of his leadership went on a hunger strike today to protest the killing of Khamis al-Obeidi."

"They pledged not to end the strike until international protection is provided to the defense team," said al-Dulaimi, who was visiting Jordan.

CountryWatch: Iraq

Al-Obeidi was shot to death Wednesday after being abducted from his Baghdad home by men in police uniforms. His was the third killing of a member of the former Iraqi leader's defense team since the trial began some eight months ago.

Al-Obeidi, who represented Saddam and his half brother Barzan Ibrahim, was kidnapped from his house in the morning, al-Dulaimi said. His body was found on a street near the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City, Iraqi police Lt. Thaer Mahmoud said.

Chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi confirmed that al-Obeidi had been killed, although he did not provide any details. A photo of al-Obeidi showed his face, head and shoulders drenched in his own blood.

"We will defy terrorism," al-Moussawi said. "We will continue with the trial and will not be deterred," he said, noting that members of the defense team had turned down an offer to live with their families in Baghdad's heavily protected Green Zone, home to the Iraqi government, parliament and the U.S. Embassy.

Al-Obeidi, who was in his 50s and had six children, was the third member of Saddam's defense team to be killed since the former leader's trial began on Oct. 19.

A dozen masked gunmen abducted defense lawyer Saadoun al-Janabi from his Baghdad office the day after the trial's opening session. His body was found the next day with two bullets in his skull. Nearly three weeks later, defense lawyer Adel al-Zubeidi was assassinated in a brazen daylight ambush in Baghdad. A colleague who was wounded fled the country.

"The aim of this act is to terrify the lawyers and hinder the work of the defense team," al-Dulaimi said.

Unlike al-Dulaimi, who shuttles between Amman, Jordan, and the Iraqi capital, al-Obeidi chose to continue to live in Baghdad despite the tenuous security and the killing of two members of the trial's defense team last year. He lived in the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Azamiyah in northern Baghdad.

Al-Dulaimi blamed the Interior Ministry, which Sunnis have alleged is infiltrated by so-called Shiite death squads, for the killing.

"We strongly condemn this act and we condemn the killings done by the Interior Ministry forces against Iraqis," he said.

Bushra al-Khalil, a Lebanese member of the defense team, also said al-Obeidi was taken from his house early Wednesday by men dressed in police uniforms and driving four four-wheel drive vehicles used by Iraqi security forces.

"They blindfolded him and took him away," said al-Khalil who was thrown out of the courtroom last month by chief judge Rauf Abdel-Rahman. "No one can go out during curfew time in Baghdad."

She said the Americans bore responsibility for al-Obeidi's death, saying it comes part of their decision to stop giving protection to defense lawyers. The U.S. has said it has offered security to the defense team.

"Lifting the security of the defense team was an introduction to assassinations," she told The Associated Press.

Al-Khalil said that for the first time since the trial began she received a threat by telephone Monday night. "A man cursed me and threatened me before hanging up," she said adding that he was using a Lebanese public telephone.

The deposed leader and the other seven are charged with killing more than 140 people in the town of Dujail in 1982. Sunni Arabs were dominant under Saddam's rule but lost power to majority Shiites after his ouster in April 2003.

Mohammed Moneib, an Egyptian lawyer retained by Saddam and co-defendant Taha Yassin Ramadan, said chief judge Abdel-Rahman, a Kurd, was partly responsible for al-Obeidi's death.

Following an angry exchange in a hearing last week, Abdel-Rahman accused Moneib of seeking to create "chaos" in the courtroom.

"His accusations are a sort of incitement," Moneib said from Cairo, Egypt. "The way he deals with the defense, defendants and witnesses could incite madmen or criminals to commit such crimes."

Moneib demanded that al-Moussawi, the chief prosecutor, should personally investigate al-Obeidi's death.