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Old concerns will rise again when Saddam's trial resumes Monday

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Saddam Hussein's lawyers plan to argue when his trial resumes on Monday that the court is not legitimate because Iraq is not a sovereign country, and therefore the process should be adjourned.

It's the latest in a string of arguments that the Iraqi Special Tribunal has thus far rejected, but that have helped to slow and distract a legal process that the Iraqi government and Washington had hoped would move swiftly.

Instead, the proceedings have been marred by the assassinations of two lawyers on the defense team of two dozen, and sparked widespread concern about whether defense lawyers, or witnesses in the case, or the five judges presiding over it, can survive their duties.

Saddam's lawyers have argued since the trial adjourned Oct. 19 after one day that they'd not been able to review materials in the case adequately, partly due to security concerns. The five-week adjournment was meant to help them do so. Instead, many have scattered or are in hiding and intend to commute to Baghdad for the trial from safer neighboring countries such as Jordan.

Saddam's main attorney, Khalil al-Dulaimi, will reportedly live inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone during the proceedings, as part of a system of safety measures worked out between defense lawyers and the Iraqi government. The deal also requires the Interior Ministry to pay the salaries of bodyguards the lawyers choose.

Having settled the security concern, at least for now, Saddam's defense team is pressing the argument that the trial itself is illegitimate.

"Our presence at the trial does not mean we recognize it, because we believe Iraq lacks sovereignty," said Ziad al-Najdawi, a member of Saddam's legal team, in an interview from Jordan. "Our attendance is to guarantee that the procedures of the trial are just."

Threats to boycott the trial on security grounds preceded the killings of Saddam's lawyers and were intended to discredit the special tribunal, said a U.S. official who asked not to be identified because he's not authorized to speak publicly.

"Opponents of the process will not be able to subvert the proceedings through violence," he said.

Saddam and seven co-defendants are charged with the 1982 killings of nearly 150 people in Dujail, mostly Shiites. Saddam is accused of ordering the killings shortly after an assassination attempt against him in the small northern Iraqi city.

If convicted, he could be executed, even before he faces charges for crimes in other pending cases.

At Monday's hearing, which will be broadcast live on Court TV in the United States, prosecutors will begin presenting witnesses, said chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Mousawi. Prosecutors have not said how many they'll call, whether those witnesses will show their faces, or how long the prosecution phase will last.

According to al-Mousawi, witnesses from Dujail have been threatened with death if they testify, and the government aims to protect them.

"In coordination with the Ministries of Defense and Interior, a force has been sent (to Dujail) to protect the inhabitants." The protection will include all residents, whether they testify or not.

The national bar association, known as the Iraqi Lawyers Syndicate, called for a boycott of the trial following the assassinations of Adel Zubeidi and Saadoun Janabi, who'd been representing two co-defendants.

Debate over the fairness of the case, whether out of security or other concerns, already is affecting its conduct. During the five-week recess before Monday's resumption, for example, Saddam's lawyers declined to participate in a deathbed deposition of an important witness in the case. The witness, Waddah Khalil, a former senior intelligence officer in the fallen dictator's regime, answered only the prosecution's questions before his death of cancer earlier this month.

Taped depositions are legal in Iraq, although this one is likely to be challenged.

Both the Iraqi government and the Bush administration have pressed for open trials in Iraq of the former dictator. The alternative was an international tribunal, such as former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's trial in The Hague, Netherlands.

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(Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondents Ahmed Mukhtar and Zaineb Obeid contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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