Saddam Hussein Sees Lawyer for First Time Since Capture
Published: December 17, 2004  (must register to view original article)

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 16 - Saddam Hussein met with a lawyer on Thursday for the first time since he was captured by American soldiers just over a year ago, Iraqi officials said.

Mr. Hussein, the former president, spoke with the lawyer, an Iraqi, for four hours at the military compound where he and other members of his deposed government remain in American custody awaiting trial on war crimes, genocide, torture and other charges, the officials said.

The trial of Mr. Hussein is not expected to begin until late next year. But trial proceedings for some of his top aides will begin next week, Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, said Tuesday.

The first three to face hearings will be Sultan Hashim Ahmed, 54, a former defense minister; Taha Yassin Ramadan al-Jizrawi, 65, a former vice president; and Ali Hassan al-Majid, 58, the former Hussein aide widely known as Chemical Ali, officials familiar with the proceedings said.

News of Mr. Hussein's meeting came as gunmen killed the deputy chief of Iraq's Communications Ministry, with one of his bodyguards, as he drove to work in Baghdad, officials said.

It was the latest of several killings of prominent political figures, and demonstrated again the insurgent campaign against anyone involved with the interim government or American forces here.

The minister, Qassim Mehawi, was on his way into Baghdad from a western suburb when gunmen caught up with his car and sprayed it with gunfire. A second bodyguard was wounded in the attack, officials said.

In an unrelated attack on Wednesday, gunmen killed Dr. Hussein Jibel, the director of Karbala's tax office, in a suburb north of the city, witnesses said.

"Intimidation is on the increase," said Sabah Kadhim, a senior adviser to Iraq's Interior Ministry, citing the increased number of killings of government officials in recent months. "The whole idea is really to make the government fail."

[American military officials said Friday that an American marine was killed by insurgents in Anbar Province, west of Baghdad, Reuters reported.]

Religious figures have also been targets. Mr. Mehawi was killed a day after a bomb detonated in Karbala, south of Baghdad, in an apparent attempt on the life of a top aide to Iraq's senior cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. The aide, Sheik Abdul Mahdee al-Karbalayee, was not seriously wounded, but 9 people with him were killed and 40 were wounded in the attack, the first major violence in Najaf and Karbala, two Shiite holy cities, for several months.

On Thursday, hundreds of people marched in Karbala in a funeral procession for the victims. Mr. Karbalayee was recovering in the intensive care unit of a local hospital, with shrapnel wounds to his legs.

In other violence, militants said they had fatally shot an Italian citizen after he tried to break through a guerrilla roadblock near Ramadi, west of the capital, The Associated Press reported. The man, identified as Salvatore Santoro, had an Italian passport and appeared to be an aid worker, the report said.

In Mosul, in northern Iraq, a car bomb detonated Thursday near an American patrol, witnesses said. It was not immediately clear whether any American soldiers had been killed or wounded.

The violence occurred as the Iraqi interim president, Ghazi al-Yawar, tried to damp down some of the political controversy generated Wednesday when Iraq's justice minister, Hazim al-Shalaan, denounced one of the major coalitions competing in the national elections as a front group for Iranian efforts to dominate Iraq.

"I have talked to Mr. Hazim and I think that he will amend his stand," said Mr. Yawar, who has formed his own party and is a candidate for the National Assembly. He added that the justice minister's comments were a personal opinion that "doesn't reflect our party point of view, and we don't tolerate stigmatizing any Iraqi."

As the elections approach, Dr. Allawi's decision to move toward early trials for Mr. Hussein and members of his deposed government has been criticized, even by members of his own government. "Trials as symbolic as those against the dignitaries of the former regime should only start after the establishment of an Iraqi government with ballot-box legitimacy," the Iraqi justice minister, Malik Dohan al-Hassan, told the Geneva daily newspaper Le Temps, The Associated Press reported. The trials will begin with investigative hearings rather than arraignments, according to a statement issued Thursday by the special tribunal responsible for preparing the trials. The hearings could last for months, and will be followed by arraignments that will be closed to the public.

"All those whose trial process will start imminently have seen their lawyers, and their defense lawyers will be present throughout the hearings," the statement said.

The first three to face hearings are among 12 former government leaders who last appeared in public at a brief hearing in July.

All three men are likely to be charged with helping to carry out the Anfal campaign, in which about 150,000 Iraqi Kurds were killed in 1988, officials said. Two of them, Mr. Majid and Mr. Ramadan, will also be charged in connection with their roles in the brutal suppression of a rebellion led by Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq after the 1991 gulf war.

Mr. Ramadan, the former vice president, has been linked to many of the worst atrocities of the former government, according to reports by human rights groups.