Murder of Iraqi judge and son seen as a warning from rebels over Saddam trial

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The Independent Online

The assassination of an investigative judge working on the forthcoming trial of Saddam Hussein has raised fears that insurgents will target legal proceedings against Iraq's former regime.

The assassination of an investigative judge working on the forthcoming trial of Saddam Hussein has raised fears that insurgents will target legal proceedings against Iraq's former regime.

Judge Barwez Mohammed Mahmoud and his son, Aryan, were murdered outside their home in Baghdad's northern Adamiyah district on Tuesday evening, the same day that five members of Saddam's government were referred for trial. The attack was taken as a clear warning to those collaborating or assisting with the special tribunal investigating leading Baathists.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, which is the latest in a series of murders of senior figures associated with Iraq's transitional government.

Colonel Adnan al-Jabouri, a ministry of interior spokesman, said another investigative judge, not associated with the Saddam tribunal, was also injured in an assassination attempt yesterday in another part of Baghdad.

On Tuesday, the special tribunal, which is made up of about 50 judges, indicted five members of the former government, including Barzan Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti, one of Saddam's half brothers, and the former vice-president, Taha Yassin Ramadan.

The trials of Saddam's lieutenants, which are not likely to begin before May, are expected to take place at a US military base in Baghdad.

The tribunal is expected to try 12 of the former government's top members in total, with Saddam likely to be one of the last to face trial, probably not until next year. Col al-Jabouri said the assassination was not expected to slow the tribunal process.

Mahmoud's death marked the first assassination of a tribunal judge. Raid Juhi, the investigating judge for Saddam Hussein, has lived inside the heavily fortified Green Zone for some months. There have been at least three attempts on his life.

Members of Mahmoud's family said yesterday that they had expected attempts on the life of their father. "We knew this was coming because of my father's work," said one of the judge's surviving sons. "He and my brother died holding their heads up high. This gives me comfort. We believe that the murders were politically motivated."

Mahmoud's son, a lawyer, was a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the country's two main Kurdish political parties. PUK members have also been targeted for assassination.

In continuing violence in Baghdad yesterday, at least 12 Iraqi soldiers and three employees of the state electricity company were killed by car bombs and mortar fire.

At Yarmuk Hospital, staff threatened to refuse treatment to soldiers after a doctor was beaten by Iraqi troops.

The incident occurred after a doctor refused to stop talking on a mobile phone, which troops feared might be used to set off a bomb. The doctor was beaten with rifle butts, and doctors at the hospital only agreed to treat soldiers again after a military commander agreed that soldiers would no longer carry weapons inside the hospital.

Despite the continuing outbreaks of violence, the head of US central command, General John Abizaid, gave optimistic testimony in Washington, when he appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

General Abizaid said the number of insurgents in Iraq had begun to fall. He also said that US and Iraqi government forces were close to capturing the leader of al-Qa'ida's wing in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who claimed responsibility for Monday's bomb in Hillah, which killed 125 people. General Abizaid said that "treason within his own organisation" meant that Zarqawi's "days in Iraq are numbered".

ASSASSINATED

* 17 May 2004: Abdul Zahra Othman Mohammed , the head of Iraq's Governing Council, killed by suicide bomb

* 16 August 2004: Captain Ihsan al-Saji , commander of the Iraqi National Guard, shot dead

* 16 December 2004: Kassim Imhawi , the director-general of Iraq's Communications Ministry, shot dead while driving

* 4 January 2005: Ali al-Haidari , the Governor of Baghdad, shot dead in roadside ambush

* 10 January 2005: Brigadier Amer Ali Nayef, Baghdad's deputy police chief, shot dead outside home

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