Saddam hit in court attack, claim lawyers

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The former Iraqi president was being questioned about the suppression of Kurdish and Shia uprisings in 1991, when his regime is accused of killing up to 150,000 people.

"As the president stood to leave the courtroom one of those present attacked him and there was an exchange of blows ," his legal team said in a statement, adding that the head of the tribunal did nothing to stop the assault.

The statement quoted his main Iraqi lawyer Khalil Dulaimi, as saying the American guard who protected Saddam in the courtroom did not intervene and that he lodged a formal complaint against the tribunal.

But a spokeswoman for detainee operations in Iraq, the US military unit charged with overseeing the custody of prisoners including Saddam, said no such incident took place.

"Nothing like that happened with Saddam whatsoever," Lieutenant Kristy Miller said. Although he is in Iraqi legal custody, Lt Miller said that as far as she knew Saddam almost never leaves US military sight.

Officials at the Iraqi Special Tribunal, the court set up to try the former president and other senior members of his now-defunct Baath Party, were not reachable for comment.

The defence team said it would boycott the tribunal until he was given the right to proper legal representation by a team of international lawyers, including allowing former US attorney general Ramsey Clark, leading Saddam's team of Western lawyers, to see him in prison. The team, retained by Saddam's family, said they held the US military responsible for any harm to the former Iraqi leader and demanded safeguards for his protection.

The statement also said until the tribunal members identified themselves in full public hearings, the legal team refused "to recognise the authority of the court and all the bodies that were interrogating Saddam as it had no legal authority. No defendant can be tried by ghosts."

So far, Saddam has been formally charged in only one case - the killing of Shia Muslims in the village of Dujail, north of Baghdad, following a failed assassination attempt in 1982. A date for that trial is expected to be set soon. (Reuters)