General Hussein Ali Kamal, a deputy interior minister, said yesterday that measures had been taken to ensure the lawyers' security after the abduction and murder of Saadoun al-Janabi, a Sunni Arab lawyer whose body was found in Baghdad on Friday. Two members of the defence team said that the 12 remaining lawyers had rejected ministry guards.
"We refused because of our lack of trust in the Iraqi security agencies," said one lawyer, Khamees Hamid al-Ubaidi. "Everyone knows there are elements in the Interior Ministry that assassinate Iraqis."
The ministry is partly controlled by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Shia party that has most seats in the National Assembly. Its paramilitary arm, the Badr Brigade, is accused of operating death squads.
Mr Ubaidi said the defence lawyers were seeking American protection, and wanted US officials to carry out the investigation into the murder. Mr Janabi was representing Awad Hamad al-Bandar, a former judge on Saddam's Revolutionary Court, and was the only defence lawyer seen in TV coverage of the opening day of the trial, which was adjourned untilnext month. The only other members of the court to appear on camera were the presiding judge and the chief prosecutor, whose identities were disclosed for the first time.
Abdul-Haq al-Ani, a British-trained Iraqi barrister who says he has been asked by Saddam's daughter Raghad to help co-ordinate the ex-dictator's defence from London, told The Independent on Sunday that the trial had already "fallen into chaos". Mr Ani has approached a leading defence lawyer, Anthony Scrivener QC, and a prominent Northern Ireland solicitor, Des Docherty, to represent Saddam, but said: "After this murder, what foreign lawyer would go to Iraq now? There is absolutely no guarantee of any protection."
On Wednesday Saddam refused to recognise "this so-called court", telling the senior judge: "Neither do I recognise the body that has designated and authorised you." According to international lawyers, this stance meant that he should also have refused to plead, but he did so, saying he was not guilty.
"President Saddam has not been given proper legal advice," said Mr Ani. "Not once has his main lawyer on the spot been able to meet with him in private, and any documents they pass to each other are seized by American soldiers and given to the investigating magistrate to look at."
The defence team in Baghdad will also seek a longer adjournment. "They didn't know what the charge was until it was read in court," said Mr Ani. They are also demanding that the trial be moved away from Baghdad, even outside Iraq, although General Kamal ruled that out yesterday. The interim government has rejected a trial abroad, insisting that Saddam and his regime must be tried by Iraqis in Iraq - in part because an international trial might prevent imposition of the death penalty.
The only charge against Saddam and his fellow defendants relates to the 1982 killing of more than 140 Shia men from the village of Dujail, after a failed assassination attempt against the dictator. The prosecution says Saddam's signature appears on execution warrants.
Iraq's President, Jalal Talabani, suggested during a recent visit to Britain that public opinion would demand that Saddam be tried for other crimes, including the use of poison gas to kill thousands of Kurds in Halabja in 1988 and the Anfal campaign that killed some 180,000 Shias in the late 1980s. But connecting him directly to specific deaths might not be easy, and such charges would enable Saddam to cite his past support by the British and US governments.
"I think they are more likely to execute him after finding him guilty on this one charge," said Mr Ani. "Nobody in Baghdad, London or Washington wants this dirty linen washed in public."
Philippe Sands QC, author of a book challenging the legal basis of the Iraq war, agreed, saying: "They don't want Saddam grandstanding for years about Halabja or the war with Iran. My sense is that they will put him to death for the killing of about 150 Shias in one town."Reuse content