Saddam's lawyer is tortured and murdered

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One of Saddam Hussein's chief defence lawyers was abducted, tortured and murdered yesterday in the latest setback for the trial of the former Iraqi leader and his associates.

The body of Khamis al-Obaidi, a prominent Sunni public figure, was dumped at Sadr City, a vast and deprived Shia area, with both his arms broken and eight bullet wounds to his body.

Mr Obaidi is the eighth person associated with the court case to be killed. Witnesses described how three masked gunmen threw his corpse under the poster of a prominent Shia cleric executed by Saddam Hussein's regime in 1999 while shouting "This is the fate of all Baathists." A senior police spokesman said he was unable to confirm reports that his abductors were wearing police uniforms.

The body of Saadoun Janabi, who was the first defence lawyer to be killed, was found in the same area. He disappeared after being "arrested" by men claiming to be from the Interior Ministry police.

Mr Obaidi's colleague in the defence team, Khalil al-Dulaimi, said yesterday: "We call for the trial to be stopped and the transfer of defendants out of Iraq because it is not a safe place." Mr Obaidi, unlike some other defence lawyers involved in the trial, had chosen to live openly, without police protection, in Baghdad. In one of the last media interviews before his death, he said: "Whatever will be, will be. If we withdraw out of fear it will not be a shame for us as lawyers but the entire Iraqi judicial system."

Meanwhile, Saddam and his seven co-defendants went on hunger strike in protest against the lawyer's killing yesterday. Mr Dulaimi said: "They pledged not to end the strike until international protection is provided to the defence team."

* Seven marines and a sailor have been charged with murder following the death, in April, of an Iraqi civilian. The eight also were charged with kidnapping. Other charges include conspiracy, larceny and providing false official statements. In a separate case, the US military in Iraq announced that murder charges had been filed against a fourth soldier in the shooting deaths on 9 May of three civilians who had been detained by US troops.