Gunmen shot two attorneys for co-defendants in the trial of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein on Tuesday, killing one and seriously wounding the other, a senior Interior Ministry official said, reviving debate over whether Hussein can get a fair trial in Iraq.
The killing of Adil Zubeidi -- who was defending Barzan Ibrahim, Hussein's half brother and former head of Iraq's intelligence service, and former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan -- was the second assassination of an attorney representing one of the seven co-defendants in Hussein's war crimes trial.
The day after the trial opened on Oct. 19, Saadoun Janabi was kidnapped by armed men from his office in Baghdad, and his body was found the next day with two bullet holes in the head. Janabi represented Awad Haman Bander, the former chief judge of Hussein's Revolutionary Court.
It was unclear whether the multiple attacks would affect the scheduled resumption of Hussein's trial on Nov. 28. After the killing of Janabi, attorneys for Hussein and his co-defendants announced they were boycotting the trial for security reasons and demanded that it be moved to another country.
"It seriously raises concerns about the security of holding the tribunal here in Baghdad," said a Western diplomat based in Iraq, speaking on condition of anonymity. "That's not to say it won't happen, but it does raise concerns."
Tuesday's attack occurred about 1 p.m. in the Adil neighborhood of western Baghdad, one of the most dangerous areas of the capital, when the car in which the two attorneys were traveling was ambushed by gunmen in another vehicle, said Col. Mohammed Nuaimi of Iraq's Interior Ministry.
He said that Zubeidi was killed and that his colleague, Thamer Hamoud Kuzaie, was wounded in the attack. Nuaimi said both men were representing Ibrahim and Ramadan.
The trial centers on charges that Hussein and the others, all high-ranking members of the government then in power, were behind the executions of 148 Shiite Muslim men and boys from the town of Dujail, 35 miles north of Baghdad, after Hussein's motorcade was ambushed there in July 1982 in an assassination attempt.
Human rights activists, political analysts and legal experts have questioned whether Hussein can get a fair trial in a country that he ruled, often ruthlessly, for 24 years and that is now run by a government that came to power under U.S. military occupation. After Tuesday's attack, attorneys for Hussein and his family renewed their demand that the trial be moved.
"We don't believe that a fair trial can take place in such security conditions," Issam Ghazzawi, a spokesman for Hussein's defense team, told the Reuters news agency in Amman, the Jordanian capital. "There can be no fair trial without providing security for witnesses, judges and lawyers on an equal footing. No trial can take place in such conditions."
Jaafar Mousawi, the prosecutor in the case, said the killings should not affect the trial.
"Of course the defense commission will demand moving the trial outside of Iraq. But this is a general situation -- it's not only against the lawyers or the trial," he said. "The situation in the country in general is not safe."
In a telephone interview from London, Abdel Haq Alani, a legal adviser to Hussein's daughter Raghad, who is in charge of her father's defense, said the United States should be held responsible for the killings because it has failed to bring safety and security to Iraq, which he said was the duty of an occupying power.
"The trial is totally meaningless," Alani said. "It's a political issue, not a legal issue. The procedures and the outcome were decided a long time ago. The people behind this want a lynching, they don't want justice."
Some members of Iraq's Sunni Arab minority, which dominated Hussein's government, have accused Iraq's Shiite-led police and security forces of engaging in political assassinations and the mass killings of Sunnis, even suggesting that Interior Ministry death squads were behind the killing of Janabi and Sunni leaders. Defense attorneys in the trial said they have rejected Interior Ministry bodyguards because they don't trust them.
The spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari, Laith Kubba, told the Associated Press that Iraq's leaders "strongly condemn that assassination. We see that those who benefit are the people who want to block the work of the court and don't want it to convene" on schedule on Nov. 28, he said. "We know that Saddam and his followers are ready to do anything when it comes in their interest and to block the work of the court."
Alani called the allegation "ludicrous. A group in the defense team is conspiring to do that to one of their members? It's a repugnant argument."
Special correspondent K.I. Ibrahim contributed to this report.