BAGHDAD, Iraq, AP – Iraqi police have arrested eight Sunni Arabs in the northern city of Kirkuk for allegedly plotting to assassinate the investigating judge who prepared the case against Saddam Hussein, a senior police commander said Sunday.
The men were carrying a document from former top Saddam deputy Izzat al-Douri ordering them to kill Raed Juhi, said Col. Anwar Qadir, a police commander in Kirkuk, where the men were arrested on Saturday.
Al-Douri is the highest ranking member of the Saddam regime still at large and is believed to be at least the symbolic leader of Saddam loyalists still fighting U.S. forces and the new Iraqi government.
Saddam”s trial is set to resume on Monday after a five-week break.
The first prosecution witnesses are expected to testify before the five-judge panel, offering accounts of the deaths of more than 140 Shiite villagers following an assassination attempt against Saddam in the town of Dujail in 1982.
If convicted Saddam and his seven co-defendants could be sentenced to death by hanging.
Also on Saturday, six people were killed and 12 wounded when a suicide car bomber struck in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, police Lt. Col. Mahmoud Mohammed said.
Four other people died when a car bomb exploded in western Baghdad as two armored cars passed by, according to police Lt. Thaer Mahmoud said. Nobody in the convoy was injured, but one of the armored cars was damaged and removed by U.S. forces, Mahmoud said.
More than 270 people have been killed in the last nine days in car bombings and suicide attacks in Iraq.
The U.S. military said an American soldier assigned to the 2nd Marine Division was killed Friday when a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle in Hit, 85 miles west of Baghdad.
The latest death raised the number of U.S. service members who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003 to at least 2,105, according to an Associated Press count.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have warned of an intensification in insurgent attacks ahead of the Dec. 15 elections, in which voters will choose the first fully constitutional parliament since Saddam Hussein”s rule collapsed in April 2003.
American authorities are hoping for a big Sunni Arab turnout, a move that could produce a government that would win the trust of the religious community that forms the backbone of the insurgency.
In an interview published in London on Sunday, former interim prime minister Ayad Allawi told The Observer newspaper that human rights abuses in Iraq are now as bad as they were under Saddam Hussein and could become even worse.
"People are doing the same as Saddam”s time and worse," he was quoted as saying. "It is an appropriate comparison."
Allawi accused fellow Shiites in the government of being responsible for death squads and secret torture centers and said the brutality of elements in the new security forces rivals that of Saddam”s secret police.
Government officials have called such allegations lies designed to undermine them.
"People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same thing," the newspaper quoted Allawi as saying.
Although Allawi is a Shiite, he is secular in his politics and is running separately from the dominant Shiite parties in the Dec. 15 election. His comments appear to be an attempt to appeal to Sunni voters.
Many Sunnis boycotted the January election, enabling rival Shiites and Kurds to win an overwhelming share of power and worsening communal tensions. A government trusted by Sunni Arabs could help defuse the insurgency and enable U.S. and other international troops to begin heading home next year.
On Saturday, gunmen opened fire on four people as they plastered campaign posters for the biggest Shiite party on walls in western Baghdad, killing one person and wounding three, police said.
In Mosul, gunmen fired on members of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the country”s largest Sunni Arab political movement, while they were putting up campaign posters, wounding one person, police said.
A statement posted on an Islamist Web in the name of al-Qaida in Iraq also claimed responsibility for killing a Kurdish election volunteer in Mosul. The statement said Miqdad Ahmed Sito, 28, was seized in the city”s Shifaa neighborhood.