BAGHDAD, Iraq, AP -Iraq”s interim government said Saturday it will step up security for defense lawyers in Saddam Hussein”s trial, after one was abducted and killed by gunmen disguised as security forces.
The body of the Sunni Arab defense lawyer, Saadoun Sughaiyer al-Janabi, was found dumped on a street in Baghdad Friday just hours after gunmen dragged him out of his office. He had been shot twice in the head.
Shaken by their colleague”s death, the 12 other defense lawyers demanded the government provide them protection.
"We have decided to take some measures to protect the lawyers," Gen. Hussein Ali Kamal, a deputy minister in the Interior Ministry, said Saturday. "We cannot give any details regarding those measures for security reasons," Kamal told The Associated Press.
Kamal and other government officials met until late Friday night to consider the attorneys” demands.
Saddam and his seven co-defendants face possible death sentences if convicted on charges of murder and torture for the 1982 massacre of 148 Shiites in the town of Dujail north of Baghdad. The defendants have pleaded innocent. After the opening day of their trial on Wednesday, it was adjourned until Nov. 28.
Meanwhile, Iraqis were still waiting to know the outcome of the country”s Oct. 15 constitutional referendum, and they likely will not learn the final results until next week.
Initial returns indicated the charter passed, prompting Sunni Arabs opposing it to level accusations of fraud. Electoral officials are auditing unusually high "yes" votes in some areas to ensure there were no irregularities.
"We are still awaiting the results of the audit from the provinces which we have selected randomly," Farid Ayar, a senior member of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, said in an interview on Saturday. He refused to identify the provinces involved to protect the security of the commission and United Nations officials working there.
The commission announced referendum turnout figures Friday, saying 9,775,000 Iraqis cast ballots — or 63 percent of registered voters. That was higher than January”s parliament elections, in which 60 percent of Iraqis participated, including fewer Sunni Arabs.
Also, the secretary general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, was expected to leave Iraq on Saturday after a three-day visit aimed at organizing a reconciliation conference among Iraq”s sharply divided Shiites, Kurds and Sunni Arabs.
Moussa, who was making his first visit to Iraq since Saddam”s fall, has strongly condemned insurgent violence in Iraq in an effort to overcome Shiite and Kurdish suspicion of the pan-Arab body.
Still, Iraqi leaders did not commit to a reconciliation conference that Moussa is trying to organize, the first major intervention by the Arab League in the country”s relentless bloodshed.
Shiite and Kurdish leaders complain the league has taken too long to seek a role, resent its past support for Saddam and suspect the body is biased toward Iraq”s Sunni Arab minority.
In the latest attack, a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol exploded Saturday in southern Baghdad, killing one policeman, said police 1st Lt. Thaeir Mahmud.
On Friday, the U.S. military announced the deaths of four more service members, edging the total number of American military fatalities near 2,000 since the start of the Iraq war.
The lawyers also demanded the government move the trial outside Iraq, said Khamees Hamid al-Ubaidi, one of Saddam”s two lawyers.
That was unlikely, as the government has fiercely rejected any international venue, insisting Saddam should be tried by Iraqis in Iraq. And Gen. Kamal, the Interior Ministry official, said Saturday that there has been no change in that position.
Heavy security already had been provided for the trial prosecutors and judges, who were considered likely targets of insurgents. Their names have not been revealed and their faces were not shown in the broadcast of Wednesday”s opening session — with the exception of the presiding judge and the top prosecutor, whose identities were revealed for the first time.
But before Saturday”s announcement by Kamal no security measures had been extended to the defense lawyers. Their identities have been known, although most of them have not been prominently discussed in the Iraqi media.