AMMAN, Jordan (AP) – Saddam Hussein’s defense team will boycott his genocide trial indefinitely, his chief lawyer said Sunday, accusing the judges of violating Iraqi law.

The move was unlikely to halt Saddam’s second trial, just as a similar walkout had no effect on his first, since the chief judge said he would appoint replacements after the lawyers stormed out of court last week. Proceedings resume Monday.

Still, the boycott could raise further questions about the court, which already was under fire over the replacement of the first chief judge after some Iraqis accused him of allegedly favoring the defense.

Saddam’s head lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, called the decision to replace Judge Abdullah al-Amiri a “flagrant violation of the law” because it was “dictated by the government and not the court.”

Al-Dulaimi also accused the five-judge panel of committing “several violations of the law,” including refusing to hear non-Iraqi lawyers and requiring foreign attorneys to seek permission to enter the courtroom. Among Saddam’s nine lawyers are a Jordanian, a Spaniard, a Frenchman and two Americans, including former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark.

“We will not just sit there gagged to give it legitimacy,” said al-Dulaimi, an Iraqi. But softening his tone somewhat, he said he hoped “the court will listen to our requests and that’s when we’ll go back to the courtroom.”

Saddam and seven others have been on trial since Aug. 21 for a crackdown on Kurdish guerrillas in the late 1980s. The prosecution says about 180,000 people, mostly civilians, died in attacks that included the use of poison gas against Kurdish towns and villages in northern Iraq. Saddam could face execution if convicted of genocide.

The defense also boycotted the final stages of Saddam’s first trial, for his alleged role in the deaths of 148 Shiite Muslims in Dujail following a 1982 assassination attempt against him in the town.

A verdict in that trial, which began Oct. 19, 2005, is expected when the court reconvenes next month. Saddam and his seven co-defendants could receive the death sentence if convicted.

On Tuesday, the government said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki approved a request by the Iraqi High Tribunal to remove al-Amiri, replacing him with his deputy, Mohammed Oreibi al-Khalifa.

Al-Amiri had angered Kurdish politicians by declaring in court that Saddam was “not a dictator.” Saddam’s lawyers stormed out of the Wednesday session to protest the change in judges, and al-Khalifa threw the ousted president out of court when he accused the panel of acting outside the law.

“They claim that it’s an independent court, but it’s not,” al-Dulaimi said Sunday.

Another of Saddam’s lawyers, a Jordanian, said Saddam would be present at Monday’s court session, but suggested it could be against his will.

“They have the power to bring him forcefully and this is what I expect,” said Ziad al-Najdawi.

Al-Dulaimi questioned the legal qualifications of the new chief judge, saying that “he lacks the experience and the caliber needed in this trial.”

The change in the chief judge also drew criticism from the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, which said al-Amiri’s removal “appears to be improper interference in the independence of the tribunal.”

Human Rights Watch has long questioned the decision by the U.S. and its Iraqi partners to try Saddam before an Iraqi court rather than an international tribunal, such as the ones hearing cases against defendants from the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Both trials of the former president have been marred by controversy. Three defense lawyers in the Dujail case were murdered and a fourth fled the country, raising defense complaints about inadequate security.

The first chief judge in the Dujail trial resigned last January after Shiite politicians accused him of allowing Saddam to turn the trial into a forum for political statements.


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