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Defense attorney in Saddam Hussein's trial killed and another lawyer wounded in drive-by shooting

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Gunmen in a speeding car killed a defense lawyer in the Saddam Hussein trial and wounded another Tuesday, raising doubts about whether the prosecution of the ousted leader can proceed amid the insurgency and domestic turmoil.

The assassination of Adel al-Zubeidi, who was representing former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, in a predominantly Sunni Arab neighborhood in Baghdad was the second attack targeting the defense team since the trial began less than a month ago.

Laith Kubba, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, condemned the attack and said Saddam's followers could be behind the killings to sabotage the case.

But Saddam's main lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, blamed the Shiite-dominated government for the attack, telling Al-Jazeera TV the shooting was carried out by "an armed group using government vehicles."

"The aim of these organized attacks is to scare Arab and foreign lawyers," al-Dulaimi said. "We call upon the international community, especially the secretary-general of the United Nations, to send an investigative committee because the situation is unbearable."

Al-Dulaimi urged the trial be moved to a neutral country and he said defense lawyers do not recognize the session's next date, Nov. 28.

Al-Dulaimi's call was echoed by Richard Goldstone, the first prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, who suggested the trial be moved to another Arab country "where there is security."

"I don't understand how you can have a fair trial in this atmosphere of insecurity, with bombs going off," Goldstone told The Associated Press by telephone.

On Oct. 20, Saadoun al-Janabi, the lawyer for co-defendant Awad al-Bandar, was abducted from his office by 10 masked gunmen, a day after the trial's first session. Al-Janabi's body was found nearby hours later, shot twice in the head.

Kubba said the defense lawyers had been asked to move into the heavily guarded Green Zone area in Baghdad for their own protection even before al-Janabi's killing and again afterward, but they refused.

"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, Kubba 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."

He promised the government "will do all it can to protect the people."

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said it was important for the trial to be conducted in a safe environment.

"That's an important priority, to make sure that you have the security environment in place for those trials to proceed and for witnesses to be able to participate in the trial as well in a secure way," McClellan said. "We've got to work to make sure that the security is in place for those trials to proceed in a fair and impartial and safe way."

Saddam and seven others have been charged with the 1982 killings of Shiite villagers in Dujail, a town north of Baghdad, following an assassination attempt. The trial was suspended until later this month to allow the defense to prepare its case.

Police Lt. Khalid Hassan said the two lawyers were driving through the Adil neighborhood Tuesday when three masked gunmen in an Opel pulled alongside and sprayed the car with automatic weapons fire.

Al-Zubeidi, who also represented former Baath Party official Abdullah Kazim Ruwayyid, was killed. Thamir al-Khuzaie, who represents Saddam's half brother, co-defendant Barazan Ibrahim, was wounded.

Chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Mousawi expressed regret for the attack against "our colleagues in the judiciary" and said the court would do everything possible "to arrange security for the lawyers."

"God willing, this incident will not affect the coming session," he said.

However, Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director of Human Rights Watch, said it shows that the Iraqi government needs "to reassess whether the conditions guaranteeing rights of every defendant exist."

"It is clear that whatever the government is doing is not working and is not adequate," she said. "They have to go back and figure out how to create conditions necessary for a fair trail, above all the safety of the defense team."

Elsewhere, the U.S. military said Marines killed five insurgents trying to plant explosives and captured 10 others Monday in the western city of Ramadi as American forces stepped up their campaign against deadly roadside bombs. Such bombs killed at least seven Iraqi security troops Tuesday.

Four Americans died Monday in a suicide car bombing in southwestern Baghdad, the military said. A civilian translator also was killed.

The deaths of the Americans brought to 2,054 the number of U.S. military personnel who have died since the war started in 2003, according to an AP count.

Following al-Janabi's death, members of the defense team said they had suspended further dealings with the special court until their safety is guaranteed.

Khamees Hamid al-Ubaidi, another defense lawyer, said the team had rejected an offer of guards from the Interior Ministry, pointing to frequent Sunni Arab accusations that ministry forces or Shiite militias linked to the government have killed members of the minority that was dominant under Saddam.

He said then that they were talking with U.S. officials about getting protection from American troops. But a later defense team statement said that it would seek U.N. protection for the Iraqi lawyers because they do not trust either the U.S. military or the Iraqi government to ensure their safety.

Saddam's defense team, which includes some 1,500 lawyers who act as advisers, is led by al-Dulaimi and Abdel Haq Alani, an Iraqi-born lawyer based in Britain. Alani is the top legal consultant to Saddam's daughter, Raghad, and believed to be backbone of defense team.

Alani said the latest killing confirmed defense fears that they were being systematically targeted.

"This is a sham, not a trial," he told AP by telephone, blaming the Bush administration for the turmoil in Iraq.

"The whole trial, the bloodshed in Iraq, the killings, the violence and everything else wouldn't have happened, had the Americans not invaded Iraq," Alani said. "After invasion and occupation, the occupying power is responsible for protecting the lives of the people under occupation."

U.S. commanders have stepped up operations against the insurgents in hopes of establishing enough stability for Dec. 15 parliamentary elections. U.S. officials hope to draw a large turnout among Sunni Arabs to encourage many of them to lay down their arms and join the political process.

The chief of staff of Iraq's army, Gen. Babaker B. Shawkat Zebari, told the Al-Hayat newspaper that U.S. and Iraqi forces will expand a major offensive under way in the town of Husaybah to include other insurgent strongholds in the Euphrates River valley. The area is a major way station for foreign fighters entering Iraq from Syria.

In other developments Tuesday:

— Police found six handcuffed corpses in a water treatment plant.

— One civilian was killed when gunmen opened fire in the Dora district in the south of the capital.

— A car bomb exploded near Mustansiriyah University, killing one person and injuring another.