Saddam, Defense Lawyer Meet for 1st Time

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Former dictator Saddam Hussein met with a lawyer Thursday for the first time since his capture a year ago, officials said. Insurgents, meanwhile, killed three paramilitary police and a government official in Baghdad.

Saddam's meeting in his cell with a member of his legal team came as the Iraqi government is gearing up to begin the trials of some of Saddam's top deputies next week, ahead of the country's elections in January.

Saddam and the lawyer, an Iraqi, met for four hours at the undisclosed location where the ousted leader is being detained, said Ziad al-Khasawneh, head of the legal team hired by Saddam's wife.

"He was in good health and his morale was high and very strong," al-Khasawneh said, speaking in Jordan. "He looked much better that his earlier public appearance when he arraigned a few months ago." Al-Khasawneh would not identify the lawyer.

A U.S. military official familiar with the case confirmed that Saddam met with a lawyer in his cell and that the visit was the first made by an attorney to the former Iraqi dictator, who was captured a year ago Monday. He provided no further details.

Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi announced on Tuesday that war crimes trials against Iraq's former Baath Party leaders will begin next week. Saddam won't be among those to appear in court, officials said.

One official said Ali Hassan al-Majid, the former general known as "Chemical Ali" for his use of chemical weapons, will be the first among 12 former regime members to appear at the initial investigative court hearing next week.

Few of the top regime officials have been able to meet with lawyers. Defense attorneys have complained about not having access to their clients, saying that any proceedings held under those conditions would be seen as political show trials.

Many have speculated that Allawi's surprise announcement was linked to the start of campaigning for the Jan. 30 vote for Iraq's new 275-member National Assembly, in which he is running for office at the head of a coalition list.

Militants continued their campaign to derail the vote by mounting a series of attacks in Baghdad and elsewhere.

Unidentified gunmen shot and killed Qassim Mehawi, deputy head of the Communications Ministry, as he was heading to work, police said. Eight of Mehawi's bodyguards were injured and hospitalized.

Government officials are frequent targets of the insurgents, who accuse them of collaborating with the Americans.

In western Baghdad, a roadside bomb exploded near a passing SUV, badly damaging the vehicle, police said. After the blast, gunmen opened up on the survivors with automatic fire, killing a foreigner and wounding two others, Al-Khadra police commissioner Ali Hussein Al-Hamadani said.

There was no immediate information on their nationality.

Three Iraqi National Guardsmen died and six others were injured when another roadside bomb exploded in western Baghdad as their pickup truck was driving by, al-Hamadani said.

On Wednesday, insurgents attacked two U.S. patrols in separate attacks in Baghdad. Twelve hand grenades were thrown at troops in central Baghdad, injuring one soldier, while a roadside bomb struck another patrol, causing no casualties.

Another U.S. soldier was wounded when the tank he was in struck a mine near Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, a spokesman said.

U.S. and Iraqi security forces raided the Baghdad home of two Egyptian employees of an Iraqi mobile phone company belonging to Egypt's telecommunications giant Orascom, said Dina Abu Neda, a spokeswoman for Orascom Telecom.

Abu Neda said the U.S. and Iraqi forces also confiscated thousands of dollars from the home of the men, who provided security services. "We don't know why they were detained, it came as a big surprise to us," Abu Neda said.

In the northern city of Kirkuk, several thousand Arab residents rallied Thursday in front of the governor's office to demand that the elections be postponed.

The protesters said they were worried that a campaign to return displaced Kurds to the city, where Saddam's regime drove out many Kurds and replaced them with Arabs from other areas, would alter Kirkuk's ethnic mix.

In the central Iraqi city of Karbala, about 1,000 people, many holding black banners of mourning, marched in a funeral procession for those killed in Wednesday evening's bomb blast at the western gate of the gold-domed Imam Hussein Shrine, according to police spokesman Rahman Mashawy.

Eight people died and 40 were wounded by the explosion near one of Shia Islam's holiest shrines in Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad. They included a prominent Shiite cleric, Sheik Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalayee.

In another development, a senior U.S. commander said Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi may now be operating out of Baghdad, after leaving his former safe haven in the rebel-held city of Fallujah ahead of last month's U.S.-led offensive to retake that city.

"Baghdad would be the most likely area," said Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, who added that al-Zarqawi can operate "pretty safely" in the capital.

Al-Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq group is believed to be leading a brutal campaign of hostage-takings, beheadings and bombings.