Image: Assassianted Iraqi judge.
al-Merwani family via AP
Iraqi Judge Barwez Mohammed Mahmoud al-Merwani, seen in an undated photo, was slain Tuesday, in Baghdad, along with his son, lawyer Aryan Barwez al-Merwani.
updated 3/2/2005 9:36:21 AM ET 2005-03-02T14:36:21

Gunmen killed a judge and lawyer working for the special tribunal that will try Saddam Hussein and members of his former regime, the first court staff killed since it was set up in late 2003 after the dictator was toppled, officials and a relative of the slain men said Wednesday.

Judge Barwez Mohammed Mahmoud al-Merwani and his son, lawyer Aryan Barwez al-Merwani, were shot and killed Tuesday in Baghdad’s northern Azamyiah district, said the slain judge’s son, Kikawz Barwez Mohammed al-Merwani.

The son said unidentified gunmen in a speeding car raked the pair with gunfire as they were trying to get into a vehicle outside their home.

News of the deaths came as two car bombs exploded in the capital, killing 10 Iraqi soldiers and wounding dozens of others

The killings came one day after the court issued referrals for five former regime members — including one of Saddam’s half brothers — for crimes against humanity. Referrals are similar to indictments, and are the final step before trials can start.

Murder personally or politically motivated?
However, a tribunal official, who asked not to be named, said the judge was not killed because of his job.

“He was not killed because he was working at the tribunal,” he said. “It was something personal. I don’t have details, but investigations are still going on.”

The judge’s surviving son disagreed, saying the two were assassinated either because they worked for the court, or because they were minority Kurds.

“We believe that the murder is politically motivated, because the two killed were working in the special tribunal and the son was a senior member in the PUK office in Baghdad. The late judge had no personal problems with anybody at all,” said Kikawz Barwez Mohammed al-Merwani. “This is a terrorist act carried out by Baathists and terrorists.”

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is one of two key northern Kurdish parties. U.S. authorities dissolved Saddam’s former ruling Baath party after ousting him from power.

The tribunal official said Tuesday’s killings are the first of any staff working on the Iraqi Special Tribunal, which consists of more than 60 investigative, appellate and trial judges. An official familiar with the court said al-Merwani was an investigative judge.

Judges and other legal staff working at the court have not even been identified in public because of concerns for their safety, and tribunal officials have kept a low-profile for the same reason, even refusing to say where the court is located.

The Iraqi Special Tribunal was set up in late 2003 after Saddam was toppled. But after five potential candidates were killed, some judges declined calls to work at the court. At least half of the tribunal’s budget has gone to security.

The court official said the slain judge was one of more than 60 investigative, appellate and trial judges working at the court. An official familiar with the court said al-Merwani was an investigative judge.

5 referred to trial
The announcement Monday by the tribunal marked the first time that the special court issued referrals. No date was given for that trial.

The five referred to trial included Barzan Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti, one of Saddam’s half brothers, and former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan. The three others were senior Baath Party members.

Saddam was captured in December 2003, and others have been in custody for nearly two years.

U.S. military officials transferred 12 of the top defendants to Iraqi custody in June with the handover of sovereignty. They’re being held at an undisclosed location near Baghdad International Airport, west of the capital.

News of the deaths came as two car bombs exploded in the capital, killing 10 Iraqi soldiers and wounding dozens of others

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