updated 9/12/2005 8:37:38 AM ET 2005-09-12T12:37:38

A top member of Saddam Hussein’s defense team said Monday the deposed dictator’s upcoming trial was a political gimmick by the new Iraqi government as it tries to generate support for next month’s constitutional referendum.

Saddam and seven other members of his toppled regime are due to stand trial in the Iraq Special Tribunal on Oct. 19. They are charged with ordering a massacre of 143 people in Dujail, a town north of Baghdad, in 1982 after a failed assassination attempt against the ousted leader. If convicted, Saddam could be sentenced to death.

“The court isn’t even halfway ready to try the case,” Abdel Haq Alani told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Britain. “It’s simply political capital being used to follow the referendum on the constitution.”

Iraqis will vote on the charter four days earlier, with the outcome still not assured because of fundamental opposition from Iraq’s Sunni minority, which governed under Saddam. Despite the Sunnis’ minority status in Iraq, most Arab Muslims belong to that sect.

Iraq’s insurgency is being driven by Sunni Arabs opposed to the U.S. backed-Shiite and Kurdish-dominated government.

Lawyer criticizes process
Alani, a London-based lawyer charged with assembling Saddam’s new defense team, called the upcoming trial “all politics” and said it had “nothing to do with the reality of the investigation.”

Alani said the defense team would prove Saddam’s “legal rights have been denied” and would question the court’s legitimacy, citing international laws that say a court formed under occupation is considered invalid.

Alani, who serves as a legal counsel to Saddam’s eldest daughter, Raghad, said a defense team soon will be named to replace a squabbling assemblage of more than 1,500 Arab and international lawyers fired last month amid accusations the group had no united strategy and sought fame in the high-profile case.

“The defense team has not yet been finalized,” Alani said. “It will be made public when the accused (Saddam) gives his approval to the new team.”

Saddam has been in American custody at an undisclosed site in Baghdad since his capture in December 2003, eight months after his regime was overthrown by U.S. forces.

The former dictator is expected to face about a dozen trials for alleged crimes committed by his regime, including the gassing of Kurds in Halabja and the 1991 suppression of a Shiite uprising in the south.

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