BAGHDAD, Iraq - One of Saddam Hussein's main lawyers was shot to death Wednesday after he was abducted from his Baghdad home by men wearing police uniforms, the third killing of a member of the former leader's defense team since the trial started some eight months ago.
Khamis al-Obeidi, an Iraqi who represented Saddam and his half brother Barzan Ibrahim in their trial, was abducted from his house Wednesday morning, said Saddam's top lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi. His body was found on a street near the Shiite slum of Sadr City, police Lt. Thaer Mahmoud said.
Chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi confirmed that al-Obeidi had been killed, although he did not provide any details. A photo of al-Obeidi provided by police showed his face, head and shoulders drenched in his own blood.
A parked car bomb also exploded near an ice cream shop in the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City on Wednesday, killing at least three people and wounding eight, police Capt. Sattar Jabar said. It was the second attack in as many days in the sprawling Shiite district in eastern Baghdad.
The violence came a day after the U.S. military recovered the bodies of two missing soldiers from an area south of Baghdad that it said was rigged with explosives. A senior Iraqi defense official, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Mohammed, said the bodies showed signs of having been tortured.
The Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization of five insurgent groups, claimed the new leader of al-Qaida in Iraq executed the men personally, but it offered no evidence. The U.S. military did not confirm whether the soldiers died from wounds suffered in an attack Friday or were kidnapped and later killed.
Al-Obeidi, who was in his 50s and had six children, was the third member of Saddam's defense team to be killed since the former leader's trial began on Oct. 19.
A dozen masked gunmen abducted defense lawyer Saadoun al-Janabi from his Baghdad office the day after the trial's opening session. His body was found the next day with two bullets in his skull. Nearly three weeks later, defense lawyer Adel al-Zubeidi was assassinated in a brazen daylight ambush in Baghdad. A colleague who was wounded fled the country.
"The aim of this act is to terrify the lawyers and hinder the work of the defense team," al-Dulaimi said.
Saddam and his seven co-defendants are charged with crimes against humanity for a crackdown after a shooting attack on Saddam's motorcade as he visited the town of Dujail in 1982. They allegedly arrested hundreds of Shiites, including women and children, tortured some to death and killed 148 in all.
The prosecution presented its final arguments on Monday, demanding the death penalty for the former Iraqi leader. After a three-week recess, the defense gets to sum up its case, then a panel of judges will begin weighing the case.
Unlike al-Dulaimi, who shuttles between Amman, Jordan, and the Iraqi capital, al-Obeidi chose to continue living in Baghdad during the trial despite the capital's tenuous security. He lived in the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Azamiyah in northern Baghdad.
Al-Dulaimi blamed the Interior Ministry, which Sunnis have alleged is infiltrated by so-called Shiite death squads, for the killing. "We strongly condemn this act and we condemn the killings done by the Interior Ministry forces against Iraqis," he said.
Bushra al-Khalil, a Lebanese member of the defense team, also said al-Obeidi was taken from his house early Wednesday by men dressed in police uniforms and driving four vehicles used by Iraqi security forces.
"They blindfolded him and took him away," said al-Khalil, who was thrown out of the courtroom last month by chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman. "No one can go out during curfew time in Baghdad."
She said the Americans bore responsibility for al-Obeidi's death because they decided to stop providing protection for defense lawyers. The U.S. has denied this.
"Lifting the security of the defense team was an introduction to assassinations," al-Khalil told The Associated Press.
She said that for the first time since the trial began she received a threat by telephone Monday night. "A man cursed me and threatened me before hanging up," she said adding that he was using a Lebanese public telephone.
Mohammed Moneib, an Egyptian lawyer for Saddam and co-defendant Taha Yassin Ramadan, said Abdel-Rahman was also partly responsible for al-Obeidi's death because of the way he deals with defense attorneys. After an angry exchange during a hearing last week, Abdel-Rahman, a Kurd, accused Moneib of seeking to create "chaos" in the courtroom.
"His accusations are a sort of incitement," Moneib said from Cairo. "The way he deals with the defense, defendants and witnesses could incite madmen or criminals to commit such crimes."
Moneib demanded that al-Moussawi, the chief prosecutor, personally investigate al-Obeidi's death.
U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said the remains believed to be those of Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore., were spotted late Monday and recovered Tuesday. The bodies will be flown from Kuwait to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for positive identification through autopsies and DNA testing.
"Coalition forces had to carefully maneuver their way through numerous improvised explosive devices leading up to and around the site," the military said. "Insurgents attempting to inflict additional casualties had placed IEDs around the bodies."
The discovery of the bodies dealt a new setback to U.S. efforts to seize the momentum against al-Qaida in Iraq after killing its leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in a June 7 airstrike.
The two soldiers disappeared after an insurgent attack at a checkpoint by a Euphrates River canal, 12 miles south of Baghdad. Spc. David J. Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass., was killed in the attack. The three men were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Ky.