A defence lawyer in Saddam Hussein's mass murder trial has been found dead, his body dumped near a Baghdad mosque with two gunshots to the head, police and a top lawyers union official said on Friday.
Saadoun Sughaiyer al-Janabi was abducted from his office Thursday evening, a day after he attended the first session of the trial, acting as the lawyer of one Saddam's seven co-defendants.
The killing was the first setback for a tribunal that has been held under tight security.
Saddam went on trial on Wednesday on charges of crimes against humanity, and could face the death sentence after surviving numerous attempts by his foes to kill him.
Ousted by US-led forces in April 2003, Saddam was captured in December by American soldiers who found him hiding in a hole near his hometown of Tikrit.
Iraqis who lived for years under the gaze of Saddam statues and posters saw images of him in custody, with a bushy beard streaked with grey and dishevelled after months on the run.
Saddam, 68, has been charged with mass killing in the deaths of 143 Shi'ite men from the village of Dujail. Many were killed after a failed assassination attempt on Saddam in the village in 1982.
By focusing on the relatively limited 1982 Dujail case, prosecutors have said they believe they can show Saddam's personal responsibility more easily than in the bigger crimes.
Other accusations against Saddam, not yet formalized into charges, chronicle years of bloodshed in Iraq and its neighbours. They include genocide.
He has been accused of crimes against humanity committed during Iraq's eight-year war with Iran, which Saddam launched in 1980 at a vast cost in human lives and national treasure.
Similar accusations apply to his 1990 invasion of Kuwait, which his troops occupied for seven months before being expelled by a US-led coalition in the 1991 Gulf War.
Saddam was eventually demonised by Washington, even though the United States, along with the former Soviet Union and several European nations, had armed and supported him in the 1980s as a bulwark against the Islamic revolution in Iran.
For some years, US policy had focused on containing Saddam but after the September 11 suicide hijack attacks on US cities in 2001, US President George W. Bush chose Iraq as the next target in his "war on terror" after Afghanistan.
But US troops found nothing to substantiate Washington's assertions that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction or had links to al-Qaida, key justifications used for the war.
After using his skills as a street fighter and conspirator to get his Baath party into power in a 1968 coup, Saddam built an iron grip on Iraq despite wars, uprisings, coup plots and assassination attempts. He became president in 1979.
Once a hero to some Arabs for his defiance of the United States and Israel, Saddam disappointed his admirers by failing to mount a serious defence of Baghdad in the 2003 war.
Born on April 28, 1937, Saddam appealed variously to Arab nationalism, Islam and Iraqi patriotism to cement his leadership.
Source: China Daily