Baghdad provides no safe haven for the lawyer of Saddam Hussein. After two weeks of broken appointments and misinformation about his whereabouts, Khalil al-Dulaimi was finally reached by phone at his family home on the outskirts of Ramadi, a restive city west of Baghdad. There, he explained, he is protected by his tribe, the Dulaimis, the most powerful in the war-torn Anbar province. With two of his fellow defense attorneys found dead in the Iraqi capital in the past few weeks, al-Dulaimi has reason to be wary, and, he told TIME, the looming threat of being kidnapped and murdered is crippling his ability to launch an adequate defense of the fallen dictator.
Interviews with six of the more than 13 Iraqi attorneys defending Saddam and his lieutenants reveal a constant backdrop of threatened violence as they try to perform basic legal tasks like deposing witnesses, reviewing documents and preparing their clients for the trial, which resumes next week after a recess of almost five weeks. At best, the lawyers say, they face a logistical nightmare when visiting the U.S.-run prison on the western outskirts of Baghdad, where high-ranking members of the former regime are being held. At worst, they fear that every trip home from the office could end in a shower of bullets and a pool of blood.
That was how it ended for Adel al-Zubaidi on a sunny afternoon in early November. The attorney defending Saddam's half-brother Barzan Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti and former Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan was heading home from work with a colleague when two Opel sedans and two orange-and-white taxis boxed in his car on the busy main street of his neighborhood. Two men wearing jeans got out firing Russian-made PKC heavy machine guns, riddling the red Proton sedan with bullets, says al-Zubaidi's son-in-law, who arrived on the scene 10 minutes after the shooting and spoke with eyewitnesses. The son-in-law, Riyadh al-Janabi, says that moments before the murder, all five cars had passed unhindered through an Iraqi police checkpoint.
The day before his assassination, with only an unarmed guard to watch over him, al-Zubaidi, 61, sat in the cafeteria of the Iraqi Bar Association and told TIME that he believed the Badr Corps, the military wing of Iraq's largest Shi'ite political party, was out to get him and his fellow attorneys--and using the police to do it. Al-Zubaidi said he had been told by reliable witnesses that Ministry of Interior vehicles were used in the kidnap and execution of his fellow defense attorney Saadoun al-Janabi on Oct. 20. The Iraqi government and the Badr Corps both deny any involvement in the kidnapping. But al-Zubaidi cited his suspicions as the reason he refused an offer by the Iraqi government to move to a house inside the secured Green Zone. "Tell me, who is in the Green Zone?" he asked. "The leaders of the militia!"