The defence began closing arguments in the Baghdad trial of Saddam Hussein yesterday but most of the lawyers boycotted the court after the killing of one of Saddam's lawyers last month.
The murder of Khamis alObeidi overshadowed the session as a lawyer for Ali Dayih Ali, a lower-level defendant in the case, delivered the first argument.
In a new security measure, the lawyer's face was not shown in the television broadcast of the trial and his voice was electronically altered - unlike previous sessions in which the defence lawyers were openly shown.
The lawyers for Saddam and three of his top codefendants were not present, and one of them said they were boycotting the court until better security was put in place and other demands were met.
Al-Obeidi, one of Saddam's lawyers, was abducted from his Baghdad home on June 21 and found shot dead hours later on a street near the Shiite slum of Sadr City. He was the third defence lawyer to be killed since the trial began in October. The defence has said the security threats against them undermine the fairness of the trial, and a boycott could deeply damage a court that has been controversial from the start.
The court will hear from lawyers for Saddam and each of his seven co-defendants in turn, then hear statements from each defendant, a process expected to take several sessions.
The eight are charged with crimes against humanity for a crackdown against Shi'ites in the town of Dujail launched after a 1982 assassination attempt against Saddam. They are accused of arresting hundreds of people, torturing women and children and killing 148 people sentenced to death for the attack on the former Iraqi leader.
Court officials have said they expect verdicts to be issued before a second trial of Saddam begins on August 21. In that trial, Saddam and six other former members of his regime face charges of for the Anfal Campaign in the 1980s that killed an estimated 100,000 Kurds and saw thousands of Kurdish villages razed. n Two car bombs exploded nearly simultaneously in a Shiite area of Baghdad yesterday, killing at least seven people and wounding 17.
The first attack hit a car repair shop on the edge of the Shiite slum of Sadr City, wounding at least six people. A suicide car bomber then drove into the crowd that had gathered near the site and detonated his explosives, killing seven people and wounding 11 more.