Judge targets me because I'm Shi'a - lawyer

Beirut, Lebanon - Colleagues feel it's because she's a woman, but Bushra al-Khalil, the lawyer thrown out of Saddam Hussein's trial Monday, said she believes the chief judge is targeting her because she's a Shi'a Muslim defending the former Iraqi leader.

For the Lebanese-born al-Khalil, Saddam is a nationalist hero resisting the US invasion of his country - even though he's charged with crimes against humanity in a crackdown that killed 148 Shi'a.

But she's had a rough time in court.

Chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman has been tough on all the defence, throwing out several lawyers and defendants early on since taking his post at the beginning of the year in an attempt to bring order to the often raucous trial.

But he has been noticeably more curt with al-Khalil. On April 5, he had her tossed out after she tried to raise an objection. She had hardly started to speak when he told her to sit down, then when she tried to continue ordered her to go.

On Monday, she was back in court for the first time, and Abdel-Rahman started the session with a sharp warning that he would not allow any more disruptions from her. When she tried to comment, he promptly ordered guards to remove her. Shouting at guards not to grab her, al-Khalil threw off her black judicial robes and was escorted out.

"Some people say he has a complex about women," she told The Associated Press later, without elaborating.

It wouldn't be the first time her gender has come up in court. After she was removed in April, one of her fellow defence lawyers stood and asked the judge to allow her back. "She's a woman, and women are known to be more emotional. You should show understanding," he argued.

But al-Khalil said she believes the judge is picking her out for harsher treatment because she's Shiite who dared to defend one of the most hated figures among Iraqi Shiites. Saddam is on trial for allegedly killing and torturing Shiites in the town of Dujail after a 1982 assassination attempt against him there.

"There is a decision to distance me because I come from a well-known Shi'a family," she said.

Al-Khalil is a member of a wealthy southern Lebanese family from the village of Jwaya. Her maternal grand father, Youssef al-Faqih, led the country's Shiites until the 1950s, and an uncle was a grand ayatollah, the highest rank a Shiite cleric can reach.

But for al-Khalil, Arab nationalism outweighs sectarian ties.

"Saddam Hussein is not a sectarian person and it can't be true that he targeted Shi'as for being Shi'as," she said. "The Dujail case was not against Shiites but against people who tried to assassinate the president."

She said she decided to join Saddam's defence the moment she saw him on television being checked by American military doctors after his arrest in December 2003. She contacted the Jordan-based defence team put together by Saddam's daughter Raghad and volunteered her services.

Al-Khalil, who refused to give her age but has been practising law for 26 years, said her defence of Saddam is a national duty of an Arab opposed to what she calls America's attempts to control the Mideast.

"I cannot be neutral when I have to chose between (US President George ) Bush and Saddam. I am for sure with Saddam," she said.

"Saddam started the resistance that will for sure liberate Iraq." - Sapa-AP

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