BAGHDAD, IRAQ -- Saddam Hussein's trial is to resume under a new chief judge today after the first presiding judge resigned and his initial replacement was accused of having belonged to the deposed dictator's Baath Party.
One of Hussein's lawyers said the defense team would use the turnover in the trial panel's leadership to accuse Iraqi and U.S. officials of interference and to seek a new delay in the proceedings, which have been in recess for the past month.
Meanwhile in central Baghdad, gunmen wearing uniforms of a Shiite-led security force swept into a Sunni Arab neighborhood before dawn yesterday, killing three men and speeding away with more than 20 others, police and witnesses said.
The U.S. military said a soldier was killed in a roadside bombing in Baghdad yesterday, two Air Force members were killed in a blast near Taji, north of the capital late Sunday, and four soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing near the northern town of Hawijah on Friday.
The Iraqi High Tribunal named Raouf Rasheed Abdel Rahman, a 64-year-old Kurd, to take temporary charge yesterday of the five-judge panel presiding over Hussein's trial. The decision was announced after Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin, the tribunal's original judge and most public face, resisted several appeals by his colleagues and Iraqi leaders to return to the courtroom.
The chief judge resigned Jan. 9, complaining of government pressure to speed up the trial and to clamp down on lengthy outbursts by Hussein and some of the seven other defendants.
Amin's deputy on the trial panel, Said Hammashi, was chosen by fellow panel members to take over, but the tribunal backed down after a government commission set up to purge former Baath Party members from public office objected.
Hammashi denied the commission's accusation, made in a letter to the court last week, that he had been a party member. Officials first brushed off the letter, saying laws barring former Baathists from government positions did not apply to the tribunal.
But Jafar Moussawi, the tribunal's chief prosecutor, said the court decided to pass over Hammashi to avoid further controversy.
Rahman has been in a different chamber of the tribunal. His appointment to lead the trial is temporary because Amin's resignation has not been formally accepted.
Since the start of the Hussein proceedings in October, defense lawyers have challenged the legitimacy of the tribunal, which they call a tool of the U.S. forces that ousted Hussein in April 2003.
Khamis Ubaidi, one of Hussein's lawyers, said last night that the defense will use the conflict over the trial panel's leadership to seek a postponement of the trial.
"The interference is very clear," he said, adding that Iraqi officials and the court's U.S. advisers "want a judge who will obey them."
"It is obvious that the court is under a lot of pressure, and this will lead to an unfair trial," Ubaidi said.
Independent legal observers have expressed concern over the turmoil surrounding the trial, which has previously been delayed by procedural wrangling and by the killings of two defense lawyers.
Rahman, a policeman's son from a well-known Kurdish family, has been a criminal court judge for 10 years. His hometown is Halabja, a Kurdish village where Hussein's security forces are accused of killing at least 5,000 people in one day in 1988 in a poison gas attack. The massacre is the next of several charges for which Hussein is expected to stand trial.
Richard Boudreaux writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.