A convoy of buses is expected to transport hundreds of legal experts to Baghdad in a show of support for Saddam Hussein, his Jordan-based defence team said.

Issam Ghazawi, a prominent lawyer and one of the 21-strong defence team hired by Saddam’s wife, Sajida Khairallah, said on Monday that among the large contingent of lawyers ready to defend Saddam are 700 non-Arabs, including 400 Americans and Europeans.

Two hundred legal consultants worldwide have also pledged to help in the case, he said. “More than half of the over 2000 lawyers volunteering to defend President Saddam are expected to join the trip,” Mr Ghazawi said.

A meeting in Amman today will make the preparations for the overland trip to Baghdad.

Lawyers have expressed fears about their personal safety in Iraq, citing remarks by officials who attacked Arabs who defend Saddam as a nationalist hero who fought the Americans.

They also expect to encounter objections by Iraqi lawyers, who say existing laws bar foreigners from defending their countrymen in local courts.
The defence team again contacted US officials last week requesting access to their client. Past requests have been ignored, they say.

Saddam appeared before an Iraqi judge last Thursday to face charges that may lead to a formal indictment for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

He was not represented by a lawyer and refused to sign a statement acknowledging that he had been charged and read his rights – including a right to legal counsel.

Many lawyers describe the trial as a political vendetta by the former Iraqi leader’s foes and say only an international court would guarantee an impartial and fair hearing.

Aisha Gaddafi, daughter of the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, told Saddam’s lawyers she wanted to join them after seeing the televised court appearance.

Ms Gaddafi set up a Libyan team to defend Saddam and pledged to send international law jurists.

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