Saddam Hussien met with his defense lawyer for four hours Thursday as several of the former dictator’s top aide’s are due to appear on their trial for war crimes.

Saddam Hussein met with a defense lawyer Thursday for the first time since his capture a year ago, days before several of his top aides are due to appear in court for hearings on alleged war crimes.

The unidentified attorney spent four hours with the 67-year-old former dictator at Saddam’s undisclosed detention site, said his chief lawyer, Ziad al-Khasawneh.

“He was in good health and his morale was high and very strong,” al-Khasawneh said. “He looked much better that his earlier public appearance when he was arraigned a few months ago.”

The Iraqi interim government’s push to get the trials for Saddam’s former lieutenants under way before the Jan. 30 national elections has led to dissent even within the Iraqi Cabinet.

“Trials as symbolic as those against the dignitaries of the former regime should only start after the establishment of an Iraqi government with ballot-box legitimacy,” Iraqi Justice Minister Malik Dohan al-Hassan told the Geneva daily newspaper Le Temps.

Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said Tuesday that procedures could begin as early as next week before the Iraqi Special Tribunal.

Saddam will not be among the first to appear in court. But his notorious former right-hand man, Ali Hassan al-Majid — the ex-general known as “Chemical Ali” for his use of chemical weapons — is expected to appear along with 11 other former regime members at the initial investigative court hearing next week.

“The cases against his (Saddam’s) henchmen are probably less complicated to prove than the cases against him,” Stephen Orlofsky, a former federal judge who toured Iraq to assess its judiciary, told CNN.

“There are probably fewer crimes and the evidence may be stronger and I’m sure the prosecution is hopeful that one or more of them will ultimately cooperate and testify against Saddam,” Orlofsky said.

He said Saddam will face a special tribunal of five judges that was created to try war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

In Baghdad, a U.S. military official familiar with the case confirmed Saddam was visited by a lawyer for the first time since being hauled from his “spider hole” on a farm near his hometown of Tikrit on Dec. 13, 2003.

With six weeks of campaigning under way ahead of the crucial vote for a 275-member assembly, interim President Ghazi al-Yawer predicted regional and international interests will spend millions of dollars to influence the balloting — a statement aimed primarily at Iran and Syria.

“There are many parties, regional and international, who want to serve their own interests and they want to have friends in power in Iraq,” al-Yawer said. “We think that millions of dollars will be spent on the elections process from outside the country. We hope that this will not happen and that the money and the decisions will be Iraqi.”

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