Saddam Hussein Urges Iraqis to Unite


December 19, 2004

By Suleiman al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) - Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has appealed to Iraqis from his prison cell to unite against what he called U.S. efforts to sow sectarian divisions, his lawyers say.

Ziad Khasawneh, a Jordanian lawyer and spokesman for Saddam's defence team, told reporters on Sunday: "President Saddam Hussein urged the unity of his Iraqi people, regardless of their religious and ethnic creed, to confront U.S. plans to divide their country on sectarian grounds."

Saddam relayed his messages through Khalil Dulaimi, an Iraqi lawyer and member of the defence counsel who met the ousted leader for more than four hours on Thursday -- Saddam's first access to lawyers since he was arrested a year ago.

Dulaimi's identity was until Sunday kept secret by Saddam's Amman-based legal team for fears over his life after he escaped an assassination attempt two weeks ago, defence lawyers said.

Saddam, who is denied access to news, was eager to know what had happened in Iraq since his captivity, Khasawneh said.

Saddam said Iraqis had to be cautious after Dulaimi told him U.S.-backed elections would take place next month, said Lebanese lawyer Bushra al-Khalil, who is on the defence team.

But the former strongman was as defiant as ever and high-spirited in captivity, his lawyers said.

"If my commitment to my principles was 90 percent before the U.S. invasion then after what happened to me it's 100 percent firm," Khasawneh quoted Saddam as saying.

Saddam sent a plea to Iraq's men of religion from all persuasions to "shoulder a historic responsibility" in rallying people in Iraq's difficult times, the lawyers said.

War crimes trials against Saddam Hussein and his closest lieutenants moved forward when his feared cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid and a former defence minister were questioned by an investigating judge on Saturday.

Iraq's U.S.-backed government had promised trials would begin before next month's election, the first free vote since Saddam rose to power three decades ago. Saddam himself is expected to be among the last to face trial.