Saddam Hussein's lawyers walked out of his trial hearing Wednesday to protest against the changing of the chief judge and the deposed leader was ordered to leave the courtroom.Despite the recent addition of one of the best-equipped U.S. brigades to the capital, the commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad said Wednesday he was pushing Iraqi leaders to start doing more about the sectarian militias responsible for killing thousands of people. Maj. Gen. James Thurman said that more Iraqi troops were needed to combat what militias, which he described as the biggest threat to the country's future. "I would like to see more Iraqi forces. We are pushing that very hard," said Thurman. He added that U.S. troop levels in Baghdad, which were recently increased by at least 3,000 soldiers, would "depend on how we progress with Iraqi security forces." Thurman said attacks in Baghdad have recently shifted from civilian targets back to U.S. and Iraqi troops. He also said that any possibility of U.S. troop withdrawals this year is off the table, reports CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan.
Mohammed Oreibi al-Khalifa, a Shiite Muslim Arab, was presiding Wednesday in place of Abdullah al-Amiri, who was removed after he was accused of being too soft on the former Iraqi leader.
But when the session began with al-Khalifa in charge, the defense lawyers questioned the impartiality of the trial.
"We don't expect from this court established under the occupation authorities to be fair, so we decided to withdraw from this trial," defense lawyer Wadoud Fawzi told the court, reading a statement on behalf of the defense team.
"The decision to sack the judge at the orders of the government shows that this trial lacks the standards of a fair trial," added Fawzi.
Al-Khalifa responded, saying replacing the chief judge was an "administrative matter." When the lawyers protested, the judge said the court would appoint new counsel.
Saddam said he wanted his lawyers to stay and protested against court-appointed counsel. "This is our personal right," Saddam shouted about the defense choosing its counsel as he pointed his finger at the judge and pounded his fist on the podium. "You must deal with us as the law dictates," he said.
Al-Khalifa asked him to stop talking, but Saddam refused, prompting the judge to order him out of the courtroom.
In other developments:
In an interview with CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she has full confidence that Iraq's prime minister and his government will eventually "get a handle on this sectarian violence, but it's going to take some time."
A man accused of collecting intelligence for Saddam Hussein's regime during the 1990s was indicted on charges of failing to register as an agent of a foreign government, authorities said Wednesday. William Shaoul Benjamin, 64, of Los Angeles also faces charges of making false statements and conspiracy, according to the FBI.
Attacks against Americans have increased following a call earlier this month from al Qaeda in Iraq's leader to target U.S. forces, the top U.S. military spokesman said Wednesday. Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell also said that Iraqi and American troops were expecting violence to increase further during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Caldwell said the attacks were mostly carried out by suicide car bombers and roadside bombs. He added that the number of killings carried out by death squads had also increased in the past week.
A suicide truck bomb slammed into a Baghdad police headquarters on Wednesday, killing seven and wounding at least double that many in a deadly 24 hours that saw more than 45 killings in Iraq, including two American soldiers, authorities said. The truck bomb attack in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Dora came at 7:45 a.m., as policemen were coming on duty and the blast razed the building, said Capt. Jamil Hussein. He said the number of casualties was expected to rise.
Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told CBS News correspondent Dan Raviv Wednesday that plans to reduce troop levels in the embattled country by early 2007 had been scuttled by the voracity of the insurgency. "We had a plan to off-ramp a couple more brigades. But as the security situation — particularly in the Baghdad area — changed, at a critical time with the formation of a new government, we had to adapt." Military commanders revealed Tuesday that troop levels could remain near 140,000 through next spring.
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