Two More Kidnappings In Iraq

Two more foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq, according to the German government, which says two young men from Leipzig were abducted from two cars in northern Iraq.

The two men, whose names have not been made public, work at a detergent plant about 155 miles north of Baghdad, in Beiji, the same city where Brazilian engineer Joao Jose Vasconcelos Jr. – a power station worker – was kidnapped on January 19th. His whereabouts remain unknown.

Another German citizen, aid worker and archeology enthusiast Susanne Osthoff, was kidnapped last November. She was freed on Dec. 18.

Confirmation of the latest kidnappings came as Baghdad awaited Tuesday's scheduled resumption of the trial of Saddam Hussein – this time with a new judge in charge, and another judge removed from the five-member panel trying the former Iraqi president.

At midday, however, a statement was issued postponing the resumption of the trial until Jan. 29th, a delay Saddam's lawyers had planned to seek unless they received a response in writing to their earlier court motions. Those, CBS News correspondent Susan Roberts reports, include one questioning the legitimacy of the court – an issue Saddam has brought up himself many times during his court appearances.

Court official Raid Juhi told journalists that the court had decided to postpone the hearing until Sunday.

He said the delay was because "some of the witnesses who were due to appear today have been unable to attend because some of them were performing the pilgrimage" to Saudi Arabia.

But two judges said the members of the panel hearing the case were squabbling over he appointment of the new chief judge, Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman. It appeared some members were trying to bring back the former chief judge and the another jurist who was removed from the panel.

Tuesday's courtroom suspense was just one more chapter in a trial that has been punctuated by delays, assassinations and chaotic courtroom outbursts by Saddam.

The prosecution intends to press ahead with more witnesses, including some former Saddam associates who might be able to link him and his seven co-defendants to the 1982 massacre of more than 140 Shiites in the town of Dujail.

The new chief judge is Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman, who like his predecessor is a Kurd. Abdel-Rahman was born in Halabja, the town where Saddam's forces allegedly launched a poison gas attack in 1988 that killed 5,000 Kurds. Some relatives of Abdel-Rahman were among the dead, according to his family.

Saddam is expected to eventually go on trial for the Halabja deaths. But the current trial, which began Oct. 19 and is to hold its eighth session Tuesday, is for the killings of about 140 Shiites in a crackdown that followed a failed assassination attempt in 1982 against the former ruler in Dujail, 50 miles north of Baghdad.

Saddam and seven co-defendants could face the death penalty if convicted in the Dujail case. Abdel-Rahman has served on a backup panel and has been following the trial since it began Oct. 25, officials said.

In other recent developments:

  • An Iraqi deputy minister for justice says six of nine women whom the kidnappers of American reporter Jill Carroll want released may be freed from U.S. military custody this week. But White House counselor Dan Bartlett said on CBS News' The Early Show, "One thing we can't do unfortunately is negotiate with terrorists … It would only invite more kidnappings and more death." The kidnappers threatened to kill Carroll unless U.S. forces released all Iraqi women in military custody.
  • Water supplied to a U.S. base in Iraq was contaminated and the contractor in charge, Halliburton, failed to tell troops and civilians at the facility, according to internal documents from the company. Although the allegations came from Halliburton's water quality experts, the company once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney denied there was a contamination problem at Camp Junction City in Ramadi.
  • A suicide car bomber killed at least three Iraqis Monday near the Green Zone housing the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government. The suicide bomber targeted a police patrol near the Iranian Embassy, said the top Baghdad police officer.
  • Two U.S. airmen were killed and a third was wounded in an attack on a convoy Sunday near Taji, where a U.S. air base is located 12 miles north of Baghdad, the military said. The deaths brought the number of U.S. military personnel killed since the war in Iraq began in March 2003 to at least 2,226, according to an Associated Press count.
  • The trial of Saddam Hussein has been divisive in a post-Saddam Iraq where sectarian tensions fueled by a Sunni-led insurgency are threatening to tear the country apart. Sunni Arabs loyal to the former leader took heart from Saddam's outbursts during the hearings, which are televised nationwide with a 30-minute delay.

    Shiites and Kurds, including senior politicians who had opposed Saddam's rule for decades, have viewed the relative freedom Saddam has had in the courtroom as an affront to the memory of his victims and the feelings of their families.

    The first chief judge, Rizgar Mohammed Amin, submitted his resignation Jan. 15 after complaints by politicians and officials that he failed to maintain control of the proceedings.

    Initially, court officials said Amin would be replaced by his deputy, Saeed al-Hammash, a Shiite. However, the government commission responsible for purging members of Saddam's Baath Party complained last week that al-Hammash should not serve as chief judge because of his one-time membership in the former ruling party.

    Al-Hammash was transferred off the case entirely, though court official Raid Juhi insisted the move was not connected to the Baath allegation.

    The 64-year-old Abdel-Rahman has served as an appeals court judge in the autonomous northern region of Kurdistan.

    Saddam's legal team said it is more concerned about alleged government pressure on the court than who serves as chief judge.

    "We don't care who is the presiding judge," lawyer Khamis al-Obeidi told the AP. "But we will pull the rug from under his feet if he succumbs to the influence of the government."

    Al-Obeidi said he and other defense lawyers met with Saddam for more than six hours Sunday and decided to seek a further adjournment unless the court responds in writing to some of the motions submitted in previous hearings. These include a 20-page memo questioning the court's legitimacy, he said.

    The team included former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and Washington-based lawyer Curtis Doebbler.

    The latest changes add to the charged atmosphere surrounding the trial and may further raise questions about the fairness of the proceedings. Two defense lawyers have been assassinated and a third fled the country since the trial began.

    "It is increasingly clear that this doesn't look like justice the way it's supposed to be rendered," said William A. Schabas, director of the Irish Center for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland. "The fact that judges in a trial resign for facts other than ill health is very disturbing."

    In the seven previous sessions, the silver-haired Amin displayed remarkable patience and composure in the face of what appeared to be attempts by Saddam, his half brother Barzan Ibrahim and the defense team to delay or derail the proceedings.

    Saddam has complained that he was tortured, openly prayed in court when Amin would not allow a recess and frequently lectured the judge on patriotism. Barzan, a one-time chief of Saddam's intelligence, has been more belligerent, insulting witnesses, one of the judges and the three prosecutors.

    In his first move at the Saddam trial, the new chief judge underlined strict regulations on media - perhaps an attempt to signal he will run a tighter court.

    A statement given to reporters before the trial began banned them from revealing the identity of the building in which the trial is being held, its location or security measures at the site.

    Journalists are also prohibited from reporting comments made by defendants in open court sessions on how they are brought to and from the court from detention. Saddam has complained in court previously about how he was moved to the building.

    Reporters have been watching the trial from a press gallery that is separated from the courtroom by glass, listening to the process through headsets. A curtain is drawn when the session goes into recess or is adjourned.

    "Members of the press are not permitted to make contact with anyone in the courtroom while in the Media Gallery by any means including hand gestures, signs, or passing of notes," the statement said.