The news was announced by the Jordan-based defence team on Monday as hundreds of legal experts prepare a Baghdad trip to show support for the ousted Iraqi leader.

Isam Ghazawi, a prominent lawyer and one of the 21-strong defence team hired by Saddam's wife, told reporters that an Iraqi lawyer was chosen to represent the former president "from among 20 who volunteered".

The announcement came a day after Ghazawi said he was contacted by tribunal head Salim Chalabi and informed that only an Iraqi could represent Saddam in court.

The Iraqi lawyer's identity is being withheld for security purposes, he added.

Saddam's defence team also announced that among the large contingent of lawyers ready to defend Saddam are 700 non-Arabs, including 400 Americans and Europeans.

Two hundred legal consultants from across the world have also pledged to help in the case, Ghazawi said.

"More than half of the over 2000 lawyers volunteering to defend President Saddam are expected to join the trip [to Iraq]," Ghazawi said.

A meeting in Amman on Wednesday will make the preparations for the overland trip to Baghdad despite the risks involved, he said.

Access to Saddam

Lawyers have voiced fears about their personal safety in Iraq citing remarks by officials who attacked Arabs who believe Saddam is a nationalist hero who fought the "American invaders".

They also expect to encounter objections by Iraqi lawyers who say existing laws bar foreigners from defending their countrymen in local courts.

"More than half of the over 2000 lawyers volunteering to defend President Saddam are expected to join the trip"

Isam Ghazawi,
Lawyer from Saddam's defence team

The defence team again contacted US officials last week to allow them access to their client.

They say past requests have been ignored.

The Iraqi leader, who was driven from power by US-led occupation forces in April 2003, 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.

Fairness

He was not represented by a lawyer at the hearing - a point many international law groups condemned - and he refused to sign a statement acknowledging that he had been charged and read his rights, including a right to legal counsel.

Aisha al-Qadhafi joined Saddam's
defence team last week

Many lawyers say the trial was a political vendetta by Saddam's political foes and say only an international court would guarantee an impartial and fair hearing.

Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi's daughter, Aisha al-Qadhafi, told Saddam's lawyers she wanted to join the defence team after seeing the televised court appearance.

"She expressed her desire to join us in seeking a fair trial for President Saddam away from this sham performance," said Muhammad al-Rashdan, one of the lawyers hired by Saddam's wife, Sajida Khair Allah.

Qadhafi's daughter set up a Libyan team to defend Saddam and pledged to send international law jurists and legalists to advise the defence counsel, Amman-based defence lawyers said.

A team of three Jordanian lawyers have left for Tripoli to meet Aisha al-Qadhafi, who is said to have a doctorate in international law and runs Libya's largest humanitarian charity.

Right to fair trial

In a separate report, the Arab Human Rights Organisation on Monday slammed the Iraqi Special Tribunal set up to try deposed leader Saddam Hussein and questioned its impartiality. 

Saddam took notes at the hearing
and did not sign a statement

Given that the tribunal was set up by an executive power put in place by the US-led occupation "it is neither impartial nor independent" and the trial is "tarnished by several judicial failings," the group said in a statement.

It also denounced Iraq's reimposition of the death penalty, which was abolished during the 14-month occupation.

"The defendants appear before the Iraqi Special Tribunal without legal guarantees, which violates an established judicial principle".

The group also accused the Iraqi authorities of "terrorising the defence lawyers".

The organisation noted that it had denounced crimes allegedly committed during Saddam's time in power, but said "everyone has the right to a fair trial".

On Thursday, charges of crimes against humanity were read out against Saddam and 11 of his former senior government officials before the Iraqi Special Tribunal, which was established by chief US civil administrator Paul Bremer.