A spokesman for the 23-member defence lawyers' team, Ziad Khassawnah, speaking at a news conference in Jordan's capital Amman, said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had played into America's hands.

He said any talk of deterioration in the former Iraqi president's health is a prelude to eliminating him.

Stating that according to information from the ICRC, Saddam is "in good health and not suffering from any serious illness", Khassawnah said he considered the leaked medical reports proof that US forces and Iraq's interim government may try to "get rid" of the prisoner.

Leaks motivated

"(We consider) the medical leaks attributed to the interim government about president Saddam Hussein's deteriorating health very serious," Khassawnah said.

The case against Saddam rests
on evidence from mass graves

"Such leaks are probably aimed at preparing Arab and international public opinion to accept any scenario by the Iraqi government and the US forces for getting rid of Saddam."

He added: "The defence team holds the US administration and the Iraqi interim government responsible for the life of Saddam."

The ICRC recently visited Saddam at his prison in Iraq, a spokesman for the organisation in Jordan said on Wednesday.

Secret location

It was the ICRC's fifth visit to Saddam since his capture by US forces last December. The spokesman declined to comment on the prisoner's health, saying the ICRC would report to this effect directly to the party detaining him.

Saddam is being held in US custody in a secret location in Iraq and has reportedly received recent treatment for an enlarged prostate gland, hernia problems and eye trouble.

The former Iraqi president faces charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Saddam's Jordan-based legal team has repeatedly accused the US of denying it access to their client.