Saddam's lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, said the ousted leader was calm and confident of his innocence on the eve of his trial.

"I saw him this afternoon and his morale is very high," Dulaimi said on Tuesday. "I told him about the accusations and he said he was sure he is innocent.

"He said he didn't care about them," the lawyer added.

Dulaimi said he would immediately seek an adjournment of the trial, arguing he had insufficient time to prepare. A defence team statement said he would also challenge the jurisdiction of the Special Tribunal, whose five judges were chosen two years ago by US officials.

"All options are open, including adjournment, which is one of
the defence's rights," he said, adding that he expected Wednesday's hearing to be "procedural, and aimed at the media".

"Saddam Hussein was not surprised to learn that he was to be brought before the court tomorrow," the attorney said.

"He was expecting it and is totally convinced of his innocence."  

Human rights

"Iraqi President Saddam Hussein cannot get a fair trial before this special court. It is created illegally and denies him basic human rights," the lawyer said.

Al-Dulaimi said his client was
calm and confident

The charges of crimes against humanity on Saddam and seven of his associates stem from the deaths of more than 140 men from the mostly Shia village of Dujail after a failed assassination attempt against him there in 1982.

The trial will open four days after Iraqis voted in a referendum on a new constitution, meant to draw a line under the Saddam era. Although final results are yet to be announced, Iraqis are believed to have backed the new constitution.

But officials have had to play down suggestions of fraud and politicians from Saddam's once dominant Sunni Arab minority have complained of rigged ballots and warned of unrest.

Attacks

In a statement posted on a pro-fighters' website, Saddam's now outlawed Baath Party called on fighters to launch attacks on US and Iraqi forces at the start of the trial.

"Strike at the army and security forces of the agent regime and its leaders and its traitorous figures," said the statement issued on Monday.

The courtroom will be held in a
building that once stored gifts

The trial will be held in an ornate courtroom set up in a building in Baghdad that once stored gifts that were showered on him by foreign leaders and his own subjects.

The case is the first in a series which could be brought against him, including the 1988 gassing of Kurdish villagers and the brutal suppression of a Shia uprising after the 1991 Gulf war.

Iran said on Tuesday it had sent charges against Saddam to the court, including that of using chemical weapons against Iranian civilians in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.

If convicted, Saddam could be hanged.

Unprecedented security

Even by Iraqi standards, the trial will be held under unprecedented security, with body searches, X-rays, background checks, eye-scans and finger-printing.

The defendants will sit facing the judges, who will be on a raised dais. The witness stand will have a curtain that can be drawn to protect identities and bullet-proof glass will keep journalists and observers from the body of the court.

Despite the preparations, sources close to the tribunal say proceedings are likely to be adjourned so judges can study defence motions.  

US toll

Also on Tuesday, a US soldier was killed in a firefight in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the US military said in a statement.    

Two US marines were killed in a gun battle in the western town of al-Rutba, near the Syrian border in al-Anbar province, a separate statement said earlier on Tuesday.