Thamer Hamoud al-Khuzaie, who represents Taha Yassin Ramadan and Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, both of whom are being tried along with Saddam for crimes against humanity, said in a  letter to the Amir of Qatar that his life was under constant threat.

"Your Highness ... the plot goes on in targeting and killing Iraqi lawyers like my colleague Adil al-Zubeidi and the lawyer Saadoun al-Janabi," he wrote, referring to two other defence lawyers killed by unidentified armed men in the past month.

"We are paying the price of being lawyers representing the law; we are not politicians to get involved in policy. We are not criminals to be punished like this under a democratic government," he said.

A copy of the letter was emailed to Reuters on Monday.

Last week, al-Khuzaie narrowly escaped death when unknown assailants opened fire on a vehicle he was travelling in with al-Zubeidi. Al-Zubeidi was killed and al-Khuzaie was wounded in the head by a bullet.

Asylum plea

Al-Khuzaie told Reuters by telephone he had already left Iraq, but would not say where he was living while he waits for word on his asylum request.

"I ask your generous highness and all Arab leaders to grant me humanitarian asylum with my family because danger is chasing us every minute," he wrote. "I hope your highness will accept my appeal."

Defence lawyers have called for the trial of Saddam and his seven co-defendants to be moved abroad for security reasons, but the tribunal hearing the first case against members of the former government has rejected such a move.

The defence lawyers say they have severed all contacts with the court and they consider the next scheduled hearing on 28 November "cancelled and illegitimate".

The government has offered the lawyers extra security, but that has in some cases been turned down because lawyers suspect that militias tied to the police are behind the assassinations so far carried out.