Two defence lawyers were killed within days of the trial opening on 19 October, leading Khalil Dulaimi, Saddam's chief lawyer, to suspend all contacts with the court.

The team, which numbers around a dozen, has since been in negotiations with US officials to discuss their demands for proper protection.

There appeared to be some disagreement among the lawyers on Thursday over whether US authorities had met those demands.

Court lawyers

"Few of the security concerns have been met to my knowledge, but Khalil Dulaimi is forced to attend to defend our client on 28 November and to foil any attempt to appoint court lawyers," said Issam al-Ghazzawi, a member of the Amman-based defence team.

The team was concerned that if they continued their boycott, the Iraqi High Tribunal, the US-backed body conducting the trial, would appoint its own counsel to take over the defence of Saddam and his seven co-defendants, he said.

The trial next week will hear
accounts from witnesses

A US official close to the court said on Wednesday that the lawyers' security concerns had been resolved after a number of options were put to them.

That view was supported by another member of the defence team, who declined to be named.

"The US authorities are moving towards meeting our security demands and this should make it possible for us to attend Monday's hearing," a spokesman for Saddam's Amman-based defence team told Reuters without elaborating.

High security

Saddam and his fellow accused are charged with crimes against humanity in the deaths of 148 Shia men following an attempt on Saddam's life in 1982. If convicted Saddam faces the death penalty.

Next week, barring another successful motion by the defence for a delay, the trial is expected to proceed uninterrupted for several days, with witnesses appearing in court for the first time under intense security restrictions.

It is not clear how long the trial will last, but officials have estimated it could go on for several months. With Iraq holding elections on 15 December, raising security risks, another trial delay ahead of then is widely expected.