It is the first time such a request has been rejected since the former leader was allowed access to lawyers over a year ago, said chief defence lawyer Khalil Dulaimi.

 

"We were notified by the Americans today that neither I nor the rest of the defence counsel can meet the president or our other clients," Dulaimi said on Sunday in Amman, adding that the request had been made two days ago.

 

"They are moving to a speedy conviction ... they have already passed a sentence even before the trial has ended," Dulaimi said. There was no immediate comment from the court.

 

Saddam and seven co-defendants face hanging if found guilty of crimes against humanity.

 

The former leader, arrested in December 2003, was granted access to lawyers in December 2004 when he first met Dulaimi who was joined after the trial began last October by some Arab and foreign lawyers from the defence counsel.

 

Defence charge

 

"Preventing the visits is illegal and prevents the president from having a fair trial," Dulaimi added, saying no justification was given for the refusal.

 

"They are moving to a speedy conviction ... they have already passed a sentence even before the trial has ended"

Khalil Dulaimi,
Saddam Hussein's chief defence lawyer

The defence counsel boycotted court sessions on Wednesday and Thursday on the grounds that newly selected chief judge Raouf Abdel Rahman, whom they accuse of bias, should resign.

 

"I think they tied our stance on the court by preventing visits to our clients and this is proof of blatant intervention by the US authorities and their Iraqi backers," he added.

 

Before the latest showdown Dulaimi and his team spent hours with Saddam after the trial began but he said the boycott would continue until its demands were met.

 

Despite the absence of Saddam, his co-defendants and the defence team, Abdel Rahman has pressed ahead with the trial, choosing court appointed lawyers and calling a series of prosecution witnesses.

 

"We will not let our clients down and insist on our right to defend our clients but not to recognise any lawyer appointed by the court," Dulaimi said, adding that Saddam had refused to meet court-appointed lawyers.

 

The trial has been marred by delays, the murder of two defence counsel, the resignation of chief judge Rizgar Amin, who complained of government interference, and the replacement of his deputy after he was accused of belonging to the Baath party.