Iraq's national security adviser said Sunday that authorities uncovered a plot by a Sunni Arab insurgent group to fire rockets at the court building where Saddam Hussein's trial resumes this week.
A statement released by Mouwaffak al-Rubaie's office said a group called the 1920 Revolution Brigades planned to attack the building during Monday's court session. The statement said Iraqi intelligence uncovered the plot but gave no further details and did not say whether anyone had been arrested.
Saddam and seven co-defendants are on trial for the 1982 killing of more than 140 Shiite Muslims in the town of Dujail following an assassination attempt against him there. The defendants face the death penalty if convicted.
Also Sunday, former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said he survived an assassination attempt as a group of about 60 men armed with pistols, knives and swords tried to attack him while he prayed in a Shiite holy city in southern Iraq.
Allawi, a secular Shiite, said the group wore black uniforms and were chanting slogans against him as they moved toward his delegation at the Shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf. Footage shown on television stations showed Allawi running from the shrine as shoes and stones were thrown at him.
Allawi said at least seven bullets were fired from the crowd.
"They were planning to kill the whole delegation, or at least me," Allawi told reporters shortly after he arrived back in Baghdad. "One of them took out his pistol, but he panicked and it fell from his hand."
Earlier in the day, police said that about a dozen people, some of them carrying clubs, tried to prevent Allawi from entering the shrine. Allawi's bodyguards fired shots in the air to disperse the crowd.
Allawi said Shiite clerics had invited him to the city.
In August 2004, when Allawi was prime minister, Iraqi and U.S. troops took over Najaf from firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's followers after heavy fighting. Many Shiites have not forgiven Allawi for his role in the assault.
Meanwhile, unidentified gunmen killed a parliamentary candidate and an Iraqi police commander in separate attacks Sunday. A bomb also detonated as a police patrol passed through central Baghdad, killing three civilians.
The attacks came one day after insurgents killed 19 Iraqi soldiers in a coordinated ambush northeast of Baghdad. On Thursday, 10 U.S. Marines died in the deadliest attack against the military branch in four months.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have been warning of a surge in insurgent attacks ahead of national elections set for Dec. 15.
Saddam's trial resumed Nov. 28, with the deposed leader lashing out at his treatment by American "occupiers and invaders" and lecturing the chief judge.
It then adjourned until Monday, only 10 days before the country's parliamentary elections, to give the defense time to replace lawyers who have been assassinated since the trial opened Oct. 19.
The slow pace of the proceedings has angered many Iraqis especially majority Shiites who believe Saddam should have already been punished for his alleged crimes. Shiites and Kurds were heavily oppressed by Saddam's Sunni Arab-dominated regime.
Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who has joined Saddam's defense team as an advisor, said he and other international lawyers will meet the former leader later Sunday to set out a defense strategy.
"It will be our first real meeting where we'll have the chance to discuss the trial," Clark told AP Television News before flying to Baghdad from Amman, Jordan. "He's being held in total isolation, not seeing any member of his family, any friend, anybody he knew before."
The meeting with Saddam would be Clark's second in six days.
Court official Raid Juhi told The Associated Press Sunday that one of the five judges in the trial has also stepped down after learning that one of the defendants may have been involved in the execution of his brother.
Juhi said the judge removed himself last week and has been replaced in time for Monday's hearing. He declined to give further details or identify the defendant or judge involved.
In the latest attacks, gunmen shot dead a Shiite Muslim candidate who was running in this month's general election. Sheik Abdul-Salam Abdul-Hussein, an al-Sadr follower, died instantly in Baghdad's eastern neighborhood of Zayouna, police Lt. Bilal Ali said.
Gunmen in two cars opened fire on police commander Lt. Col. Abdul-Razaak Abdul-Jabbar as he was heading to work in western Baghdad, police Capt. Talib Thamir said.
The bomb that killed three civilians exploded in Tahrir square, police Cap. Nabil Abdelqadir said.
Saturday's attack occurred as an Iraqi army unit patrolled near Adhaim, about 60 miles north of Baghdad. Survivors said insurgents triggered a roadside bomb and then showered the patrol with rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun fire.
The United States hopes a big Sunni turnout in the Dec. 15 elections will produce a government that can win the trust of the minority Sunnis, the backbone of the insurgency. Along with a stronger Iraqi military, it is hoped that will hasten the day when U.S. troops can leave.
President Bush said earlier this week that the eventual replacement of U.S. troops by Iraqi forces was key to his strategy for victory.
Aides to the top cleric of Iraq's Shiite majority said Saturday that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is signaling to his followers that they should vote for the Shiite alliance in the upcoming election.
Al-Sistani stopped receiving Shiite politicians and candidates weeks ago in a sign of displeasure over the Shiite-led government's performance. However, aides said the cleric is now telling people to vote for the Shiite alliance to "preserve Iraq's unity" and "protect Iraqis."
In a sign of continuing tensions among Iraqi factions, however, the spokesman for the Sunni clerical Association of Muslim Scholars said his organization may reconsider its participation in a national reconciliation process because of continued killings of Sunnis by Shiite extremists.
"What is happening today means crushing and killing this initiative," Abdul-Salam al-Kubaisi said.
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