When the Iraqi High Court re-adjourned on April 16 for the trial of former Iraqi officials charged with participating in attacks against the Kurdish minority in the 1980s, the defence team was without one of its chief attorneys.
Badie Arief Izzat, head of the defence team representing those accused of gassing the Kurds in Halabja during the Anfal campaign in 1986, says he was assisted out of the country by the US military. He arrived in Damascus, Syria on April 11.
In January, Izzat, who also represents former deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz, had been held in contempt for suggesting in a television interview that the court had “participated in the murder of Saddam Hussein” because his execution order had been carried out without presidential ratification – a pre-condition required according to the Iraqi constitution.
(On December 30, President Jalal Talabani did not sign the execution order. It was instead signed by Nuri Al Maliki, the prime minister.)
In early April, Iraqi judge Mohammad Al-Uraibi ordered Izzat to be detained and jailed for seven years after the defence lawyer claimed Iran – not Iraq – used chemical weapons against the Kurds in 1986.
Izzat said he had in his possession CIA documents to prove the case.
But Izzat told Al Jazeera.net that US military personnel immediately surrounded him and prevented Iraqi security from apprehending him.
“I was taken to an American safe house in the Green Zone and guarded by US forces who refused to hand me over to the Iraqi court,” he said.
Izzat believes there is now a “clear rift” between the Iraqi and US governments over his status.
“Despite the fact that I’m totally and absolutely against the occupation and will continue to be so, personally I’m very grateful to the American personnel who have saved my life from being killed by the Iraqis,” he said, adding he was now “technically, a fugitive”.
When asked why the US military saved him, Izzat explained, “To keep the defendants without a defence would be embarrassing to the Americans.”
But Sabah Al-Mukhtar, President of the Arab Lawyers Association in the United Kingdom, believes that geopolitics may have also played a role.
“I believe the Americans want to give him [Izzat] some protection because of his accusations against Iran.”
When contacted by Al Jazeera.net, a spokesperson with the US military public information office in Baghdad, said: “The US military has no comment on that situation.”