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Iraq prepares for rapid Saddam execution

Justice Minister Hashem al-Shibli said the sentence for crimes against humanity would be sent to the presidency for approval.

india Updated: Dec 27, 2006 16:32 IST

Iraq prepared on Wednesday for the rapid execution of former dictator Saddam Hussein, with the United States-backed government eager to bring his chapter in the country's bloody history to an end.

Justice Minister Hashem al-Shibli said the sentence for crimes against humanity -- upheld by am Iraqi appeal court on Tuesday — would be sent to the presidency for approval while the prison service prepares to hang him.

The process will get underway rapidly, he said, but the formality of executing the ousted dictator could be delayed by the onset of the four-day Eid al-Adha holiday, which is due to start at the end of the week.

"There will be no amnesty in this case. Once we get the decree, we shall prepare to take action," Shibli told the agency, adding however: "You know there'll be the Eid. It could take some time because of the holiday.

"The decree passed by the court of appeal shall be passed to the presidency and a presidential decree shall be sent to the General Prisons Directorate for the purpose of implementing the death sentence," he said.

Saddam and two officials of his regime were convicted of crimes against humanity on November 5, after a court heard they ordered the deaths of 148 Shiite men from the village of Dujail in an act of collective punishment.

On Tuesday, a panel of appeal court judges confirmed the sentences, in what was a binding and final judgement.

Authorities now have 30 days within which to carry out the execution orders.

The Eid al-Adha, or Feast of Sacrifice, follows the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

The precise dates of the holiday can vary in different regions, but this year it is expected to begin on or around December 30.

Announcing the verdict Tuesday, appeal court judge Arif Shaheen said: "As from tomorrow the sentence could be carried out at any time."

Iraq's President Jalal Talabani has a personal moral objection to the use of the death penalty, but has in the past signalled that he will step aside and allow his vice presidents to rubber stamp the verdict.

In the past, officials from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government have said they will not hesitate to carry out the sentence, and that he and his fellow convicts will be hanged within days or weeks of the decision.

The White House said the verdict marked "a milestone for Iraqi people's efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law."

Key US ally Britain opposes capital punishment on principle, but said the decision on Saddam's execution "is one for the Iraqi authorities".

Saddam's original conviction on November 5 inspired conflicting emotions in Iraq, a country shattered by violence between warring political and religious factions since his fall from power.

In November, the Shiite majority celebrated and the Sunni minority protested the verdict, but there was little sign of public reaction to Wednesday's confirmation of the execution order, which was widely expected.

Saddam ruled Iraq with an iron first between 1979 and March 2003, when he was overthrown by a US-led invasion force.

After his capture nine months later he was brought before the Iraqi High Tribunal in Baghdad to face trial.

Nevertheless Human Rights Watch urged the Iraqi government not to execute Saddam, like other international rights groups describing the trial convicting him of crimes against humanity as "deeply flawed".

"Imposing the death penalty, indefensible in any case, is especially wrong after such unfair proceedings," said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch's international justice programme.

Iraq has descended into chaos since the 2003 US-led invasion to oust Saddam as part of President George W Bush's global "war on terror" following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

In the latest attack, three Iraqi soldiers were killed Wednesday when a roadside bomb exploded alongside their patrol on the road between Suwaira and Jabala, in the Shiite south, military and medical sources said.