Saddam Hussein could be hanged within hours, a senior Iraqi source said on Friday after Saddam’s lawyer said US forces had handed over the former president to Iraqi authorities for execution.
US officials, however, insisted that the 69-year-old ousted dictator was still in American hands. And a leading politician said Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was waiting for a religious ruling on whether Saturday’s start of the Eid al-Adha holiday, coinciding with the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca, meant the execution should be postponed for a week.
An appeals court on Tuesday upheld Saddam’s November 5 death sentence for the killings, torture and other crimes against the Shi’ite population of Dujail town.
After a day of conflicting signals, during which the justice ministry had said it could legally do nothing for a month, the senior Iraqi source said debate over whether a presidential decree was needed to override that was over.
“That is resolved so it seems it’s possible he may be hanged tonight,” the source said. Najib Naimi, a former Qatar justice minister who served on Saddam’s legal defence team, said he expected his client to be hanged at dawn on Saturday. “We think he might be executed by tomorrow as a gift for the Iraqis,” he told BBC News 24.
“Maybe early tomorrow morning he might be execute ... we are now talking with them regarding the body itself,” he said. “We would like to have his body to return it to the family so they can bury him at any place they wish.”
If it goes ahead, Maliki, whose authority has been in question as the country slides toward all-out sectarian civil war, would seem to have forced through a decision popular with Shi’ites in the face of resistance from Saddam’s fellow Sunnis and from Kurds keen to see Saddam first convicted of genocide against them.
Earlier Saddam’s chief defence lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, told Reuters that US officials had transferred Saddam to Iraqi authorities. He said he had been told to arrange to collect Saddam’s personal belongings — a move another defence lawyer said indicated he could die on Saturday.
A US official in Baghdad denied Saddam had been handed over. “He is still in U.S. custody,” the official said. US troops have physically kept guard over Saddam and were expected to hold on to him until the last minute to avoid security breaches. Reuters