Lawyers for ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who could be hanged within hours, on Friday asked a US court to order a halt to his execution.
In a last-minute filing to the US District Court of Washington, Saddam's lawyers asked for a temporary stay of execution because he is a defendant in a civil case in the same court and he has been prevented from being able to defend himself.
"Saddam Hussein has not been informed of the civil action against him and has not been advised of his rights nor been allowed counsel to assist in his defence of the civil action," the lawyers wrote in the court filing.
They said Saddam had a constitutional right to defend himself and said the court had jurisdiction to ensure that Saddam's legal rights were protected.
"Mr Hussein's lawyers received permission from the United States government, holding sole custody of Mr Hussein, to meet and confer with him on January 4, 2006 concerning the civil action, but it now appears that the Iraqi government is going to seek to impose the death sentence before Mr Hussein's attorney's can meet and confer with their client," they wrote.
By late on Friday, Iraqi officials were saying Saddam may be hanged within hours, on a November 5 conviction for crimes against humanity over the killings of 148 Shi'ite men. The execution's timing is up to the Iraqi government.
US officials have denied a remark by a lawyer for Saddam that their forces have already handed him over to Iraqi custody for execution.