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Saddam lawyers asked to pick up his belongings

india Updated: Dec 30, 2006 16:19 IST
Reuters
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Saddam Hussein's lawyers have been asked to pick up his personal effects but Iraq's Justice Ministry denied it had taken custody of the former president and dismissed a US suggestion he would hang as early as Saturday.

One defense lawyer, who declined to be identified, said Saddam had been handed over by US forces to Iraqi government custody. US military spokesmen said they had nothing to add to a statement late on Thursday that he was still in their control.

Asked about comments from the defence lawyer that Saddam had been handed over, Deputy Justice Minister Bosho Ibrahim said: "This is not true. He is still with the Americans."

He also dismissed a remark by a senior US official who said there were plans to send Saddam to the gallows as early as Saturday. The ministry, which is in charge of implementing court rulings, would not execute Saddam before January 26, he said.

Khalil al-Dulaimi, who led Saddam's defense team until he was sentenced on November 5, told Reuters: "The Americans called me and asked me to pick up the personal effects."

On Thursday, Saddam was allowed to see two of his half-brothers, who are also in detention at a US base near Baghdad. A lawyer said the former president was in high spirits.

US military and embassy spokesmen dealing with the issue said they had nothing to add to a statement late on Thursday which said Saddam was still in US custody and stressed the need for secrecy over arrangements for security reasons.

Although legally in Iraqi custody, US troops physically keep guard over Saddam. And although Iraqis will carry out the execution, US and Iraqi officials say, it seems likely US forces will stay on hand throughout for fear that opponents of the former leader could turn it into a public spectacle.

Iraqi officials backed away on Thursday from suggestions they would definitely hang him within a month, in line with a 30-deadline set out in the statues of the tribunal. A cabinet minister told Reuters a week-long religious holiday ending only on January 7 would stall any execution.

Happy to be a martyr

Saddam's lawyer said he bade farewell to two of his half brothers on Thursday in a rare prison meeting.

"He was in very high spirits and clearly readying himself," Badie Aref, a defense lawyer, told Reuters after the 69-year-old former leader met half-brothers Watban and Sabawi, who are also both held at the US army's Camp Cropper near Baghdad airport.

"He told them he was happy he would meet his death at the hands of his enemies and be a martyr, not just languish in jail.

The novelty of the US-sponsored process by which Saddam and his third half-brother Barzan, along with another senior member of the Baath party, were condemned on November 5 has left considerable room for wrangling over the timing of any execution among rival factions and between Washington and Baghdad.

"It's none of the Americans' business to decide when," one justice ministry official said on Friday.   Continued...

"He was in very high spirits and clearly readying himself," Badie Aref, a defense lawyer, told Reuters after the 69-year-old former leader met half-brothers Watban and Sabawi, who are also both held at the US army's Camp Cropper near Baghdad airport.

"He told them he was happy he would meet his death at the hands of his enemies and be a martyr, not just languish in jail.

The novelty of the US-sponsored process by which Saddam and his third half-brother Barzan, along with another senior member of the Baath party, were condemned on November 5 has left considerable room for wrangling over the timing of any execution among rival factions and between Washington and Baghdad.

"It's none of the Americans' business to decide when," one justice ministry official said on Friday.   Continued...

Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had previously said he wanted Saddam hanged this year for the killings, torture and other crimes against fellow Shi'ites in the town of Dujail.

But some of Saddam's fellow Sunnis have warned this could reinforce their community's alienation and many ethnic Kurds want Saddam first convicted of genocide against them in a second trial that is still underway.

Saddam is due back in court in that trial on January 8.

Iraq's Saddam-era penal code bars executions on religious holidays. Eid al-Adha holiday, which follows the annual haj pilgrimage to Mecca, runs until January 7 in Iraq.

Nonetheless, the US official in the United States said Saddam could be hanged within days: "I've heard that it's going to be a couple more days, probably."

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