Saddam still in US custody

Updated: 2006-12-29 21:46

Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein yells at the court as a bailiff attempts to silence him as the verdict is delivered during his trial held under tight security in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, Sunday Nov. 5, 2006. Iraq's High Tribunal on Sunday found Saddam Hussein guilty of crimes against humanity and sentence him to die by hanging. [AP]

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Saddam Hussein's half brothers visited him in his jail cell and he gave them his will, Iraqi officials said Friday, indicating his execution may be approaching. But they said he had yet to be transferred to Iraqi custody.

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The former president is being held at Camp Cropper, an American military prison where he is expected to remain until the day of his execution, at which point he is to be transferred to Iraqi authorities.

On Tuesday, an Iraqi appeals court upheld Saddam's death sentence for the killing of 148 people who were detained after an attempt to assassinate him in the northern Iraqi city of Dujail in 1982. The court said the former president should be hanged within 30 days.

"Nothing and nobody can abrogate the ruling," Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in comments released by his office Friday.

"Our respect for human rights requires us to execute him, and there will be no review or delay in carrying out the sentence," Al-Maliki said.

The Iraqi prime minister said those who oppose the execution of Saddam were insulting the honor of his victims. His office said he made the remarks in a meeting with families of people who died during Saddam's rule.

On Thursday two half brothers visited Saddam, a member of Saddam's defense team said, citing another of Saddam's lawyers.

"Upon his request, his two half brothers ... were brought to him and spent some time in his cell," Badee Izzat Aref told The Associated Press in a telephone call from Dubai.

A senior commander at the Iraqi defense ministry also confirmed the meeting, and said that Saddam handed over his will to one of his half brothers. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

But Raed Juhi, spokesman for the High Tribunal court that convicted Saddam, denied that Saddam's relatives visited him.

Later in the day, Saddam's lawyers issued a statement saying the Americans gave permission to one of them to pick up Saddam's belongings. The statement did not name the recipient or specify when. Earlier, Aref said Saddam's brothers had taken some of Saddam's possessions when they met on Thursday.

The White House was preparing for Saddam's execution as early as this weekend, based on information that US officials in Baghdad were receiving from the Iraqi government, a senior administration official said in Washington.

US and Iraqi authorities have said he will be handed over to Iraqi officials prior to his execution, but Ibrahim said Friday that the transfer had yet to occur.

"We have not yet received Saddam Hussein," he said late Friday afternoon.

In his Friday sermon, a mosque preacher in the Shiite holy city of Najaf called Saddam's execution "God's gift to Iraqis."

"Oh, God, you know what Saddam has done! He killed millions of Iraqis in prisons, in wars with neighboring countries and he is responsible for mass graves. Oh God, we ask you to take revenge on Saddam," said Sheik Sadralddin al-Qubanji, a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, known as SCIRI.

On Thursday, Saddam's chief lawyer beseeched world leaders to prevent the United States from handing over the ousted dictator to Iraqi authorities.

"According to the international conventions, it is forbidden to hand a prisoner of war to his adversary," Khalil al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press.

"I urge all the international and legal organizations, the United Nations secretary-general, the Arab League and all the leaders of the world to rapidly prevent the American administration from handing the president to the Iraqi authorities," al-Dulaimi said.

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