Iraqi TV: Saddam hanged; US forces on alert

Updated: 2006-12-30 06:21

BAGHDAD - US-backed Iraqi television station Al Hurra said Saddam Hussein had been executed by hanging shortly before 6 a.m. (0300 GMT) on Saturday.

The former Iraqi president ousted in April 2003 by a US-led invasion was convicted in November of crimes against humanity over the killings of 148 Shi'ite villagers from Dujail after a failed assassination bid in 1982.

An appeals court upheld the death penalty on Tuesday. Iraq's government has kept details of its plans to conduct the execution completely secret amid concerns it could spark a violent backlash from his former supporters.

Saddam Hussein attends the third day of his trial for genocide against Kurds in the 1980s, in Baghdad in this August 23, 2006 file photo.[Reuters]

The witnesses to Saddam Hussein's impending execution gathered Friday in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone in final preparation for his hanging, as state television broadcast footage of his regime's atrocities.

A top Iraqi official said Saddam will be executed before 6 a.m. Saturday, Baghdad time, or 10 p.m. Friday EST.

A key court official said Iraq's government had told him to be ready to attend the hanging of Saddam Hussein between 5.30 a.m. and 6 a.m. (0230-0300 GMT) on Saturday, according to Reuters' latest report.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he had been sworn to secrecy, told Reuters a government official telephoned to tell him he would be taken to the place of execution in time for 5.30. The court official is among those who must, by law, attend any execution.

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The Iraqi government readied all the necessary documents, including a "red card" - an execution order introduced during Saddam's dictatorship. As the hour of his death approached, Saddam received two of his half brothers in his cell on Thursday and was said to have given them his personal belongings and a copy of his will.

Najeeb al-Nueimi, a member of Saddam's legal team in Doha, Qatar, said he too requested a final meeting with the deposed Iraqi leader. "His daughter in Amman was crying, she said 'Take me with you,'" al-Nueimi said late Friday. But he said their request was rejected.

Munir Haddad, a judge on the appeals court that upheld Saddam's death sentence, said he was ready to attend the hanging and that all the paperwork was in order, including the red card.

"Saddam will be executed today or tomorrow," Haddad said. "All the measures have been done. ... There is no reason for delays."

As American and Iraqi officials planned to meet in Baghdad to set the hour of his death, Saddam's lawyers asked a US judge for a stay of execution.

The physical transfer of Saddam from US to Iraqi authorities was believed to be one of the last steps before he was to be hanged.

"We have agreed with the Americans that the handover will take place only a few minutes before he is executed," a senior Iraqi government official said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

Al-Nueimi said US authorities were maintaining physical custody of Saddam to prevent him from being humiliated before his execution. He said the Americans also want to prevent the mutilation of his corpse, as has happened to other deposed Iraqi leaders.

"The Americans want him to be hanged respectfully," al-Nueimi said. If Saddam is humiliated publicly or his corpse ill-treated "that could cause an uprising and the Americans would be blamed," he said.

Saddam's lawyers issued a statement Friday calling on "everybody to do everything to stop this unfair execution." The statement also said the former president had been transferred from US custody, though American and Iraqi officials later denied that.

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