Pentagon: US forces on high alert

Updated: 2006-12-30 08:40

WASHINGTON - The Pentagon said Friday that US fighting forces in Iraq are ready for any escalation of violence there, even as condemned former President Saddam Hussein waged an 11th-hour appeal in American courts to spare his life.

"U.S. forces in Iraq are obviously at a high state of alert anytime because of the environment that they operate in and because of the current security situation," said spokesman Bryan Whitman, in advance of an appeal filed here on Saddam's behalf by his lawyers.

Whitman said U.S. forces will "obviously take into account social dimensions that could potentially led to an increase in violence which certainly would include carrying out the sentence of Saddam Hussein."

Closer to home, U.S. government officials said Friday that people should be vigilant about the possibility of a terror attack associated with Saddam's impending execution in Iraq. But an advisory that the FBI and the Homeland Security Department sent to local law enforcement agencies and intelligence community figures was routine and did not cite any specific threat.

Saddam has been in U.S. custody since he was captured in December 2003. As his execution drew near, Saddam's lawyers filed an appeal trying to stave it off.

Hussein's lawyers filed documents Friday afternoon asking for a stay of execution. The 21-page request was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington before Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.

His attorneys argued that because Hussein also faces a civil lawsuit in Washington, he has rights as a civil defendant that would be violated if he is executed. He has not received notice of those rights and the consequences that the lawsuit would have on his estate, his attorneys said.

"To protect those rights, defendant Saddam Hussein requests an order of this court providing a stay of his execution until further notice of this court," attorney Nicholas Gilman wrote.

A similar request by the former chief justice of the Revolutionary Court, Awad Hamed al-Bandar, was denied Thursday and is under appeal. Al-Bandar also faces execution. The Justice Department argued in that case that U.S. courts have no jurisdiction to interfere with the judicial process of another country.

The administration, meantime, sent out an advisory saying that Americans should be vigilant about the possibility of an attack. The routine advisory the FBI and the Homeland Security Department sent to local law enforcement agencies and intelligence community figures did not cite any specific threat.

"We currently have no credible, specific intelligence indicating any imminent threat against the Homeland or corroborating that individuals in the Ba'ath party or others loyal to Saddam are prepared to carry out any activities in the United States," said FBI spokesman Richard Kolko.

For its part, the White House declined Friday to talk about the timing of Saddam's execution.

Deputy White House press secretary Scott Stanzel, talking to reporters Friday from Crawford, Texas, where President Bush was vacationing, said the hanging of Saddam was a matter for the sovereign Iraqi government. Earlier, the White House said the appeals court decision to uphold the sentence marked an important milestone for the Iraqi people's efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law.

At the Pentagon, Whitman said U.S. military forces "stay at a constant state of high readiness in Iraq and I would expect through this period they would do the same."

He wouldn't comment further on any potential troop movements to strengthen security for the execution, but said the commanders in Iraq have the ability to move forces as they deem appropriate based on conditions on the ground.

Whitman also said he wouldn't comment on anything that President Bush might be contemplating in terms of changing U.S. war policy in Iraq or in connection with the intensive administration review now under way on American strategy there.

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