Ousted Iraqi President
Saddam Hussein covers one of his eyes while listening to the prosecution
during the Anfal genocide trial in Baghdad in this December 21, 2006 file
Baghdad - Saddam Hussein bade two half brothers farewell on Thursday in a
rare prison meeting as he awaits execution, a lawyer said, but US and Iraqi
officials gave conflicting accounts of whether he would hang within days.
A senior Bush administration official said the ousted president could go to
the gallows as soon as Saturday.
But Iraqi officials backed away from suggestions they would definitely hang
him within a month and a cabinet minister told Reuters a week-long religious
holiday would stall any execution.
"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.
"He ... gave them letters to his family in anticipation."
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.
Battling to stave off all-out sectarian civil war, Shi'ite Prime Minister
Nuri al-Maliki had said he wanted Saddam hanged this year for the killings,
torture and other crimes against the Shi'ite population of 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.
Iraq's Saddam-era penal code bars executions on religious holidays. Eid
al-Adha, coinciding with the haj pilgrimage to Mecca, runs from Friday until
work resumes on January 7.
Nonetheless, the US official in the United States said: "I've heard that it's
going to be a couple more days, probably."
A US military spokesman in Baghdad confirmed that Saddam was still being held
at a US-run prison but said any change in that status could be kept secret for
CBS News reported a US military officer said Saddam would be turned over to
the Iraqis within the next 36 hours.
Americans are concerned about Iraqi treatment of prisoners and are likely to
keep a tight control of the process before the execution to avoid the public
spectacle some Iraqis want to see.
The Iraqi minister said: "There is a debate over whether the president's
signature is needed. Some insist the next step should be the president's
signature. Others say it's not needed.
"The clock is ticking but Saddam is not just any old guy," he said. "There
are procedures to be followed. Now it's Eid and the haj and it will take time to
carry out the sentence."
The US military on Thursday reported five more deaths, bringing the US death
toll to 100 for December so far and just short of 3,000 after nearly four years
Bush Strategy Meeting
President Bush said he was making "good progress" in forming a new Iraq
strategy after a meeting with top advisers during his Christmas holiday at his
Bush did not reveal specific options that were discussed, but a senior
administration official said troop levels would naturally be part of any talks
"I think he's driving toward conclusions, driving toward a final decision,
making it in the near future," the official said on condition of anonymity. Bush
was expected to make an announcement in the "first part of January," he said.
Bush's supporters have hailed Saddam's conviction for crimes against humanity
as a vindication of the 2003 invasion and proof of Iraqi democracy.
But U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour called for
restraint in the implementation of Saddam's sentence.
"There were a number of concerns as to the fairness of the original trial,
and there needs to be assurance that these issues have been comprehensively
addressed. I call therefore on the Iraqi authorities not to act precipitately,"
The Iraqi High Tribunal confirmed in a Web site posting that an automatic
appeal against Saddam's death sentence had failed.
The appeals judge who first announced that ruling on Tuesday had referred at
the time to a statute which says hangings must take place within 30 days of the
failure of an appeal.
But Deputy Justice Minister Bosho Ibrahim told Reuters on Thursday the
execution would happen within 30 days only if Iraq's president issued a decree
ordering an immediate execution. If he does not do so in that time the Justice
Ministry can carry out the sentence when it chooses.
President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, has refused to sign death warrants in other
cases but has delegated his powers to his Shi'ite and Sunni vice presidents.
Both the constitution and High Tribunal statutes deny the presidency the power
to block executions ordered for such serious crimes.