BAGHDAD, April 18 -- The Shiite Muslim bloc leading Iraq's new government will oppose any move to spare former president Saddam Hussein's life if a special tribunal convicts and condemns him, a spokesman for the alliance said Monday.
"We will deal with it immediately," said Ali Dabbagh, spokesman for the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance. That group is now forming a government with a Kurdish alliance following the first post-Hussein elections in January. Dabbagh said the next courtroom activity in Hussein's trial is tentatively expected in July, with the trial itself to begin before the end of the year.
Saddam Hussein is likely to go on trial by the end of the year.
Dabbagh was reacting to a BBC interview with the new president, Jalal Talabani, a Sunni Kurd and a death-penalty opponent. Talabani said he would "go on a holiday" rather than sign an execution order for Hussein.
However, the signatures of his two vice presidents would suffice to authorize the execution, Talabani said, making any abstention on his part a token gesture.
Talabani said he knew he represented a minority voice, possibly the only voice, in Iraq's still-forming government in his wish to save the ousted leader from capital punishment.
"I said my word, but no one is listening to me, to be frank with you," Talabani told the BBC. "My two partners in the presidency, the government, the House, all of them are for sentencing Saddam Hussein to death before the court will decide."
Hussein and other senior officials from his government are believed to be held at a U.S. detention center near Baghdad's airport. Construction of a court for the five-judge tribunal is expected to be finished this month.
Talabani also said in the interview that he thought executing Hussein would deflate the Sunni Muslim-led insurgency.
Dabbagh, the spokesman for the Shiite alliance, said relatives of Hussein's victims, like most Iraqis, didn't want mercy for Hussein, who he said represents "a unique case in Iraq -- the massacres and mass graves."
"The families of the victims have to see the government will appreciate the court" in its decision, Dabbagh added.
Also Monday, Iraqi police backed by U.S. military helicopters swept into a town southeast of Baghdad where Sunni militants were alleged to be holding scores of Shiite hostages. But the troops found only empty streets as jittery townspeople hid indoors.
Security forces found no hostages in the town, Madain, said Sabah Kadhim, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry. The sweep appeared to end a murky four-day drama in which rumors of Sunnis taking hostages in a bid to drive Shiites from Madain threatened to make the town a flashpoint for growing Shiite-Sunni tensions throughout the country.
Interior Minister Falah Naqib and other leaders denounced what they said were instigators trying to stir up sectarian conflict by spreading lies. Residents of the southern city of Basra and other communities demonstrated in support of Muslim unity.
Security forces took two days to move into position around Madain after the rumors came to the attention of a news organization on Friday. Kadhim said Monday that police would remain in the town permanently.
In Baghdad, gunmen ambushed a senior Defense Ministry adviser as he drove home late Monday, killing him and his son, the Interior Ministry told the Associated Press. Officials identified the man as Maj. Gen. Adnan Qaraghulli.
In Basra, two Iraqi policemen were killed and six injured when a roadside bomb exploded near their patrol vehicles, police Capt. Alaa Hasan told the Associated Press.
Special correspondent Naseer Nouri contributed to this report.