Iraqi Court Upholds Hussein's Sentence

By Sudarsan Raghavan and Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 27, 2006

BAGHDAD, Dec. 26 -- Iraq's highest court upheld Saddam Hussein's death sentence Tuesday, opening the way for the former Iraqi president to be hanged within 30 days, Iraqi judicial officials said.

Officials in the Iraqi government have already begun to address the logistics and security measures for the execution, possibly a closed and secret one, according to sources familiar with the preparations.

Under Iraq's constitution, the execution can proceed only if ratified by President Jalal Talabani and the country's two vice presidents. There was no immediate comment from the three Tuesday.

If they uphold the decision, as many Iraqis expect, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would have 30 days to order Hussein's execution. People close to him said Tuesday he would do so quickly.

Capping a trial that was controversial from the start, the decision split the Iraqi public along the fault lines of sect and history. Shiite Muslims and Kurds, whose groups suffered most under Hussein's rule, generally celebrated. Many of Hussein's fellow Sunni Arabs, however, warned that hanging the former president would intensify the current insurgency and sectarian killings.

It remains unclear whether a hanging would be carried out at a pre-announced time, with public observers present. Among several proposals before Maliki is one that calls for Hussein to be executed in secret as early as next week.

His body would then be formally identified by independent observers and the death revealed to the Iraqi public and the rest of the world, according to an official familiar with the proposal. The goal of such an approach would be to reduce retaliatory attacks by Sunnis and other loyalists.

On Tuesday, Iraqi politicians, including some Sunnis, issued calls for a speedy execution, expressing concern that a delay could cause more sectarian bloodshed and division.

"The people who wanted Saddam to be hanged and the people who were defending Saddam both were expecting this verdict," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish lawmaker widely seen as neutral by Sunnis and Shiites. Many people would like the execution to happen quickly, Othman said, "because they're afraid that he might escape from prison. The more it's delayed, the more people will talk about it. It will be a divisive thing in society."

Tuesday's decision came 51 days after Hussein was sentenced to death for crimes against humanity for the killings of 148 Shiite men and boys from the town of Dujail after an assassination attempt there in 1982.

The U.S-backed trial was marred by allegations of bias and by courtroom speeches and outbursts from the defendants. Intended to deliver justice to Iraqis oppressed under Hussein, the proceedings unfolded against a backdrop of escalating sectarian strife that took thousands of lives and widened the gap between Sunnis and Shiites.

Talabani, a Kurd, is firmly against the death penalty. But in past cases he has deputized one of the vice presidents -- Adel Abdel-Mehdi, a Shiite, and Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni -- to sign execution orders on his behalf. All three signatures are required for an execution order to be valid.

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