Sat, Dec 30, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Saddam bids brothers farewell

CONDEMNED MAN According to one report, the former Iraqi president could go to the gallows today, but one of his defense lawyers said he was in `high spirits'

AGENCIES , BAGHDAD

Saddam Hussein bade two half brothers farewell on Thursday as he awaits execution, a lawyer said, but US and Iraqi officials gave conflicting accounts of whether he would hang within days.

A senior US official said the ousted president could go to the gallows as soon as today.

But Iraqi officials backed away from suggestions they would definitely hang him within a month and a Cabinet minister said a week-long religious holiday would stall any execution.

"He was in very high spirits and clearly readying himself," Badie Aref, a defense lawyer, said after the 69-year-old former Iraqi 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," Aref said. "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 Nov. 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, Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had said he wanted Saddam hanged this year for the killings, torture and other crimes against the Shiite 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 hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, runs from yesterday until work resumes on Jan. 7.

Nonetheless, the US official said: "I've heard that it's going to be a couple more days, probably."

US and Iraqi authorities have said Saddam must be handed over to Iraqi officials prior to his execution.

Armand Cucciniello, a spokesman for the US embassy in Baghdad, said he could not confirm whether Saddam had been transferred to Iraqi authorities.

"It's up to the government of Iraq to carry out the execution," Cucciniello said.

CBS News reported a US military officer said Saddam would be turned over to the Iraqis within the next 36 hours.

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 hajj 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 this month so far and just short of 3,000 after nearly four years of war.

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