BAGHDAD (Reuters) â€” Iraq’s presidency has signed death sentences for three men convicted of murder, paving the way for the first state-endorsed executions since the fall of Saddam Hussein. The men will be hanged.
President Jalal Talabani, who opposes capital punishment, did not sign the document, but his deputy signed on his behalf.
“I have authorised Adel Abdel Mehdi to ratify the death sentence against three convicted men,” a statement issued by Talabani’s office said on Wednesday, referring to one of two vice presidents.
A copy of the execution order was attached to the statement, showing the signatures. Iraqi law requires the Cabinet, president and two vice presidents to approve carrying out a death sentence. Cabinet gave its consent on August 14.
Wednesday’s statement said the men, whose names were not revealed, were found guilty by a criminal court in Wasit province in southeastern Iraq of “murder, kidnapping and rape.” A higher court had upheld the ruling.
Asked if the men would be hanged, a spokeswoman at the Iraqi high court said: “Of course.” She said the date and place of the hangings had not been decided.
“We have 13 cases where people have been given the death penalty. They are for various crimes, not just terrorist incidents,” spokeswoman Ahlam Jamil said.
Thousands of Iraqis have died in violence since the 2003 US invasion, with insurgents battling US troops and the US-backed government. Ordinary crime has also become rampant against a background of daily suicide bombs, kidnappings and assassinations.
Many Western governments and rights groups had hoped the death penalty would be outlawed in Iraq after the rule of the Baath Party, accused of killing hundreds of thousands of people.
“This does set a bad example if the government starts a new phase by reinstating the death penalty,” said Amnesty International Spokeswoman Nicole Houeiry in London.
One of the reasons cited by the United States and Britain for their invasion to end Baath Party rule was to bring in a new era of democracy and human rights in Iraq. “If this goes ahead and the Iraqi government reintroduces the death penalty, we will lobby them to abolish it,” a British diplomat in Baghdad said.
US President George W. Bush supports the death penalty, and has said he favours death for Saddam Hussein if he is convicted in a trial expected to begin later this year.
In Washington, US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said that as a sovereign state Iraq had a right to make its own decisions over whether to execute criminals.
“What we expect is that any judicial process is transparent, that it is done according to the rule of law, and that the rights of those accused are respected, and that any judicial process… meets international standards,” said McCormack, who declined comment on the three specific cases.
Iraq reinstated the death penalty for crimes including murder, kidnapping and drug running last year, saying it was necessary and would last until stability was restored.
While most European governments, several of which supported the US-led invasion, oppose the death penalty, Iraqis commonly support it and say they want to see it enacted.
Poland, which contributes a small force to postwar Iraq, declined to speak on the issue.
“Poland is a member of the coalition, but it does not have influence on the formation of internal Iraqi structures… so we wouldn’t assert the right to comment on this type of decision,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Tomasz Szeratics said.