Egyptian president warns against hanging Saddam

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned against carrying out the death sentence on Saddam Hussein, saying that hanging the former leader would lead to more sectarian strife in Iraq.

“Carrying out this verdict will explode violence like waterfalls in Iraq,” Mubarak was quoted Thursday as saying to editors of state-run Egyptian dailies.

The verdict “will transform [Iraq] into blood pools and lead to a deepening of the sectarian and ethnic conflicts,” the Egyptian president said in what appeared to be the most high profile Arab comment yet on Saddam’s condemnation.

On Sunday, an Iraqi court sentenced Saddam to hang for the deaths of about 150 Shiite Muslims following an assassination attempt against him in 1982 in the town of Dujail.

Saddam has appealed, and is being separately tried for genocide in the deaths of about 180,000 Iraqi Kurds, mostly civilians, during a crackdown against Kurdish guerrillas in the late 1980s.

The strong comment by Mubarak, a regional heavyweight and a top US ally, came amid mixed reactions among Arabs on sentencing Saddam. While many rejoiced at the Saddam’s initial ousting after the US-led invasion, spiralling violence in Iraq and the unprecedented step of sentencing an Arab ruler has since created growing unease in the region.

Leaders in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, another regional powerhouse and US ally, have remained largely mute about Saddam since his sentencing. The presidents of Libya and Syria have also avoided commenting on the verdict.

Mubarak, 78, has been at the helm of the most populous Arab state since 1981. He repeatedly warned against worsening violence in Iraq, and voiced concern about tensions spilling over to the rest of the region.

He and Saddam, who rose to power in 1979, rarely shared the same views during the decades they both spent in office. Egypt, however, provided some military support to Iraq during its devastating 1980-88 war with Iran. In 1991, Mubarak offered Saddam a haven in exile to avert the Gulf War, but the Iraqi leader declined. Egypt sided with Saudi Arabia and the United States against Saddam during the first Gulf War over Kuwait.

Mubarak initially condemned the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, but blamed it on what he described as Saddam’s failure to cooperate with the international community. The Egyptian president was against toppling Saddam, insisting on the eve of the war that regime change was an internal affair.

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