Iraq court says Saddam should hang within 30 days

BAGHDAD (AFP) — Ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein will be hanged within 30 days, an appeal court judge said Tuesday, after confirming the former strongman’s sentence for crimes against humanity.

Speaking in front of reporters in Baghdad, Judge Arif Shaheen said the verdict was final and legally binding on Iraq’s government, which now has a month to get Saddam and two co-defendants to the gallows. “It cannot exceed 30 days. As from tomorrow the sentence could be carried out at any time,” the judge said, after confirming that the sentences had been upheld and that the trial process was complete and without appeal. “The appeals court has issued its verdict. What we have decided today is compulsory,” he said. Officials from Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s government have previously said they will not hesitate to carry out the sentence, and that he and his fellow convicts will be hanged within days or weeks of the decision. The White House repeated words used by US President George W. Bush when Saddam was first sentenced, with a spokesman saying “today marks a milestone for Iraqi people’s efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law”.  “Saddam has received due process and the legal rights that he denied the Iraqi people,” he said.

In London, a foreign office spokesman said that while key US ally Britain opposed capital punishment the decision on Saddam’s execution “is one for the Iraqi authorities”. Saddam and six co-defendants were convicted on November 5 of crimes relating to the killing of 148 Shiites whose village, Dujail, was subjected to a collective punishment after a failed 1982 attempt on his life.

Shaheen confirmed death sentences on Saddam, his half-brother Barzan Tikriti and former revolutionary court judge Awad Ahmed Bandar, as well as long jail terms on three more defendants.

He also said that Iraqi law stipulated that the sentences be carried out regardless of other ongoing legal proceedings, including Saddam’s trial for genocide against the Kurdish population of northern Iraq.

Shaheen said the appeals court had also deemed the life sentence handed down to former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan too lenient, with judges asked to reconsider the “light” sentence, opening the possibility that he too could go to the gallows.

Iraq’s head of state, President Jalal Talabani, must ratify all capital sentences, but he has previously said he would leave such a job to his vice presidents because of his personal opposition to the death penalty.

A spokesman for the Iraqi High Tribunal, Judge Raed Juhi, told AFP that under Iraq’s constitution cases of international jurisdiction, such as crimes against humanity, cannot be overturned by a presidential pardon.

The former strongman’s conviction inspired conflicting emotions in Iraq, a country that has been shattered by violence between warring political and religious factions since his fall from power.

Members of the country’s Shiite majority braved a strict curfew to celebrate the judgement with rowdy street parties, but some members of the once dominant Sunni community held protests and demanded Saddam’s release.

Saddam ruled Iraq with an iron first between 1979 and March 2003, when he was overthrown by a US-led invasion force. After his capture nine months later he was brought before the Iraqi High Tribunal in Baghdad to face trial.

November’s verdict was welcomed in Washington and greeted with triumphant delight by Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, whose Dawa Party was behind the failed assassination bid which triggered the Dujail reprisals.

On hearing news of November’s conviction, the Shiite declared: “Iraq’s martyrs can now smile again.” Immediately after news of the failed appeal came through, Baghdad security firms issued warnings to their clients to stay indoors to protect themselves from stray rounds from the expected outburst of “happy fire”.

International rights groups have been less enthusiastic, however. In November they criticised what they saw as the government’s interference in the case and the pressure put on judges amid Baghdad’s climate of violence.

Amnesty International described the prosecution as a “shabby affair, marred by serious flaws” and Human Rights Watch branded the trial leading to the verdict a “lost opportunity to give a sense of the rule of law”.

Saddam is also being tried in a second case for allegedly ordering the genocidal slaughter of 182,000 Kurdish civilians during the 1988 Anfal campaign. He faces a possible second death penalty.

Nevertheless, Iraqi authorities have previously said they will execute Saddam regardless of progress in that case.

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