Official says Iraq to hang 2 Saddam aides today

BAGHDAD (AFP) — Iraq will execute two former aides of Saddam Hussein on Thursday, five days after the former leader was himself hanged in Baghdad, an official in prime minister’s office said Wednesday.

Iraqi authorities, meanwhile, arrested a guard present during Saddam’s execution as part of an inquiry into how film of the hanging leaked to the Internet and triggered widespread protests in Iraq’s Sunni Arab community.

Saddam’s half-brother and former head of intelligence, Barzan Ibrahim Tikriti, and Awad Ahmed Bandar, the former chief judge of revolutionary court, will be hanged at dawn on Thursday, the official said.

“Their documents have been signed and they will be executed Thursday,” he told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity, adding that the pair is still in the custody of US authorities.

On November 5, the two were found guilty along with Saddam by an Iraqi court of ordering the massacre of 148 Shiites from Dujail village in the 1980s in revenge for a failed attempt on the then president’s life.

Saddam was hanged on Saturday at a former torture centre in Baghdad’s Shiite district of Kadhimiyah and buried a day later at his home village of Awja in northern Iraq.

Barzan and Bandar were to have been hanged along with Saddam, but their execution was later postponed because “we did not have time on that day”,  the official in Maliki’s office said.

The government wanted to complete Saddam’s execution before sunrise, which marked the start of Eid Al Adha, one of Islam’s holiest holidays and traditionally a time for forgiveness. The festival ends on Wednesday.

Hot-tempered and secretive, Barzan was one of Saddam’s most trusted aides, while Bandar was the first judge to be tried for ordering executions since Nazi judges were brought before the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

Saddam’s execution has dramatically increased tension between Iraq’s already feuding Sunni and Shiite communities, especially after the surfacing of a grisly video showing the Sunni leader taunted by Shiite hangmen.

On Tuesday, Maliki launched an inquiry into the source of the grainy yet graphic video, apparently taken with a mobile phone.

Only a day later, the authorities detained one of the guards present at the execution as a suspect.

“It’s true. One of the guards has been arrested,” said Haider Majeed, a official in Maliki’s media office.

The unofficial footage shows Saddam taunted by Shiite guards shouting the name of Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr — making the execution look more like a sectarian lynching than a court-directed punishment.

It appeared on the Internet, and was exchanged over the Iraqi mobile phone network.

Sami Askari, a senior official who attended the execution, said Maliki had ordered a three-member panel of inquiry to find which of those present at the hanging had filmed the execution.

On Tuesday, Munqith Faroon, the prosecutor who oversaw the execution, said on Al Jazeera television there were only two people who had mobile phones inside the room. “They were senior government officials,” he said.

Aside from Askari, who has denied filming, there were a handful of other officials present at the hanging, including National Security Adviser Mowaffaq Rubaie, who was not available for comment.

That someone in the execution party should be a Sadr supporter has angered Sunnis and has given a sectarian colour to the hanging of one of the most powerful Sunni Arab leaders.

The footage ends with Saddam — convicted for crimes against humanity — falling though the trapdoor of the gallows amid shouts from the crowd.

US military spokesman Major General William Caldwell said US forces handed “physical control” of Saddam to Iraqi officials shortly before the hanging, and all US personnel had left the Iraqi prison facility before it took place.

“It’s a sovereign nation. It’s their decision and it’s their responsibility to decide how things go from there,” he said.

“If you’re asking me if we would have done things differently, yes we would have. But that’s not our decision, that’s the government of Iraq’s decision.” The controversy comes as Iraqi and US strategies have failed to curb the sectarian killings, which have forced US President George W. Bush to seek a new strategy to beat the extremist factions driving the violence.

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