Iraq postpones execution of Saddam aides

news41.jpgBAGHDAD (AFP) — Iraq postponed executing two of Saddam Hussein’s henchmen Thursday amid international pressure following the ousted leader’s bungled and much criticised hanging.

Iraq also detained two justice ministry guards for questioning in connection with the secret filming of the final moments of the former leader.

Barzan Ibrahim Tikriti, Saddam’s half brother and former intelligence chief, and Awad Ahmed Bandar, the head of a revolutionary court, were to have been hanged on Thursday.

A senior official from Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s office, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the execution was postponed “due to international pressure”.

Baha Araji, an influential Shiite lawmaker from radical cleric Moqtada Sadr’s parliamentary bloc, said: “I am sure it will be done on Sunday.” Another Shiite deputy, Sami Askari, said the executions will be carried out after the end of state holidays for the Eid Al Adha festival on Saturday. He did not give a precise date. “The executions will be after the holidays,” said Askari, who was present at Saddam’s hanging on Saturday as Maliki’s representative.

Askari said there was also a view among some members of the government that the two former regime officials be hanged after the appeals court decides on a prosecution request to send another Saddam aide to the gallows.

The prosecution has requested that Taha Yassin Ramadan, former vice president, also be hanged. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, but the prosecution has suggested that this was insufficient.

On Wednesday, UN spokeswoman Michele Montas said United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was opposed to the death penalty.

“The secretary general strongly believes in the wisdom of Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person,” she said.

“He fully endorses the call made today by [UN High Commissioner for Human Rights] Louise Arbour for restraint by the government of Iraq in the execution of the death sentences imposed by the Iraqi high tribunal,” she added.

The US military has expressed concern over the manner in which Saddam was hanged, saying it would “have done things differently”, and Britain has condemned the leaking of the video.

And in the latest implied criticism of the first hanging, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said: “We expect Iraqi officials to handle their business with appropriate care. I don’t think there’s anything more we can say.” Saddam, Barzan and Bandar were found guilty on November 5 of ordering the judicial murder of 148 Shiite men and boys from the village of Dujail in the 1980s. They were sentenced to death for crimes against humanity.

Saddam’s execution five days ago has angered members of Iraq’s Sunni minority and triggered criticism from observers who felt he was humiliated minutes before being put to death.

A grisly unofficial video released after Saddam was hanged showed one of the members of the execution party shouting the name of Sadr, a bitter opponent of Saddam.

The two-and-half minute film shot on a mobile telephone camera has spread like wildfire on the Internet and triggered angry outbursts within Iraq’s Sunni Arab community and from international leaders.

One of those present at the execution could be heard shouting “Moqtada! Moqtada! Moqtada!” at a sneering Saddam, inspiring some observers to compare the execution to a sectarian lynching.

“Basically they were doing their congregational prayers and supplications, and they mentioned at the end of their supplication the name of Moqtada,” said National Security Adviser Mowaffaq Rubaie, defending the execution.

“I can’t see where is the humiliation, to be quite honest. Moqtada, Moqtada, Moqtada is not a dirty word, not an obscene word. They were not cursing.” Rubaie also explained why the executioners and Iraqi officials danced around Saddam’s body after the hanging.

“This is the tradition of the Iraqis — when they do something they dance around the body and they express their feelings,” he said.

“What is wrong with that? If that upsets the feelings of some of the Arab nations and Arab rulers, I think: ‘The best of luck to them’.

“To the best of my knowledge and belief after I left the scene I was proud of what had happened and it was played by the book, but when the video was released I saw some wrongdoing and this has to be addressed,” he said.

Askari said two justice ministry guards had been held for questioning.

“Two guards who are employees of the justice ministry have been held, but there are no charges against them yet,” he told AFP.

Meanwhile, Iraq’s bloody insurgent and sectarian violence continued Thursday with at least 28 people killed in a series of attacks, including 13 in a car bomb explosion in Baghdad.

Police also recovered 47 corpses of people killed in apparent sectarian violence in Baghdad Thursday.

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