|Iraqi children passed by a vandalized mural of Saddam Hussein in Tikrit. Some fear his execution could trigger even worse bloodshed. (Bassem Daham/Associated Press)|
Hussein's lawyer pleads that ex-dictator be spared
Says US shouldn't hand him to Iraqis
BAGHDAD -- Saddam Hussein's lawyer made a last-ditch effort to impede his execution yesterday, beseeching world leaders to prevent the United States from handing over the ousted dictator to Iraqi authorities who plan to hang him.
The plea from Hussein's attorney came as the US military reported the deaths of five more troops and announced that Iraqi forces, backed by American forces, captured an Al Qaeda in Iraq cell leader believed responsible for the June kidnapping of two soldiers who were found tortured and killed.
With at least 72 more Iraqis killed in sectarian violence, US officials and Iraqis expressed concern about the potential for even worse bloodshed after Hussein's execution. The lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, said transferring Hussein to Iraqi authorities could be the trigger.
"If the American administration insists in handing the president to the Iraqis, it would commit a great strategic mistake which would lead to the escalation of the violence in Iraq and the eruption of a destructive civil war," Dulaimi said in a telephone interview.
Iraq's highest court on Tuesday rejected Hussein's appeal against his conviction and death sentence for the killing of 148 Shi'ites in the northern city of Dujail in 1982. The court said the former president should be hanged within 30 days.
Hussein, 69, said goodbye yesterday to his two half brothers, Watban and Sabawi, who are held at the same prison, the US Army's Camp Cropper near Baghdad airport.
The White House was preparing for Hussein's execution as early as this weekend, based on information that US officials in Baghdad were receiving from the Iraqi government, a senior administration official said in Washington.
But Iraq's deputy justice minister, Bosho Ibrahim, said Hussein shouldn't be hanged for another few weeks. "The law does not say within 30 days, it says after the lapse of 30 days," Ibrahim said.
He did not explain the discrepancy between his interpretation and the court's, nor could he give a specific execution date.
At least 30 Iraqis died yesterday in bombings and shootings, including a suicide bombing in a crowd of people waiting to buy kerosene near a stadium in Baghdad that killed 10, according to police. Police also said 42 bodies of tortured men were found dumped in the Iraqi capital yesterday.
The US military announced five more troop deaths: four soldiers hit by roadside bombs on patrol and a Marine killed in combat in western Iraq. The Department of Defense also identified three more American servicemen who died this week but had not been previously reported.
The figures raised the troop deaths this month to 103, second only to the 105 service members who died in October. At least 2,991 members of the US military have been killed since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Dulaimi, Hussein's lawyer, said the ousted leader should enjoy protection from his enemies as a "prisoner of war" and remain in US custody.
"I urge all the international and legal organizations, the United Nations secretary-general, the Arab League, and all the leaders of the world to rapidly prevent the American administration from handing the president to the Iraqi authorities," Dulaimi said.
An official close to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq has said Hussein would remain in a US military prison until he is delivered to Iraqi authorities on the day of his execution. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Iraqi government offices shut down ahead of an Islamic holiday this weekend, and there was confusion over when Hussein would be executed and whether President Jalal Talabani was required to approve such action.
Raed Juhi, a spokesman for the High Tribunal that convicted Hussein, said that with approval from Talabani, Hussein could be put to death within 30 days.