Saddam Hussein to be hanged, but confusion over how soon

Baghdad | Updated: Dec 30 2006, 05:54am hrs
Senior Iraqi officials on Friday dismissed suggestions from Washington that they would hang Saddam Hussein this weekend and said some in cabinet were pushing for the execution to be put off for a month or more.

But Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who has called for the ousted president put to death this year for killing and oppressing Shiites, said there would be no review or delay in the sentence following this weeks failure of Saddams appeal.

And a defense lawyer said he thought Saddam might well die on Saturday after lawyers were told to collect his belongings.

But in a continuation of public confusion at the highest levels and secrecy over the historic proceedings, Iraqs Justice Ministry, which must carry out the execution, denied it had taken custody of Saddam from his U.S. military jailers and said it could not legally hang him for nearly a month.

One senior cabinet official told Reuters that ethnic Kurdish minority leaders were pressing for a second trial, for genocide against Kurds in the 1980s, to conclude before any execution.

Its none of the Americans business to decide when, a senior Justice Ministry official said after a U.S. official said Saddam could die as early as Saturday. He insisted the ministry could not legally put him to death until January 26, when 30 days will have elapsed since the appeals court gave its judgment.

With some of Saddams fellow Sunnis angry at what they see as a political act of vengeance by the U.S.-sponsored court and many Kurds keen to see him first convicted of genocide against them, the timing of Saddams walk to the gallows is an explosive issue for a country on the brink of sectarian civil war.Saddams conviction on November 5 was hailed by President Bush as a triumph for the democracy he promised to foster in Iraq after the 2003 invasion.