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Saddam Remains in U.S. Military Prison

December 29, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Saddam Hussein’s half brothers visited him in his jail cell and he gave them his will and personal belongings, Iraqi officials said Friday, indicating his execution may be approaching. But they said he had yet to be transferred to Iraqi custody.

The former president is at an American military prison where he is expected to remain until the day of his execution, when he is to be transferred to Iraqi authorities.

On Thursday, two half brothers visited Saddam in his cell, a member of the former dictator’s defense team, Badee Izzat Aref, told The Associated Press by telephone from the United Arab Emirates. He said the former dictator handed them his personal belongings.

A senior commander at the Iraqi defense ministry also confirmed the meeting and said Saddam gave his will to one of his half brothers. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Saddam’s lawyers later issued a statement saying the Americans gave permission to one of them to pick up his belongings. The statement did not name the recipient or specify when. However, Raed Juhi, spokesman for the High Tribunal court that convicted Saddam, denied that the former leader’s relatives visited him.

An Iraqi appeals court upheld Saddam’s death sentence Tuesday for the killing of 148 people who were detained after an attempt to assassinate him in the northern Iraqi city of Dujail in 1982. The court said the former president should be hanged within 30 days.

The White House was preparing for Saddam’s execution as early as this weekend, based on information that U.S. officials in Baghdad were receiving from the Iraqi government, a senior administration official said in Washington.

An official close to al-Maliki has said Saddam would remain in U.S. custody 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.

Ibrahim said Friday that the transfer had yet to occur. ``We have not yet received Saddam Hussein,″ he said.

There have been disagreements among Iraqi officials in recent days as to whether Iraqi law dictates the execution must take place within 30 days and whether President Jalal Talabani and his two deputies have to approve it.

Juhi, the High Tribunal spokesman, has said that with approval from Talabani, Saddam could be put to death within 30 days. Otherwise, the execution would be held after that period, he said.

But the president’s office sent a letter to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Friday saying the death sentence does not have to be approved by Talabani and his deputies, a senior government official said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

The official, who said he had read the letter, quoted it as saying that the presidency’s opinion was ``identical″ to that of the appeals court that upheld Saddam’s death sentence.

Presidential officials could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.

The hand-over of Saddam from American custody to Iraqi authorities needs the signed approval of the Iraqi Justice Ministry, the senior official said. Justice Minister Hashim Abdul-Rahman al-Shebli was not in the country, so a deputy will have to provide a signature, he said.

Once that measure is complete, Saddam can be delivered directly to the place of his execution, the official said.

On Thursday, Saddam’s chief lawyer issued a plea to international organizations to prevent the U.S. from transferring the ousted dictator to Iraqi authorities, calling him a ``prisoner of war.″

Al-Maliki said Friday in comments released from his office that ``nothing and nobody can abrogate the ruling.″

The Iraqi prime minister said those who oppose the execution of Saddam were insulting the honor of his victims. His office said he made the remarks in a meeting with families of people who died during Saddam’s rule.

``Our respect for human rights requires us to execute him, and there will be no review or delay in carrying out the sentence,″ al-Maliki said.

In his Friday sermon, a mosque preacher in the Shiite holy city of Najaf called Saddam’s execution ``God’s gift to Iraqis.″

``Oh, God, you know what Saddam has done! He killed millions of Iraqis in prisons, in wars with neighboring countries and he is responsible for mass graves. Oh God, we ask you to take revenge on Saddam,″ said Sheik Sadralddin al-Qubanji, a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, known as SCIRI.

With at least 72 more Iraqis killed Thursday in violence, U.S. officials and Iraqis expressed concern about the potential for even worse bloodshed following Saddam’s execution.

In the latest violence, a suicide bomber killed nine people near a Shiite mosque north of Baghdad on Friday, police said. A round of mortar shells also slammed into al-Maidan square in central Baghdad, wounding ten people and damaging shops and buildings in the area, police said.

Gunmen killed two employees of an oil company and another civilian in Mosul, 250 miles northwest of Baghdad. Two civilians and a policeman were fatally shot in separate attacks in Musayyib, about 40 miles south of the capital, police said.

U.S. troops, meanwhile, killed six people and destroyed a weapons cache in separate raids in Baghdad and northwest of the Iraqi capital, the U.S. military said.

One of the raids targeted two buildings in the village of Thar Thar, where U.S. troops found 16 pounds of homemade explosives, two large bombs, a rocket-propelled grenade, suicide vests and multiple batteries, the military said.

Iraqi forces backed by U.S. troops also captured 13 suspects and confiscated weapons in a raid on a mosque southeast of Baghdad, the U.S. military said Friday.

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Associated Press writers Shafika Mattar in Amman, Jordan, and Salah Nasrawi in Cairo, Egypt contributed to this report.

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