- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Iraq’s dominant political party yesterday demanded that Saddam Hussein face the death penalty, despite the reservations expressed by new President Jalal Talabani in an interview with The Washington Times over the weekend.

Leading members of the Shi’ite Muslim-led United Iraqi Alliance, which holds 140 seats in the 275-member national parliament, insisted that Saddam must be executed for the crimes committed under his brutal reign.

Ali al-Dabagh, a party spokesman, called Saddam “the No. 1 criminal in the world.”

Eliminating the death penalty “is something that cannot be discussed at all,” Mr. al-Dabagh told the Associated Press in an interview.

Sheik Hassan Shimmari, another United Iraqi Alliance lawmaker, said the death penalty for Saddam and his senior aides is justified by both Islamic tradition and Iraqi law.

“It is surprising the president should adopt such a position,” he told reporters in Baghdad.

In his interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Talabani, an ethnic Kurd, said he was sticking to his long-standing personal opposition to the death penalty worldwide, but conceded that he was in the minority even within the three-member presidential council that he heads.

Iraq’s two deputy presidents, Shi’ite Adel Abdul-Mahdi and Sunni Sheik Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, both support the death penalty if Saddam is convicted. Many of the president’s fellow Kurds, who were the victims of atrocities under Saddam, also favor executing the former dictator.

Mr. Talabani said he would not sign an execution order, if one were given.

“It is for me difficult to sign this … if the courts will decide [that], the others can do it. … It does not mean I said that Saddam must not be executed. It is up to the courts, not to me,” he told The Washington Times.

In a separate interview with the BBC released yesterday, Mr. Talabani said, “My two partners in the presidency, the government, the [parliament], all of them are for sentencing Saddam Hussein to death before the court will decide.”

He suggested he might “go on holiday” and let his two partners in the presidency sign the death warrant.

Separately, Iraqi security forces backed by U.S. troops entered the rebellious town of Madain, south of Baghdad, but found no evidence of a group of more than 100 hostages reportedly being held by insurgents.

Although Sunni Muslim leaders called the kidnapping accounts a hoax, U.S. military officials said the operation to regain control of Madain was a major success for the new government’s fledgling security forces.

The office of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said that 10 rebels and large amounts of weapons were seized in the operation.

In a separate incident, Iraqi insurgents struck in the heart of Baghdad yesterday, killing a senior Iraqi security official and his nephew in their home.

The target of the attack, Maj.-Gen. Adnan Midhish Kharagoli, was an adviser to Iraq’s defense minister, Iraqi officials said.

Saddam was captured by U.S. forces in December 2003 and now sits in a heavily guarded jail near Baghdad’s airport. No trial date has been set.

The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority abolished the Saddam-era death penalty law in 2003. The law listed some 114 offenses for which the death penalty could be applied.

Over the objections of some U.S. coalition partners, the Iraqi interim government revived the death penalty in August 2004, limiting it to cases involving murder, drug trafficking and endangering national security.

A State Department spokes-man, speaking on background, said the United States wants Iraq to rebuild its legal system, but said the issue of capital punishment was one for the Iraqis themselves to work out.

“We have no objection to the death penalty, since we have it in our own country, but it’s a matter for the Iraqis decide,” the spokesman said. “We are certainly not pushing for it.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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