- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 26, 2006

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s highest court rejected Saddam Hussein’s appeal yesterday and said the former dictator must be hanged within 30 days for his role in the 1982 slayings of 148 Shi’ite Muslims from a town where assassins tried to kill him.

“From tomorrow, any day could be the day” Saddam is sent to the gallows, the chief judge said.

The ruling could stoke Iraq’s sectarian rage, with the Shi’ite majority demanding Saddam’s death and most in the formerly dominant Sunni Arab community calling the trial tainted.

The decision came on a particularly bloody day in Baghdad, where at least 54 Iraqis died in bombings and police discovered 49 apparent victims of sectarian reprisal killings. The U.S. military announced the deaths of seven American soldiers.

In upholding the Saddam sentence imposed Nov. 5, the Supreme Court of Cassation also affirmed death sentences for two of his co-defendants, including his half brother. And it said life imprisonment for a third was too lenient and demanded he be given the death penalty, too.

Saddam’s hanging “must be implemented within 30 days,” said Aref Shahin, chief judge of the appeals court. “From tomorrow, any day could be the day of implementation.”

The White House called the ruling a milestone in Iraq’s efforts “to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law.”

“Saddam Hussein has received due process and legal rights that he denied the Iraqi people for so long. So this is an important day for the Iraqi people,” said deputy White House press secretary Scott Stanzel, who was aboard Air Force One flying from Washington to Waco, Texas.

Some international legal observers, however, contended Saddam’s trial was unfair because of reported interference by the Shi’ite-dominated government.

The ruling raised doubts about whether other victims of Saddam’s ruthless rule — including families of Kurds who were gassed during a military operation in northern Iraq 20 years ago — will ever testify in court about their suffering.

But the announcement delighted Shi’ites, who endured persecution under Saddam, and who seek to remove a symbol of the old regime.

“We were looking forward to this day so as to achieve justice, though it comes late,” said Ali al-Adeeb, a Shi’ite lawmaker. “The government should speed up implementing the verdict in order not to give any chance to the terrorists.”

Under Iraqi law, the appeals court decision must be ratified by President Jalal Talabani and Iraq’s two vice presidents. One of the two deputies is, like Saddam, a Sunni Arab.

Mr. Talabani, a Kurd, has voiced opposition to the death penalty, but he previously deputized Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, a Shi’ite Muslim, to sign execution orders on his behalf — a substitute legally accepted.

Raed Juhi, a spokesman for the High Tribunal court that convicted Saddam, said the judicial system would ensure Saddam is executed even if the presidency does not ratify the decision. “We’ll implement the verdict by the power of the law,” Mr. Juhi said.

Shi’ite residents of Baghdad were delighted.

“We are very happy,” said Riyah Abdul Sattar in Sadr City, a neighborhood where Shi’ite militias are strong. “We will get rid of him for sure.”

The mood was different in Tikrit, a mostly Sunni Arab city north of Baghdad that lies near Saddam’s hometown of Ouja.

“It is a political verdict that has no relation to law or justice,” said Saad Ibrahim Khelil. “I do believe it’s a kind of pressure against the [Sunni-led] resistance.”

The U.S. military, meanwhile, said seven more American soldiers had died, pushing the toll for the month to 90 and making December the second deadliest month this year behind the 105 soldiers killed in October.

The deaths brought the number of U.S. military members killed in the Iraq war since March 2003 to at least 2,978 — five more than the number killed in the September 11 attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

Still, the toll remains low compared with other major wars the United States has fought: World War I claimed 116,708 American lives; World War II 408,306; the Korean War 33,686 in combat and the Vietnam War 58,219.

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