QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Saddam Hussein will be executed no later than Saturday, said an Iraqi judge authorized to attend his hanging. American and Iraqi officials met to set the hour of his death.

As the time approached, Saddam received two of his half brothers in his cell on Thursday and was said to have given them his personal belongings and a copy of his will.

Najeeb al-Nauimi, a member of Saddam's legal team, said he too requested a final meeting with the deposed Iraqi leader. "His daughter in Amman was crying, she said 'Take me with you,'" al-Nauimi said late Friday. But he said their request was rejected.

Munir Haddad, a judge on the appeals court that upheld Saddam's death sentence, said all documents required for the execution were ready. They included an order known as a "red card" that must be delivered to the head of the prison where Saddam is to be executed; a similar document was also used in Iraqi courts during Saddam's rule.

With U.S. forces on high alert for a surge in violence, people registered to attend the hanging gathered Friday in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone before they were to go to the execution site, a senior Iraqi government official said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

Those cleared to attend the execution included a Muslim cleric, lawmakers, senior officials and relatives of victims of Saddam's brutal rule, the official said. Aides to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki were waiting for U.S.


Advertisement

representatives to arrive at his office to set the hour for the execution, the official said.

He did not disclose the location of the gallows.

Haddad said he was ready to attend the hanging.

"Saddam will be executed today or tomorrow," Haddad said. "All the measures have been done. ... There is no reason for delays."

The physical transfer of Saddam from U.S. to Iraqi authorities was believed to be one of the last steps before he was to be hanged.

"We have agreed with the Americans that the handover will take place only a few minutes before he is executed," the official said.

Al-Nauimi said U.S. authorities were maintaining physical custody of Saddam to prevent him from being humiliated before his execution. He said the Americans also want to prevent the mutilation of his corpse, as has happened to other deposed Iraqi leaders.

"The Americans want him to be hanged respectfully," al-Nauimi said. If Saddam is humiliated publicly or his corpse ill-treated "that could cause an uprising and the Americans would be blamed," he said.

Saddam's lawyers issued a statement Friday calling on "everybody to do everything to stop this unfair execution." The statement also said the former president had been transferred from U.S. custody, though American and Iraqi officials later denied that.

Al-Maliki said opposing Saddam's execution was an insult to 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.

Saddam has been in U.S. custody since he was captured in December 2003.

Tom Casey, deputy spokesman at the State Department, said Friday afternoon that Saddam remained in American hands. In Baghdad, an Iraqi government official who refused to be identified by name because he was not authorized to release the information said authorities there were not yet in control of Saddam.

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 official 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 for his belongings to be retrieved.

Raed Juhi, spokesman for the High Tribunal court that convicted Saddam, said documents related to the execution, including the "red card," al-Maliki's signed approval of the sentence and the appeal court's decision would be read to Saddam before the execution.

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.

There had 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.

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," said Sheik Sadralddin al-Qubanji, a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, known as SCIRI, a dominant party in al-Maliki's coalition. "Oh God, we ask you to take revenge on Saddam."