updated 12/15/2006 6:24:18 PM ET 2006-12-15T23:24:18

Iraq’s prime minister said Friday that he hoped it would only be a matter of days before an appeals court ruled on former President Saddam Hussein’s death sentence.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accused Saddam’s lawyers of submitting too many documents to the appellate judges in order to delay their review of the death sentence, which a lower court handed down Nov. 5 against Saddam and two others for the deaths of nearly 150 Shiite Muslims after a 1982 attempt on Saddam’s life in the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad.

Defense lawyers filed an appeal Dec. 3.

“In fact, this is a judicial matter, but I expect it not to last too long,” al-Maliki said on Al-Arabiya television. “I hope it will be a short time, not longer than a few days, before we move to the stage when we see the just sentence carried out on that criminal.”

Iraqi law states that if a death sentence is upheld, it must be carried out within 30 days. Jaafar Moussawi, the chief prosecutor in the Dujail case, said in November that the trio could be hanged by the middle of January.

During the television interview, al-Maliki said defense lawyers submitted “hundreds if not thousands” of pages in connection with the appeal, “which to me look designed to delay the court’s decision rather than an attempt to save the head of the tyrant.”

Also sentenced to death were Barzan Ibrahim, Saddam’s half brother and former intelligence chief, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, who was head of Iraq’s Revolutionary Court when it condemned the Dujail residents to death.

If the appeals court upholds the sentences, all three members of Iraq’s presidential council — President Jalal Talabani and Vice Presidents Tariq al-Hashemi and Adil Abdul-Mahdi — must sign death warrants before executions can be carried out.

Iraq’s former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan was convicted of premeditated murder and was sentenced to life in prison in the Dujail case. Three other defendants were given up to 15 years in prison for torture and premeditated murder. The three — Abdullah Kazim Ruwayyid, Mizhar Abdullah Ruwayyid and Ali Dayih Ali — were Baath Party officials in Dujail who were believed to be responsible for the mass arrests.

A local Baath Party official, Mohammed Azawi Ali, was acquitted for lack of evidence.

Saddam is being tried separately on charges of genocide linked to a military campaign in the 1980s against Iraq’s minority Kurds, in which tens of thousands of people are thought to have been killed.

If convicted in that trial, he could receive a second death sentence. But officials have suggested that proceedings would be halted if the appeals court upheld the first death sentence.

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