Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, sentenced to death for his role in 148 killings in 1982, will have his sentence carried out by Sunday, NBC News reported Thursday. According to a U.S. military officer who spoke on condition of anonymity, Saddam will be hanged before the start of the Eid religious holiday, which begins at sundown Saturday.
The hanging could take place as early as Friday, NBC’s Richard Engel reported.
The U.S. military received a formal request from the Iraqi government to transfer Saddam to Iraqi authorities, NBC reported on Thursday, which is one of the final steps required before his execution. His sentence, handed down last month, ordered that he be hanged within 30 days.
Earlier Thursday, Saddam’s chief lawyer implored world leaders to prevent the United States from handing over the ousted leader to Iraqi authorities for execution, saying the former dictator should enjoy protection from his enemies as a “prisoner of war.”
“According to the international conventions, it is forbidden to hand a prisoner of war to his adversary,” Saddam’s lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, said in Amman, Jordan.
“I urge all the international and legal organizations, the United Nations secretary-general, the Arab League and all the leaders of the world to rapidly prevent the American administration from handing the president to the Iraqi authorities,” he told The Associated Press.
Meets with half-brothers
Saddam met with two of his half-brothers on Thursday and passed on personal messages to his family, a lawyer said.
Badie Aref, one of Saddam's lawyers, said the rare meeting with maternal half-brothers Sabawi and Watban Ibrahim Hassanal-Tikriti, who are in U.S. custody, was at the request of the ousted Iraqi leader and took place inside his heavily guarded prison cell in Baghdad.
Aref said Saddam was in very high spirits and had sensed “something was happening relating to the sentence” when prison guards took away a small radio he had been given several months ago.
“He met Sabawi and Watban and gave them letters to his family in anticipation.... He is clearly unaware of the details of what is happening around him and prepared to give his life as a martyr to his country,” Aref told Reuters by telephone.
Aref said prison sources who told him of the family meeting said Saddam was aware of an appeals court decision to uphold his death sentence for crimes against humanity during his 24-year rule.
“He was in very high spirits and clearly readying himself,” Aref said during a visit to Dubai.
“He told them that he was happy he would meet his death at the hands of his enemies and be a martyr and not just languish in prison in oblivion.”
Aref said he was unsure if Saddam's third half-brother, Barzan al-Tikriti, who was sentenced to death along with the ousted leader, saw Saddam.
Fears that handover may spark violence
An official close to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said that Saddam would remain in a U.S. military prison until he is handed over to Iraqi authorities on the day of his execution. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to address the media. Video: Saddam to be hanged by Sunday
A top government official disputed the court’s ruling that Saddam must be hanged within 30 days, saying the execution should be held after that time period. The comment comes amid debate over other legal procedures such as whether the presidency is required to approve the execution.
Cardinal Renato Martino, Pope Benedict XVI’s top prelate for justice issues and a former Vatican envoy to the U.N., condemned the death sentence in a newspaper interview published Thursday, saying capital punishment goes against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
After his sentence was given, Louise Arbour, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, urged Iraq to ensure a fair appeals process and to refrain from executing Saddam even if the sentence is upheld.
Some international legal observers and human rights groups have also called Saddam’s trial unfair because of alleged interference by the Shiite-dominated government.
NBC News’ Richard Engel, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.