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Saddam posts letter ahead of planned execution

A farewell letter posted on the Internet Wednesday in the name of Saddam Hussein called on Iraqis not to hate the invaders of their country.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Saddam Hussein called on Iraqis not to hate the U.S.-led forces that invaded Iraq in 2003 in a farewell letter posted on a Web site Wednesday, a day after an appeals court upheld the former dictator’s death sentence and ordered him to be hanged within one month.

One of Saddam’s attorneys, Issam Ghazzawi, confirmed to The Associated Press in Jordan that the letter was authentic, saying it was written by Saddam on Nov. 5 — the day he was convicted by an Iraqi tribunal for ordering the killings of scores of Shiite Muslims in the city of Dujail in 1982.

“I call on you not to hate because hate does not leave space for a person to be fair and it makes you blind and closes all doors of thinking,” the letter said.

Ghazzawi said the letter was released on Tuesday and published on Saddam’s former Baath Party’s Web site on Wednesday.

The deposed leader said he was writing the letter because his lawyers had told him the Iraqi High Tribunal which tried his case would give him an opportunity to say a final word.

“But that court and its chief judge did not give us the chance to say a word, and issued its verdict without explanation and read out the sentence — dictated by the invaders — without presenting the evidence,” Saddam wrote.

“Dear faithful people,” Saddam added, “I say goodbye to you, but I will be with the merciful God who helps those who take refuge in him and who will never disappoint any honest believer.”

Last hope for avoiding execution gone?
The letter was released as Saddam’s last legal means of avoiding execution came under question. A spokesman for President Jalal Talabani said Wednesday the appeals court order upholding the death sentence might not require Talabani’s approval to carry out the execution.

Iraqi officials had said such a decision must be ratified by Talabani and Iraq’s two vice presidents. But presidential spokesman Hiwa Osman said that was not necessarily the case.

“Some people believe there is no need for his approval,” Osman said. “We still have to hear from the court as to how the procedure can be carried out.”

Meanwhile, some Saddam loyalists threatened to retaliate if the ousted Iraqi leader is executed, warning in a posting on the same Baath Party Web site that carried Saddam’s letter they would target U.S. interests anywhere.

“The Baath and the resistance are determined to retaliate, with all means and everywhere, to harm America and its interests if it commits this crime,” the statement said, referring to Baath fighters as “the resistance.”

The Baath Party was disbanded after U.S.-led forces overthrew Saddam in 2003. The Web site is believed to be run from Yemen, where a number of exiled members of the party are based.

In its ruling Tuesday, the appeals court said Saddam must be hanged within 30 days for his role in the Dujail killings. The appeals court also affirmed death sentences for two of Saddam’s co-defendants, including his half brother. It ruled that life imprisonment for a third was too lenient and demanded he too be sentenced to death.

Some Iraqis said Saddam should be hanged immediately, but others feared Iraq’s bloodletting could escalate if the former dictator is executed at a time when sectarian attacks are already on the rise.

“Executing him now is dangerous. The situation is very bad. Things need to be calmer,” said Saadia Mohamed Majed, a 60-year-old Shiite in Baghdad who wants the penalty to be postponed for at least three years. Shiites endured persecution under Saddam and his fellow Sunni Arab leaders, and many are eager to remove a symbol of the old regime.

The court’s decision came on a particularly bloody day in Baghdad, when at least 54 Iraqis died in bombings and police discovered 49 apparent victims of sectarian reprisal killings.

Many Baghdad neighborhoods were jittery on Wednesday amid fears that Sunni Arab insurgents would target Shiite areas in revenge attacks. There was a heavy police presence in the downtown area of Karrada, and parents picked up their children from a school after reports of a car bomb in the area.

Violence appeared to be relatively minimal, though, with one car bomb explosion killing eight civilians and wounding 10 near an Iraqi army checkpoint in the capital, police said.

The U.S. military reported three new troop deaths on Wednesday, bringing the U.S. death toll for December to 93 in one of the bloodiest months for the American troops in Iraq this year. Some 105 troops were killed in October, according to an Associated Press count.

“This has been a difficult month for coalition forces,” military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said Wednesday. “And the month is not over yet.”

Two Latvian soldiers were also killed and three were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded under their Humvee, the Latvian Defense Ministry said. It was unclear where the incident took place, but Latvia has about 130 troops serving in Diwaniyah, 80 miles south of Baghdad.

Call for help from the U.N.
Saddam’s defense lawyers, who are based in Amman, Jordan, urged Arab governments and the United Nations to intervene to stop the execution.

“Otherwise, all may be participating in what is going on, either actually or due to their silence in face of the crimes, which are being committed in Iraq in the name of democracy,” the lawyers said in an e-mail statement to The Associated Press.

The statement signed by “the Defense Committee for President Saddam Hussein” said the court’s rejection of Saddam’s appeal was part of the “continued shedding of pure Iraqi blood by the current regime in Iraq, which (is) directly connected with the American occupation.”

An expert on war crimes speculated the sentence might be carried out very quickly.

“I won’t be surprised if there’s just an announcement in several days saying the sentence has been carried out. The ruling says the sentence has to be carried out within 30 days, but it doesn’t say you need to wait,” said Michael Scharf, a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

Human Rights Watch, which opposes the execution, said the law creating the Iraqi High Tribunal mandates that death sentences can never be commuted. However, international law says that when a death sentence is given, there must be an opportunity for it to be commuted, the group said.

“There’s some real confusion as to who has the authority to ratify the death sentence,” said Richard Dicker, director of the group’s International Justice Program.

Saddam still in another trial
The legal maneuvering in Baghdad was of little concern in the northern Kurdish city of Irbil, where people who suffered under Saddam’s brutal rule celebrated the decision upholding his death sentence.

Saddam is currently in the midst of another trial, charged with genocide and other crimes during a 1987-88 military crackdown on Kurds in northern Iraq. An estimated 180,000 Kurds died during the operation. That trial was adjourned until Jan. 8, but experts have said the trial of Saddam’s co-defendants is likely to continue even if he is executed.

Saddam is being held at Camp Cropper, an American military prison close to Baghdad’s airport. U.S. military officials did not say whether the former dictator will now be turned over to the Iraqis in anticipation of his execution.

Saddam was captured while hiding in a hole in the ground near his home village north of Baghdad in December 2003, eight months after he fled the capital ahead of advancing American troops.