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High court rules Saddam will hang within 30 days

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's highest court upheld Saddam Hussen's death sentence Tuesday, clearing the way for the former Iraqi president to be hanged within 30 days, Iraqi judicial officials said.

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's highest court upheld Saddam Hussen's death sentence Tuesday, clearing the way for the former Iraqi president to be hanged within 30 days, Iraqi judicial officials said.

Officials in the Iraqi government are addressing the logistics and security measures entailed in an execution, possibly a closed and secret one, according to sources familiar with the preparations.

Under Iraq's constitution, the execution can proceed only if ratified by President Jalal Talabani and the country's two vice presidents. There was no immediate comment from them Tuesday.

If they uphold the decision, as many Iraqis expect, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would have 30 days to order Saddam's execution. People close to him said Tuesday he would do so quickly.

Capping a trial that was controversial from the start, the decision split the Iraqi public along the fault lines of sect and history. Shiite Muslims and Kurds, whose groups suffered most underSaddam's rule, generally celebrated. Many of Saddam's fellow Sunni Arabs, however, warned that hanging the former president would intensify the insurgency and sectarian killings.

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It remains unclear whether a hanging would be carried out at a pre-announced time, with public observers present. Among several proposals before al-Maliki is one that calls for Saddam to be executed in secret as early as next week.

His body would then be formally identified by independent observers and the death revealed to the Iraqi public and the rest of the world, according to an official familiar with the proposal. The goal of such an approach would be to reduce retaliatory attacks by Sunnis and other loyalists.

CONCERNS OF VIOLENCE, ESCAPE

On Tuesday, Iraqi politicians, including some Sunnis, issued calls for a speedy execution, expressing concern that a delay could cause more sectarian bloodshed and division.

"The people who wanted Saddam to be hanged and the people who were defending Saddam both were expecting this verdict," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish lawmaker widely seen as neutral by Sunnis and Shiites. Many people would like the execution to happen quickly, Othman said, "because they're afraid that he might escape from prison. The more it's delayed, the more people will talk about it. It will be a divisive thing in society."

Tuesday's decision came 51 days after Saddam was sentenced to death for crimes against humanity for the killings of 148 Shiite men and boys from the town of Dujail after an assassination attempt there in 1982.

The U.S-backed trial was marred by allegations of bias and by courtroom speeches and outbursts by the defendants. Intended to deliver justice to Iraqis oppressed under Saddam, the proceedings unfolded against a backdrop of escalating sectarian strife that took thousands of lives and widened the gap between Sunnis and Shiites.

Talabani, a Kurd, is firmly against the death penalty. But in past cases he has deputized one of the vice presidents -- Adel Abdel-Mehdi, a Shiite, and Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni -- to sign execution orders on his behalf. All three signatures are required for an execution order to be valid.

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If the government does not send Saddam to the gallows, the Iraqi High Tribunal's code would ensure his execution by other means, legal experts said.

Several officials close to al-Maliki, a Shiite, said Tuesday that he plans to proceed with the execution as soon as legally possible. "Definitely," said Sadiq Rikabi, a political adviser to the president. "This is in order to open a new page in the history of the Iraqi people."

The nine-judge appeals court also upheld execution sentences for Barzan Ibrahim, Saddam's half brother, and former judge Awad Haman Bander for their roles in the Dujail killings. The judges also changed the sentence of former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan from life to death.

In Dujail, residents described the decision as bringing them a step nearer the closure they have awaited for nearly 25 years. "Now I feel that there is actually a God up there in Heaven," said Haiyder Hamed, 43, a farmer.

Other residents wondered what the future would bring in a world without Saddam. "Executing Saddam is achieving justice on Earth and in heaven," said Hussein Mahmoud, 28, a police officer. "But will executing him bring Iraq as it used to be or will it make Iraq a burnt land?"

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