Saddam's Final Hours - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Saddam's Final Hours

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - The official witnesses to Saddam Hussein's impending execution gathered Friday in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone in final preparation for his hanging, as state television broadcast footage of his regime's atrocities.

The Iraqi government readied all the necessary documents, including a "red card" - an execution order introduced during Saddam's dictatorship. As the hour of his death 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-Nueimi, a member of Saddam's legal team in Doha, Qatar, 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-Nueimi said late Friday. But he said their request was rejected.

An adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Saddam would be executed before 6 a.m. Saturday, or 10 p.m. Friday EST. Also to be hanged at that time were Saddam's half-brother Barzan Ibrahim and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, the former chief justice of the Revolutionary Court, the adviser said.

The time was agreed upon during a meeting Friday between U.S. and Iraqi officials, said the adviser, who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

"Saddam will be handed over shortly before the execution," the official said. 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. Saddam has been in U.S. custody since he was captured in December 2003.

Al-Nueimi 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-Nueimi said. If Saddam is humiliated publicly or his corpse ill-treated "that could cause an uprising and the Americans would be blamed," he said.

Munir Haddad, a judge on the appeals court that upheld Saddam's death sentence, said he was ready to attend the hanging and that all the paperwork was in order, including the red card.

"All the measures have been done," Haddad said. "There is no reason for delays."

As American and Iraqi officials met in Baghdad to set the hour of his death, Saddam's lawyers asked a U.S. judge for a stay of execution.

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.

State television ran footage of the Saddam era's atrocities, including images of uniformed men placing a bomb next to a youth's chest and blowing him up in what looked like a desert, and handcuffed men being thrown from a high building.

With U.S. forces on high alert for a surge in violence, people registered to attend the hanging gathered in the Green Zone before they were to go to the execution site, the Iraqi official said.

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. He did not disclose the location of the gallows.

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

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.

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 hanging should take place 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 had 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."

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