Execution seen as near

The Baltimore Sun

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Saddam Hussein met with two of his half brothers and his lawyers yesterday at a U.S. detention facility as a senior U.S. official said his execution could come within days.

Hussein has been in U.S. custody in a prison cell at Camp Cropper near Baghdad's international airport. U.S. officials are expected to turn him over to official Iraqi custody shortly before the death sentence is carried out as ordered by an Iraqi court.

The execution likely will occur in "another day or so," which would place it before the religious holiday known as the Eid begins in Iraq, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Iraqi officials have said their government would be loath to carry out an execution during the Eid festival. The U.S. official noted that the Bush administration had been "in close contact with the government of Iraq" on Hussein's fate.

As speculation rose that the execution date is near, the condemned former president met at Camp Cropper with half brothers Sabawi and Watban Ibrahim Hassan al-Tikriti, both of whom are in U.S. custody, according to one of his attorneys, Bushra Khalil.

"He met with them, and he gave them some things. I'm not sure what," said Khalil, speaking by phone from Amman, Jordan, where she plans to meet today with Hussein's daughter, Raghad Saddam Hussein.

Hussein's lawyers said they had not been notified of the execution date.

Hussein, 69, seemed in high spirits yesterday as he shared untitled poems he wrote recently and well wishes for the Iraqi people with his visitors over lunch, said attorney Wadood Fawzi, one of those who met with Hussein.

During the two-hour meeting, Hussein made no requests and asked no questions, Fawzi said, even about his execution. "He wasn't sad; he was very normal," Fawzi said.

Hussein's lead attorney, Khalil Dulaimi, said he does not expect Hussein to invite family members to witness his execution.

Hussein was sentenced Nov. 5 for crimes against humanity in connection with the killing of about 100 men and boys from the Shiite town of Dujail who were suspected of attempting to assassinate him in 1982. Three of his six co-defendants also received death sentences.

Dulaimi called Hussein's trial illegal and politically motivated. He called on U.S. and world leaders to acknowledge that, saying that otherwise they risk alienating not just Iraqis, but the rest of the Muslim world.

"I would like to advise the American administration and President Bush: Do not make mistakes again," Dulaimi said. "This is not advice from Saddam Hussein's lawyer but from an Iraqi citizen."

Elsewhere in Baghdad yesterday, sectarian violence continued to claim the lives of some of Iraq's poorest citizens.

Bystanders pulled an 8-year-old boy from the charred wreckage of a marketplace where the poor come to buy used clothes and household goods, the scene of two of three explosions in the city that claimed the lives of at least 17 people, including the boy's parents.

"Both the vendors and buyers of used clothes are so poor, and still they are always targeted," said police Sgt. Sachit Kadhum, 32. "What jihad is this? And what a wonderful government is this which cannot maintain security for Iraqis?"

Vendors said the bombs, which killed seven people, were planted in wooden carts by two strangers who set up shop near the entrance to the market and left just before the explosions. After the initial shock of the explosions, shoppers and vendors resumed haggling over underwear and socks, eating shish kebab and turnips sweetened with date syrup.

"If I would go home, then what would my family eat?" said vendor Jabbar Shnawa, 35.

Across town, another roadside bomb planted under a parked car exploded at 11 a.m. at a gas station where customers waited for kerosene to heat their homes, killing 10 people.

During the 24 hours that ended yesterday, 41 bodies were recovered in the capital, according to the Interior Ministry.

Three U.S. Marines were killed in Fallujah by small arms fire yesterday. The three were with the 1st Battalion, 24th Regiment, a reserve group from the Midwest. Members of the battalion are among the final 300 Marines in Fallujah, where many patrols have recently been turned over to Iraqi forces. A U.S. soldier was also killed by a roadside bomb yesterday while on foot patrol north of the capital, the military said.

The deaths bring the total number of U.S. forces killed in Iraq since 2003 to 2,991, according to an Associated Press count.

Molly Hennessy-Fiske writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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