Rights group insists Iraq halt executions

BAGHDAD, Iraq — BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A top international human rights group yesterday called on the Iraqi government to halt the execution of two aides to Saddam Hussein as a trial against the dead dictator and his deputies resumed in Baghdad.

The planned executions "highlight the Iraqi government's disturbing disregard for human rights and the rule of law," said the strongly worded statement from the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, adding to an increasingly heated debate over the killing of Hussein's and his cohorts.


"The haste and vengeance infusing Saddam Hussein's hanging should prompt the Iraqi government to halt these executions," said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program, in the statement, describing the aides' executions as "cruel and inhuman punishment that will only drag a deeply flawed process into even greater disrepute."

The deposed dictator was hanged in Baghdad on Dec. 30. However, the executions of his half-brother and former intelligence chief, Barzan Ibrahim Hasan, and former Revolutionary Court Judge Awad Hamed Bandar, have been postponed several times under pressure from leaders worldwide.


Like Hussein, the two were found guilty of killing 148 Shiite Muslim men and boys from the village of Dujayl after an assassination attempt against the dictator there in 1982.

In a separate trial, a judge yesterday officially dropped the charges against Hussein who, with six co-defendants, was accused of crimes against humanity in connection with a brutal military campaign against Kurds in the northern part of the country in the late 1980s. The trial of the six others continued.

Yesterday, the court heard tapes of Hussein and his cousin, Ali Hassan Majid, nicknamed Chemical Ali for his alleged role in gas attacks on the Kurds, talking about exterminating thousands with chemical weapons.

"They will have to evacuate their homes without taking anything with them, until we can finally purge them," a voice identified as Hussein's said on the tape.

Later in yesterday's session, Majid referred to "the martyr Saddam Hussein" in an exchange with Judge Mohammed Orabi Khalefa. "Do not poke in other issues," Khalefa interrupted. "We are banned from judging the dead or talking about their issues in the courthouse after they were put to justice. You can not mix your case with that of Saddam."

Arab and Western leaders have criticized the hanging of Hussein after it was revealed Iraqi guards mocked him as he went to his death last month. A widely circulated video clip, recorded with a cell phone, documents how guards chanted "Muqtada, Muqtada," an apparent reference to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, during Hussein's hanging. Sunnis in Iraq and elsewhere said both the taunts proved the sectarian nature of the execution.

Last week, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon "strongly urged the government of Iraq to grant a stay of execution" for Barzan and Hasan.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has dismissed the criticism, describing the executions as an internal Iraqi matter.


Hussein's death and the guards' behavior have further inflamed sectarian tensions inside Iraq, where a civil war combined with a bloody insurgency claim hundreds of lives every week. President Bush is expected to unveil a new strategy for Iraq this week to include the deployment of more American troops.

Fighting and abductions continued yesterday. In Baghdad, gunmen fired at a bus carrying airport workers, killing four and injuring nine. Bombs and other shootings killed at least 25 others during attacks in or near the capital. At least 27 people were found dead, two in the southern city of Kut and the rest in the capital. Some bore marks of torture.

The U.S. military announced that two American troops were killed Sunday. One soldier was shot during repair work to a road north of Baghdad; the other died of wounds received fighting in the Salahuddin province.

In the Sunni-dominated city of Samarra, a demonstration near one of the holiest Shiite sites in Iraq developed into a firefight between protesters and police, wounding three people, according to the U.S. military.

Louise Roug writes for the Los Angeles Times.