U.S. balks at Iraq on prisoner handover

The Baltimore Sun

BAGHDAD -- U.S. officials yesterday sidestepped the demand of Iraq's prime minister for the immediate handover for execution of three former officials from Saddam Hussein's regime.

The U.S. military issued a written statement reaffirming the position of the military and U.S. Embassy that the three condemned men would remain in U.S. custody until the Iraqi government has sorted out disputed procedures for death sentences handed down by Iraq's high tribunal for war crimes.

The three men received death sentences in June for their roles in Hussein's internal campaigns during the 1980s that killed up to 180,000 Kurds.

"The coalition forces are not refusing to relinquish custody," the statement said. "We are waiting for the government of Iraq to come to consensus as to what their law requires before preparing a physical transfer."

During a news conference Sunday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said that no legal obstacle remained to the executions, and he chided U.S. officials for refusing to transfer the prisoners to Iraqi custody.

But Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Vice President Tariq Hashimi have refused to sign an order for the men to be hanged, setting up a constitutional impasse. The constitution requires the approval of the president and the two vice presidents for any death sentence to be carried out.

Talabani, a Kurd, opposes the death penalty. Hashimi contends that sparing the men would set an example for national reconciliation.

Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi also has indicated that he favors leniency.

The condemned men are Sultan Hashim Ahmad Jabburi Tai, Hussein's defense minister; Ali Hassan Majid, Hussein's first cousin; and Hussein Rashid Mohammed, the former deputy head of army operations.

Al-Maliki took the position Sunday that the high tribunal, set up to try war criminals from Hussein's regime, superseded the constitution.

The tribunal's order in June stated that the executions must be carried out in 30 days.

Elsewhere in Iraq, the reported fatal shooting of a taxi driver in Baghdad last weekend by someone firing from a private security convoy brought new calls yesterday for quick passage of a law that would make foreign contractors accountable to Iraqi laws.

Doug Smith and Saif Hameed write for the Los Angeles Times.

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