U.S. will continue to hold Iraqi ex-officials

Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

U.S. officials on Monday sidestepped the demand of Iraq's prime minister for the immediate transfer for execution of three former officials from Saddam Hussein's regime.

The U.S. military issued a written statement reaffirming its position, shared by the American 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 were sentenced to death in June for their roles in Hussein's internal campaigns during the 1980s that killed as many as 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."

In a news conference Sunday, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki said no legal impediment remained to the executions and chided U.S. officials for refusing to transfer the men 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 Mehdi also has indicated 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.

Maliki took the position Sunday that the high tribunal, set up to try war crimes committed during the Hussein regime, superseded the constitution.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 week by someone in a private security convoy brought calls Monday for quick passage of a law that would make foreign contractors accountable to Iraqi laws.

Police and witnesses said Monday that private guards in an unmarked convoy fatally shot the taxi driver near the Hadeedi bridge in the Atifiya area about noon Saturday.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy said security contractor DynCorp International reported that one of its personal security details fired shots at a vehicle about the same time Saturday in the Kadhimiya neighborhood, which overlaps Atifiya. Embassy public affairs counselor Philip T. Reeker said the vehicle approached the convoy too closely and did not respond to warnings.

Reeker said it had not been determined whether the DynCorp shooting and the reported death of the taxi driver were related.

Iraqis have been enraged by recent fatal shootings involving private foreign security guards, who are shielded from prosecution by Iraq, under an order issued by U.S. officials in 2004.

Abbas Bayati, a member of parliament from the United Iraqi Alliance, the major Shiite Muslim bloc, said the incident highlighted the need for rapid adoption of a law that would strip foreign contractors of immunity. A bill has been approved by Maliki's Cabinet but awaits legal review before being presented to the parliament, Bayati said.

Also in the capital on Monday, an Interior Ministry official was seriously injured by a bomb planted in his vehicle, police in the Karkh district said.

Lt. Col. Salam Ismail of the ministry's intelligence section was getting out of his vehicle to buy bread in the Dakhil neighborhood of west Baghdad when the bomb went off. His left leg was amputated by doctors.

A source from the Iraqi police said five unidentified homicide victims were found Monday.

The U.S. military, meanwhile, reported that mortar and rocket attacks in Iraq had dropped to their lowest levels in nearly two years. Army Lt. Col. James Rikard, Force Field Artillery Headquarters chief, said in a statement issued Sunday that attacks in October were at the lowest number since February 2006.

Attacks this year rose to 1,032 in June from 808 in January, before falling over the next four months to 369 in October, Rikard said. He credited stepped-up U.S. military action and the formation of citizen groups that oppose the insurgency.


Times staff writers Wail Alhafith and Raheem Salman and special correspondents in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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