Iraq to execute former Hussein aides ‘very soon’
Two of Saddam Hussein’s former aides will probably be hanged this week, Iraq’s Shiite-led government said Wednesday, even as it arrested three men in an effort to contain the uproar over the filming of Hussein’s execution.
There were conflicting reports on the planned executions of Awad Hamed Bandar and Barzan Ibrahim Hasan, just as there had been before Hussein was hanged Saturday.
Iraqi officials said the hangings were imminent, but noted that the execution time would not be publicized. “Barzan and Bandar will be executed very soon,” said Mowaffak Rubaie, Iraq’s national security advisor.
U.S. Embassy officials said they were seeking a firm time from Iraqi officials.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s office denied reports that the executions were planned for this morning, and said Cabinet officials were still working out the details.
Aides to the prime minister said a public statement would be made after the executions took place.
“It may not be announced” beforehand, said Sadiq Rakabi, Maliki’s political advisor. “This is for security reasons.”
Hasan is Hussein’s half brother and was his intelligence chief during a government crackdown on the Shiite Muslim village of Dujayl in 1982 that resulted in the execution of 148 men and boys.
Bandar was the head of Iraq’s Revolutionary Court, which sentenced the Dujayl residents to death.
Along with Hussein, Hasan and Bandar were sentenced to death on Nov. 5, after a months-long war crimes trial.
The United Nations’ human rights chief said Wednesday that she had appealed to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani not to execute Hasan and Bandar, and to allow them a chance to seek a pardon. She made a similar plea in behalf of Hussein.
“International law, as it currently stands, only allows the imposition of the death penalty as an exceptional measure within rigorous legal constraints,” said Louise Arbour, U.N. high commissioner for human rights. “The concerns that I expressed just days ago with respect to the fairness and impartiality of Saddam Hussein’s trial apply also to these two defendants.”
As Iraqi leaders planned for the hangings, U.S. officials continued to distance themselves from Hussein’s execution, which took place amid taunting by Shiite guards and was filmed by at least one witness.
An Iraqi investigation into the execution resulted in the arrests of a guard and two officials.
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, a spokesman for U.S.-led forces in Iraq, disapproved of the way Hussein was executed but said it was an Iraqi matter. “Would we have done things differently? Yes, we would have,” Caldwell said. “But again, this is a sovereign nation; they made the decisions they made.”
U.S. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, offered Iraqi officials guidance on the execution but that the government had acted alone.
“While the government of Iraq gave consideration to U.S. concerns, all decisions made regarding the execution were Iraqi decisions based on their own considerations,” Fintor said.
In Washington, the White House sidestepped questions about the execution, saying President Bush was concentrating on “a way forward” in the Iraq war.
“There seems to be a lot of concern about the last two minutes of Saddam Hussein’s life and less about the first 69 [years] in which he murdered hundreds of thousands of people,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said. He added that he did not think Bush had seen the video of Hussein’s execution.
“The [Iraqi] government is investigating the conduct of some people within the [execution] chamber, and I think we’ll leave it at that,” Snow said. “But the one thing you’ve got to keep in mind is he got justice.”
Iraqi officials said they were taking new precautions to make sure cellphone cameras were not allowed in the execution chamber and that only authorized witnesses attended.
Hasan and Bandar will be executed at the same time, Iraqi officials said.
U.S. military officials said the pair would be transferred to Iraqi custody without any public announcement.
The death warrants were prepared and signed last week.
“The execution order was signed not only for Saddam Hussein but for the other two men,” said Mariam Rayis, Maliki’s legal advisor.
Rayis and Rakabi said that among the issues the Iraqi government was discussing was how to avoid the problems that created a scandal over Hussein’s execution.
The former Iraqi president was hanged at an Iraqi military intelligence facility in northwest Baghdad, but not before followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr jeered and cursed him as he stood on the scaffold.
“Is this how you prove that you are men?” Hussein is heard saying in a video apparently taken with a cellphone.
Tariq Najim, Maliki’s chief of staff, said Iraqi police had arrested a low-ranking guard and two other men.
Several Iraqi politicians said that at least two high-level government officials were seen recording the execution, and that the guard was a scapegoat. Two Shiite politicians, one a member of Maliki’s administration, said that Rubaie, the national security advisor, had filmed the hanging.
Rubaie, among at least 14 people in the death chamber, denied recording the execution.
“That is a totally ridiculous accusation,” he said.
Meanwhile, police in Baghdad discovered 27 bodies, most of them with gunshot wounds to the head.
The U.S. military said a roadside bomb Monday killed a U.S. soldier on patrol south of the capital.
A roadside bomb killed an Iraqi soldier in Al Abbasi, 35 miles southwest of the northern city of Kirkuk, Iraqi police Lt. Salah Jabouri said.
In Samarra, gunmen killed a police officer as he left his house, and armed men kidnapped the manager of the electricity directorate from his home.
In Hillah, Iraqi police officials said an improvised explosive device killed an Iraqi soldier.
Times staff writer James Gerstenzang in Washington contributed to this report.