BAGHDAD: An Iraqi official denied on Friday suggestions that Saddam Hussein could be hanged as early as Saturday while lawyers for the ousted leader said he was preparing for his execution.
As speculation swirled about the timing of the execution, Iraq's Justice Ministry denied a comment from a defence lawyer that it had taken custody of Saddam from the US military.
"It's none of the Americans' business to decide when," a senior Justice Ministry official said, dismissing a suggestion from a senior US official that Saddam could hang as early as Saturday.
He also said there would be no execution before January 26, 30 days after the sentence was upheld. But ministers say there are conflicting views in the cabinet over that timing and whether it requires the president to sign a death warrant.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, in his first comments on the issue, said on Friday there could be no going back on the sentence passed last month and "no delay" in carrying it out.
An aide confirmed the content of the remarks, reported by state television, and said he made them to relatives of victims of Saddam's oppression.
Those who opposed the hanging were insulting those who had suffered, the newsflash quoted Maliki as saying, adding that no one could reverse the sentence. Several officials this week have highlighted that, unlike in other capital crimes, the president cannot pardon those convicted of crimes against humanity.
Maliki, from the Shi'ite Muslim majority oppressed under Saddam, said last month he wanted Saddam hanged this year for the killings, torture and other crimes against the Shi'ite population of the town of Dujail in the 1980s.
But some members of Saddam's Sunni minority say an execution may increase alienation among their rebellious community. Some Kurds would also like to see Saddam convicted of genocide in the Kurdish north. That second trial is due to resume on January 8.
Khalil al-Dulaimi, who led Saddam's defence team until he was sentenced on November 5, said: "The Americans called me and asked me to pick up the personal effects."
An appeals court on Tuesday upheld Saddam's death sentence for crimes against humanity and said he should hang within 30 days.
One defence lawyer, who declined to be identified, said Saddam had been handed over by US forces to Iraqi Government custody. Deputy Justice Minister Bosho Ibrahim said: "This is not true. He is still with the Americans."
Source: China Daily