Two of Saddam Hussein’s co-defendants were taken from their cells and told they were going to be hanged on the same day the former Iraqi dictator was executed, their lawyer said.
But the two condemned men still await death as Iraqi officials decide how to avoid the kind of outcry that followed the hanging of Saddam on December 30.
Yesterday, the US military announced the deaths of five more American troops and at least 14 Iraqis died in bombings and shootings.
Saddam’s half brother and former intelligence chief, Barzan Ibrahim, and former head of Iraq’s Revolutionary Court, Awad Hamed al-Bandar, were sentenced to hang after being found guilty along with Saddam of involvement in the killings of nearly 150 Shiites in the town of Dujail after a 1982 assassination attempt there against Saddam.
Their executions were postponed, however, until after the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha which ended five days ago. Authorities also decided to give Saddam his own “special day”, National Security adviser Mouwaffak al-Rubaie said at the time his execution.
One of Saddam’s lawyers who met the deposed leader in his final days said at the weekend that Saddam expected to be executed and considered it “the most beautiful end” he could have.
Now Iraqi officials must decide how to carry out a second round of executions in the face of worldwide criticism over their handling of Saddam’s death.
Saddam was taunted by some of those present in the execution chamber as he stood with a noose around his neck in the final moments of his life.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair believed the manner in which Saddam was executed was “completely wrong”, his office said yesterday.
“He believes that the manner of the execution was completely wrong, but that should not lead us to forget the crimes that Saddam Hussein committed, including the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis,” a Blair spokeswoman said.
Chancellor Gordon Brown said the taunting of Saddam during his execution and the release of an illicitly recorded cell phone video was “deplorable” and “completely unacceptable”.
Iraqi Prime Minsiter Nouri Maliki has ordered an inquiry into the emergence of the unofficial video, on which Saddam is heard exchanging insults with his executioners and shown dying on the gallows.
In Amman, Jordan’s Parliament also denounced the execution and asked God to bless his soul.
The speaker of the lower house said Saddam’s execution ignored the feelings of Muslims and Arabs because it came just before the start of the religious festival of Eid al-Adha.
Human Rights Watch, in a report for release today, said the speedy trial and subsequent execution of Saddam and those planned for Ibrahim and al-Bandar illustrated the Iraqi government’s disregard for human rights.
“The tribunal repeatedly showed its disregard for the fundamental due process rights of all of the defendants,” said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Programme.
While waiting for their own postponed executions, Ibrahim and al-Bandar have been mourning Saddam, their lawyer Issam Ghazawi told the AP. He said he met with the men individually last Wednesday in Baghdad, where they are in US custody.
The lawyer said US officials had led the pair to believe their deaths were imminent on the day of Saddam’s execution.
Ghazawi said Ibrahim told him the Americans took him and al-Bandar from their cells on the day of Saddam’s hanging and took them to an office inside the prison at about 1am They asked them to collect their belongings because they intended to execute them at dawn – the same time Saddam was put to death.
Ghazawi said the two men were also told to write out their wills. They were returned to their cells nine hours later.
The lawyer said he has had no contact with the men since last Wednesday, and had no information on when they would be hanged.
Jaafar al-Mousawi, the chief prosecutor in the Dujail case, said yesterday that the time for al-Bandar and Ibrahim’s executions “will be determined by the government.” Sami al-Askari, an adviser to Maliki, declined to give reasons for the delay and said only that “no date has been made yet” for their hangings.
Al-Bandar told Ghazawi that he “wished to have been executed with President Saddam,” the lawyer said. Ibrahim ”was in the worst condition. He kept crying over the death of his brother and said it was a great loss for the family and the Arab world,” Ghazawi said.
Ghazawi, who served on Saddam’s defence team and says he has power of attorney for Ibrahim and al-Bandar, urged that their death sentences be overturned. The United Nations has also pleaded for a stay of execution for the two.
“Their execution should be commuted under such circumstances because of the psychological pain they endured as they waited to hang,” Ghazawi said.
Meanwhile, Ahmed Saddiq, a Tunisian member of Saddam’s defence team, said that during a December 26 meeting with Saddam when he was still in US custody, the former president appeared reconciled to his death.
“He constantly said the strongest, most likely hypothesis – and the one that he expected – was that he was going to be executed,” Saddiq told the AP in Tunis. “He didn’t stop saying: 'Don’t panic. I’m ready for this moment and, after all, it would be the most beautiful end I could have'.”
Saddiq also said Saddam gave his lawyers a poem “of tenderness, of love” that he wrote to his wife, who lives in Qatar.
Saddiq added that at one point, Saddam told his lawyers: "I am still capable of love, of being sentimental and attentive. That’s my right. It’s there perhaps the other face of Saddam Hussein that you don’t know."
In other developments, the US military said three airmen were killed yesterday by a car bomb, a soldier was killed by small arms fire in Baghdad on Saturday, and another soldier died in combat in western Anbar province on Friday. A British soldier also died in a road accident.
At least 14 Iraqis died yesterday in bombings and shootings, including three Sunni Muslim shopkeepers gunned down in a busy marketplace and a Shiite cleric and his son killed en route to a mosque. Twenty-three bodies turned up in hospitals and morgues around the country, officials said.
A new battle for Iraq’s capital was under way with Iraqi forces mired in gunfights with insurgents and US helicopters hovering over an area where some 30 people died in fighting the previous night.
The fighting is part of a military operation announced on Saturday by the prime minister and intended to quell sectarian violence.
Iraq’s parliament speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the government’s highest-ranking Sunni official, said he objected to the new plan for “legal reasons”, and said parliament must vote on it.