BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – U.S. officials on Friday handed over Saddam Hussein to Iraqi authorities for execution, his chief lawyer said, but conflicting accounts swirled over whether the ousted president would be hanged within hours.
Senior Iraqi officials, including two cabinet ministers, the Justice Ministry which is responsible for executions, a court prosecutor and an aide to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, all denied comments from a U.S. official and reports in Iraqi media that Saddam could go to the gallows as early as Saturday.
But an Iraqi television channel quoted a judge saying he would die on Friday or Saturday and defence lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi told Reuters: “The Americans have notified us that they have handed over the president to the Iraqi authorities. “They told us the president is no longer under the authority of the American forces and they requested us not to go to Baghdad,” added Dulaimi. He earlier said he had been told to arrange to collect Saddam’s personal effects — a move another defence lawyer said indicated he could die on Saturday.
A U.S. military spokesman referred questions to another spokesman who was not immediately available for comment.
Saddam, whose appeal against a conviction for crimes against humanity was rejected this week, has long been formally in Iraqi custody but physically held by U.S. military guards.
As during his appearances in court, U.S. officials are concerned that Saddam be treated with due propriety and so a physical transfer to a site beyond U.S. control has so far seemed to be likely only very close to the execution.