Iraqis ask Americans for custody of Saddam deputy to hang him at dawn

BAGHDAD (AP) – The Iraqi government asked U.S. authorities for custody of Saddam Hussein’s former deputy to hang him at dawn Tuesday, the fourth anniversary of the start of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Taha Yassin Ramadan, who was Saddam’s vice president when the regime was ousted, would be the fourth man executed in the killings of 148 Shiites following a 1982 assassination attempt against the former leader in the city of Dujail.

The executions have outraged Iraqi Sunnis and caused concern among international human rights groups, which have appealed for Ramadan’s life.

Saddam Hussein’s regime was predominantly Sunni and many members of the sect have protested the executions on the grounds they are politically motivated by the newly empowered Shiite majority in Iraq. International human rights groups have, by and large, protested that the trial which found the men guilty did not provide them with due legal process.

Ramadan was originally spared the gallows and sentenced to life in prison. But last week, an appeals court upheld a decision to impose capital punishment.

Officials in the prime minister’s office, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information, said Monday that U.S. authorities had not yet responded to the request for custody but were expected to agree as a matter of course. The U.S. military had no immediate comment.

Ramadan has maintained his innocence, saying his duties were limited to economic affairs, not security issues. Human Rights Watch and the International Center for Transitional Justice have said the evidence against him is insufficient for the death penalty.

Saddam was executed on Dec. 30 for his role in the killings. Two of his co-defendants in the Dujail case _ his half brother and former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, former head of Iraq’s Revolutionary Court _ were executed in January.

Saddam’s death was recorded by a cell phone video camera and posted on the Internet, and much of the Sunni Arab world was infuriated by the mockery he faced by onlookers in the moments before his hanging. Ibrahim was inadvertently decapitated when he was hanged, also causing a furor.

Around Iraq, meanwhile, bombs tore through a Shiite mosque during prayers in Baghdad and struck several targets in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk on Monday, killing at least 26 people.

The latest attacks highlighted the challenges facing U.S. and Iraqi forces in their bid to curb sectarian bloodshed with the month-old security crackdown. Execution-style killings usually blamed on Shiite militias have fallen dramatically but bombings have not kept pace in the downward trend.

Nobody claimed responsibility for Monday’s bombings, but they bore the hallmarks of Sunni insurgents.

With the war entering its fifth year, President Bush pleaded for patience as he faced Democrat-sponsored legislation that effectively would require the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq by the fall of 2008. He said his plan to curb violence by sending more U.S. troops to Baghdad and the surrounding areas needed more time. Fewer than half the reinforcements have arrived.

“There will be good days and bad days ahead as the security plan unfolds,” he said in a televised statement, adding that he had received news of positive signs during a briefing on the war with his National Security Council and in a video conference call with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Al-Maliki’s office said the Shiite leader assured Bush in their half-hour call that his government was pressing ahead with reconstruction and political reforms and that it remained committed to national reconciliation and the passage of a draft oil law.

“The two sides agreed to secure the requirements for peace and stability for a stable, democratic and prosperous Iraq,” said the statement, adding that Bush welcomed the Iraqi government’s efforts to follow through on its commitments and renewed his support for al-Maliki.

Monday’s violence in Baghdad began shortly after the afternoon call to prayer in a small green-domed mosque in the Shorja market area, where a truck bomb killed 137 people last month.

Salah Baqir, a 42-year-old vendor who saw the attack, said the bomber slipped past the guards who were distracted by an argument and placed the explosives in a bag behind the preacher’s lectern.

The blast left a crater and a pile of rubble on the floor, with a clock that was knocked off the wall. At least eight worshippers were killed and 32 other people were wounded, including the preacher, police said.

Iraqi authorities have imposed strict security in the area to prevent car bombings that often target crowded markets, but Sunni insurgents have proven resilient in finding ways to circumvent the stepped up security since the start of the crackdown Feb. 14.

At least 18 people were killed and more than 50 wounded in a series of bombings in Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad _ the most devastating when two parked car bombs exploded within 10 minutes in a southern part of the city. Fourteen civilians and four policemen were killed and 40 were wounded, police said.

The region is home mainly to ethnic Turks. The office of the secular Iraqi List party of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and the educational directorate are in the same district about a half mile apart.

Provincial Gov. Abdul-Rahman Mustafa accused Sunni insurgents of trying to destabilize the area by provoking hostilities among the varied ethnic and religious groups in the mixed community. The city, which Kurds hope to incorporate into their autonomous zone, is also the center of an ethnic power struggle.

In all, at least 55 Iraqis were killed or found dead in Iraq, including the mayor of a Shiite village southeast of Baghdad and 29 bullet-riddled bodies that turned up in the capital.

In the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Anbar province, police said at least 25 decomposed bodies _ some beheaded _ were found near a post office east of the provincial capital Ramadi.

Police Lt. Col. Hamid Khalaf Salim said the victims disappeared months ago after clashes between al-Qaida in Iraq and the Albu Soda clan, which recently joined the Anbar Salvation Council, an alliance of clans backing the government against the terror network. The U.S. military said it had no information on the report.

The U.S. military also said two Iraqi soldiers were killed and 12 were wounded when explosives planted by insurgents in a building being used as an observation post were detonated on Sunday, causing the structure to collapse in Fallujah.


Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad and Yahya Barzanji in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, contributed to this report.