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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 September 2005, 13:12 GMT 14:12 UK
First post-Saddam Iraq executions
Iraq says it has executed three convicted murderers, using the death penalty for the first time since the ousting of Saddam Hussein.

Government spokesman Leith Kubba said the three men were hanged around 1000 on Thursday morning (0600 GMT).

The three were convicted by a court in the Shia city of Kut last month of the killings of three policemen, as well as of kidnap and rape.

The UN and rights groups had urged Iraq not to carry out the sentences.

Correspondents say a clear issue is whether the executions now will set a precedent for the trials of leaders of the former regime, including Saddam Hussein.

The US-led coalition abolished the death penalty in Iraq after the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, but it was re-instated after handover to Iraqi control in June 2004.

'Not an easy thing'

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who opposes the death penalty, refused to sign their death warrants personally, but authorised Vice-President Adel Abdel Mehdi to do so.

Mr Kubba defended the decision to carry out the sentences.

"This is not an easy thing to do," he said, quoted by Reuters news agency.

"Despite all the condemnation from states who want us to abolish capital punishment, I think capital punishment will help us deter some criminals."

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