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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 December 2006, 20:25 GMT
Saddam sees death as 'sacrifice'
Saddam Hussein in court. File photo
Saddam Hussein's letter may be one of his final messages
Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has said he is ready to die as a "sacrifice" for Iraq, urging his countrymen to unite against enemies.

In a letter written from his prison cell, Saddam Hussein said his death would make him a "true martyr".

The former leader could be hanged on any day over the next four weeks, after an appeal against his execution failed.

The sentence is for killings in the town of Dujail in the 1980s. A trial for a second case continues.

"I sacrifice myself. If God wills it, he will place me among the true men and martyrs," the former leader wrote in the letter.

Bloodshed

His lawyers, who released the message, said it was written on 5 November, the day an Iraqi tribunal sentenced him to death for ordering the killings of scores of Shias Muslims in Dujail.

THE VERDICTS
Saddam Hussein, former Iraqi president: found guilty and sentenced to death
Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam Hussein's half-brother: found guilty and sentenced to death
Awad Hamed al-Bandar, Chief Judge of Revolutionary Court: found guilty and sentenced to death
Taha Yasin Ramadan, former Iraqi vice-president: found guilty and sentenced to life in jail
Abdullah Kadhem Ruaid Senior Baath official: found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in jail
Abdullah Rawed Mizher, Senior Baath official: found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in jail
Ali Daeem Ali, Senior Baath official: found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in jail
Mohammed Azawi Ali, Baath official: acquitted

In the message - also published on a website - he said the US and Iran were behind the violence and bloodshed in Iraq.

"The enemies of your country, the invaders and the Persians have found your unity a barrier between you and those who are now ruling you. Therefore they drove their hated wedge among you," he said.

He said that only unity among Iraqis, whom he called "sons of the one nation", could prevent the country "falling into servitude".

The BBC's Peter Greste, in Baghdad, says that while Saddam Hussein's supporters mounted angry demonstrations at the time of his conviction, there has been only a muted response to the news that the Iraqi leader has lost his final appeal.

But a statement on a Baath Party website warned the US that it was crossing the line if it went ahead with the execution of Saddam Hussein.

"The Baath and the resistance are determined to retaliate, with all means and everywhere, to harm America and its interests if it commits this crime," the statement read.

Saddam Hussein is on trial separately in connection with a military campaign against Kurdish communities in the 1980s.

However, under Iraqi law, he must be executed regardless of the second trial.

But the time and location of the hanging has not been made public.

It may only be revealed after the former president is dead in order to avoid civil disruption and unrest.

'No new appeal'

The US hailed the ruling as landmark in Iraq's efforts "to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law".

But a number of groups have complained about the legality of the proceedings, including US-based Human Rights Watch, which said the Iraqi government had undermined the credibility of the trial.

Appeals Court judge Arif Shaheen told reporters in Baghdad the execution date could not "exceed 30 days".

"As from [Wednesday] the sentence could be carried out at any time," he said, adding that there could be no further appeal and the sentence could not be commuted.

The Dujail case relates to killings that followed a failed assassination attempt against the then Iraqi leader in 1982.

Saddam Hussein's half-brother, Barzan al-Tikriti, and Iraq's former chief judge, Awad Hamed al-Bandar, were also sentenced to death.

Former Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan was sentenced to life imprisonment and three others received 15-year prison terms.

The appeals court said Ramadan's sentence was too lenient and returned it to the High Tribunal for consideration of the death penalty.

Another co-defendant, Baath party official Mohammed Azawi Ali, was acquitted.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The scenes in Baghdad after the appeal verdict





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