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Last Updated: Friday, 29 December 2006, 20:17 GMT
US denies Saddam handed to Iraq
Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein: In US custody since he was caught in 2004
US officials have denied reports that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has been transferred to Iraqi custody, as speculation mounts about his execution.

Saddam Hussein's lawyers earlier said they had been notified of his handover.

No details have been made public of when or where Saddam Hussein will be hanged. A court rejected his appeal against the death sentence on Tuesday.

US embassies have been warned to prepare for an execution within days, a US official told the BBC.

"There has been no change in his (Saddam Hussein's) status," US State Department spokesman Tom Casey said late on Friday.

Saddam Hussein could be hanged at any time over the next four weeks, although one judge said he would die on Friday or Saturday.

No-one can oppose the decision to execute the criminal Saddam
Nouri Maliki
Iraqi Prime Minister

According to AP news agency, a senior Iraqi government official said a meeting would be held on Friday evening to set a time for the execution.

Earlier a senior US state department official said a diplomatic cable had been sent to all US embassies warning them to prepare for Saddam Hussein's execution within days.

US forces in Iraq are braced for any backlash following the execution, defence department officials said.

The BBC's Peter Greste in Baghdad says all the legal hurdles are now understood to have been cleared and that if anything is likely to hold up the execution, it would be administrative details.

'Dignity of victims'

The former Iraqi leader has been in US military custody at Camp Cropper in Baghdad.

Earlier on Friday his lawyers said they had been asked to collect Saddam Hussein's personal effects.

Women grieve at a Baghdad hospital after identifying relatives killed in attacks
Attacks are a daily occurrence in post-Saddam Baghdad

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki said there would be no delay in carrying out the death sentence.

"No-one can oppose the decision to execute the criminal Saddam," Mr Maliki was quoted by AFP news agency as saying.

"Those who reject the execution of Saddam are undermining the dignity of Iraq's martyrs."

Mr Maliki has always said he wanted to see the former leader hanged before the end of the year.

Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death by an Iraqi court on 5 November after a year-long trial over the killings of 148 Shias from the village of Dujail in the 1980s.

A trial in a second case, alleging genocide against Kurds, continues against him.

The former Iraqi leader was captured by US troops on 13 December 2004, after a tip-off.

He was found hiding in a tiny cellar at a farmhouse near his hometown of Tikrit.

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