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Last Updated: Monday, 12 November 2007, 18:40 GMT
US halts Iraq executions over row
Ali Hassan al-Majid
Ali Hassan al-Majid was the cousin of late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein
The US has said its forces in Iraq will not hand over three of Saddam Hussein's aides for execution until Iraqi leaders settle a legal row about their cases.

A spokeswoman for the US embassy in Baghdad said the multi-national forces would retain physical custody of the three men until consensus was reached.

Ali Hassan al-Majid, Hussein Rashid and Sultan Hashim were convicted in June of killing up to 180,000 Kurds in 1988.

Iraqi law says they should have been hanged within 30 days of an appeal.

An appeals court upheld the sentences on 4 September.

Coalition forces will continue to retain physical custody of the defendants until this issue is resolved
Mirembe Nantongo
US embassy in Baghdad

But the executions have been delayed by a major row between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and Iraq's three-man presidential council, which has refused to approve them.

President Jalal Talabani opposes the death penalty in principle, while one of his deputies, Tariq al-Hashemi, has threatened to resign if Sultan Hashim is executed.

Mr Hashemi has said the former defence minister was simply obeying Saddam Hussein in order to survive, as many did at the time.

But Mr Maliki has insisted that if the presidency does not give approval, the hangings should go ahead by default.

'Consensus'

Mr Maliki has said the US has helped violate the constitution.

Responding to Mr Maliki's criticism on Monday, US embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo said that until the controversy among Iraqi authorities was settled, it would not hand over the convicted men.

Adel Abdul Mahdi (l), Tarik al-Hashemi (c) and Jalal Talabani
Two of Iraq's presidential council have opposed the executions

"There continue to be differences in viewpoint within the government of Iraq regarding the necessary Iraqi legal and procedural requirements for carrying out death sentences issued by the Iraqi High Tribunal," she told the AFP news agency.

"Coalition forces will continue to retain physical custody of the defendants until this issue is resolved," she added.

Last month, US ambassador Ryan Crocker insisted that it was essential that all legal aspects of the case be resolved.

"This is an Iraqi judicial process. We think it is very important that the rule of law be respected here and that, when and as necessary, that the time be taken to be sure that all of the issues are clarified," he told reporters in Baghdad.

Saddam Hussein was also tried for his role in the so-called Anfal campaign, alongside the three convicted men, before he was hanged last December.

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