BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — Iraq's appeals court is expected to rule on Saddam Hussein's guilty verdict and death sentence by the middle of January, the chief prosecutor said Monday, setting in motion a possible execution by mid-February.
If the ruling is upheld, The Associated Press has learned that Iraq's three-man presidential council will allow Saddam's hanging to take place. The execution must be carried out within 30 days of the appeals court's decision.
The surge in violence expected immediately after Sunday's verdict did not happen. The Interior Ministry credited a round-the-clock curfew in Baghdad and two restive Sunni provinces. Checkpoints were also closed along Iraq's borders with Jordan and Syria. Authorities were gradually lifting the restrictions, with pedestrians allowed back on the streets of Baghdad late Monday afternoon.
Around the country, jubilant Shiites celebrated the verdict, as Sunnis held defiant counter-demonstrations.
Saddam, who empowered the Sunni minority when he ruled Iraq, was sentenced by the Iraqi High Tribunal for ordering the executions of nearly 150 Shiites from the city of Dujail following a 1982 attempt on his life.
If the appeals court upholds the sentences, all three members of the Presidential Council — President Jalal Talabani and Vice Presidents Tariq al-Hashimi and Adil Abdul-Mahdi — must sign death warrants before executions can be carried out.
Talabani said Monday that although he had once signed an international petition against the death penalty, his signature was not needed to carry out Saddam's death sentence. Talabani, a Kurd, has permanently authorized Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite, to sign on his behalf. Abdul-Mahdi has said he would sign Saddam's death warrant, meaning two of three signatures were assured.
Al-Hashimi, the other vice president and a Sunni, gave his word that he also would sign a Saddam death sentence as part of the deal under which he got the job April 22, according to witnesses at the meeting, which was attended by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.
"We wanted a written promise before the first meeting of the new parliament. But later and during a meeting in the presence of American and British ambassadors and other politicians, the promise became oral in which he vowed not to oppose important rules and laws — especially those related to Saddam," Deputy Parliament Speaker Khaled al-Attiyah told the AP.
Thus the approval of the death penalties handed down Sunday for Saddam, his half brother Barzan Ibrahim, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, chief of the Revolutionary Court, had been part of the pact under which al-Hashimi got one of two vice presidential posts.
If the nine-judge appeals panel upholds the death sentences, they could be ready for signing early next year, according to a schedule laid out Monday by chief prosecutor Jaafar Moussawi.
Moussawi said the Iraqi High Tribunal must send the entire case file to the appeals panel within 10 days, or by Nov. 15.
On the same day that the defense appeal is given to the High Tribunal — the deadline is Dec. 5 — that court is required to send it to the prosecutor general for study and preparation of counter-arguments.
The prosecutor has no time limit to answer the appeal, but Moussawi told AP he would submit his brief within days of receiving the defense appeal.
While the appellate court also has no deadline for its ruling, Moussawi said it would act quickly because it had no other cases under consideration.
"The appeals panel will take less than a month to make its decision," Moussawi said.