`Reject hatred,' Hussein tells Iraqis

Farewell letter from condemned dictator

December 28, 2006|By Alexandra Zavis and Molly Hennessy-Fiske | Alexandra Zavis and Molly Hennessy-Fiske,Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD -- Saddam Hussein declared in a handwritten farewell letter published yesterday that his execution for crimes against humanity would be a sacrifice for his people, and he urged Iraqis not to give in to hatred.

"Here I am presenting myself as a sacrifice, if God wants this," wrote the former Iraqi president. "I invite you now to reject hatred, since hatred will not allow justice and fairness. I also invite you, brothers and sisters, my sons and Iraq's sons, strugglers, comrades not to hate the nations that assaulted us."

Hussein's letter was posted on a Web site used by his Baath Party. Bushra Khalil, a member of Hussein's defense team, confirmed its authenticity.

Aref Shahin, the chief judge of the appeals court, said the government was obliged to carry out the execution within 30 days. But Khalil said there might be grounds to block it. Hussein's defense team plans to meet in Jordan today to discuss the next move.

The letter was dated Nov. 5, the day Hussein was sentenced to death for crimes against humanity in the execution of 148 men and boys from the Shiite town of Dujail after a 1982 assassination attempt. It was released after a nine-judge appeals panel upheld the sentence Tuesday.

Hussein said he wrote the letter because he was not given a chance to make a final statement when his sentence was handed down.

"Oh loyal, generous people," he concluded, "I say farewell and my soul will be with the merciful God who helps those who take refuge in him and doesn't disappoint an honest believer."

Relatives of those killed in Dujail and other victims of Hussein's brutal rule are demanding a public hanging. But government officials said Hussein's execution probably will be carried out in private before a gathering of select witnesses. They said it could occur within days.

Politicians close to Nouri al- Maliki said the prime minister wants the sentence carried out quickly to deny insurgents an opportunity to plan revenge attacks or attempt to free Hussein. But Education Minister Khodayer Khozar said the prime minister and other Cabinet members also want to avoid a distasteful public display.

"It would be the joy of millions of Iraqis to see him hang on television, but ethically we cannot do this," he said.

Among those hoping for an invitation to the execution is the mayor of Dujail, Amer Oubaidi, whose father and brother were killed in Hussein's reprisals and who spent years in jail.

"This is my life's dream, to see him hang and take revenge not only for me but for the thousands of Iraqis who have been killed," Oubaidi said.

Under Iraq's constitution, President Jalal Talabani, a firm opponent of the death penalty, and his two deputies must ratify the executions of Hussein and three co-defendants before al-Maliki can order them carried out.

However, the code governing the court created specifically to try Hussein and members of his regime does not permit any change once the sentence is ratified by the appeals panel.

"We have a contradiction here," Khalil said by telephone from Lebanon. "In such cases everywhere in the world, it is the constitution that is regarded as the highest law of the land."

Talabani's spokesman, Hiwa Osman, said Tuesday that the president regards the issue of sentencing as a matter for the judiciary. In previous cases, Talabani has deputized one of his vice presidents to sign a death warrant on his behalf.

"The fact of the matter is that this [signature] is more ceremonial than it is official," said Mariam Rayis, al-Maliki's legal adviser. "The sentence will be carried out regardless of whether they actually sign or not. Hussein is entitled to draw up a will, visit with his family and select a last meal.

"He could even give a speech if he wants to," she said, then paused before adding: "to the walls in his cell."

The planned execution comes amid surging sectarian bloodshed in Iraq. Sunni political leaders have warned that hanging Hussein could inflame violence and intensify attacks against U.S. troops.

Yesterday, explosions rattled Baghdad for another day, and protesters took to the streets of the Shiite holy city of Najaf after an associate of a radical anti-American cleric was killed in a confrontation with Iraqi and foreign troops.

The U.S. military announced the deaths of three more service personnel: a Marine killed in combat yesterday in Anbar province, a soldier killed in a road accident Tuesday while on a combat mission and another soldier who died of noncombat injuries in Balad on Saturday.

Meanwhile in Najaf, at least 2,000 mourners in black chanted "No, no to America" during the funeral procession for Saheb Amiri, an associate of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said that Amiri was suspected of planning and supplying materials for roadside bombings, including an October attack on the Najaf police chief, and that he was killed when he fired at an Iraqi soldier.

Abdul Razzaq Naddawi, an al-Sadr official in Najaf, said that Amiri was killed in front of his wife and children and that he did not belong to al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. He urged al-Sadr's followers not to lash out at U.S. forces.

Alexandra Zavis and Molly Hennessy-Fiske write for the Los Angeles Times.

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