BAGHDAD, Iraq – An Iraqi appeals court has upheld the death sentence imposed on Saddam Hussein at his first trial, Iraq's national security adviser said Tuesday, and a tribunal official said the verdict will be carried out even if the presidency doesn't ratify it.
"The appeals court approved the verdict to hang Saddam," Mouwafak al-Rubaie told The Associated Press.
On Nov. 5, an Iraqi court sentenced Saddam to the gallows for the 1982 killings of 148 people from a Shiite Muslim town after an attempt on his life there.
The appeals court decision must be ratified by President Jalal Talabani and Iraq's two vice presidents. Talabani opposes the death penalty but has in the past deputized a vice president to sign an execution order on his behalf — a substitute that was legally accepted.
Once the decision is ratified, Saddam and other co-defendants sentenced to death at the trial would be hanged within 30 days.
Raed Juhi, a spokesman for the High Tribunal court that convicted Saddam, said the Iraqi judicial system would ensure that Saddam is executed even if Talabani and the two vice presidents do not ratify the decision.
"We'll implement the verdict by the power of the law," Juhi said without elaborating.
The appeals court was expected to announce its decision at a news conference later in the day.
An official on the High Tribunal court said the appeals court also upheld death sentences for Barzan Ibrahim, Saddam's half brother and intelligence chief during the Dujail killings, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, head of Iraq's Revolutionary Court, which issued the death sentences against the Dujail residents.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said the appeals court concluded the sentence of life imprisonment given former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan was too lenient and returned his file to the High Tribunal. Ramadan was convicted of premeditated murder in the Dujail case.
The official said the appeals court demanded the death penalty for Ramadan in a letter to the High Tribunal.
At his trial, Saddam argued that the Dujail residents who were killed had been found guilty in a legitimate Iraqi court for trying to assassinate him in 1982.
The televised was watched throughout Iraq and the Middle East as much for theater as for substance. Saddam was ejected from the courtroom repeatedly for political harangues, and his half brother, Ibrahim, once showed up in long underwear and sat with his back to the judges.
The nine-month trial inflamed Iraq's political divide, however, and three defense lawyers and a witness were murdered during the course of its 39 sessions.
Saddam is in the midst of a second trial charging him with genocide and other crimes during a 1987-88 military crackdown on ethnic Kurds in northern Iraq. An estimated 180,000 Kurds died during the operation.
The trial is in recess until Jan. 8. It is unclear how the appeals court ruling Tuesday might affect proceedings in the trial, which includes defendants who were not involved in the Dujail case.
Saddam was captured by U.S. soldiers while hiding with an unfired pistol in a hole in the ground near his home village north of Baghdad in December 2003, eight months after he fled the capital ahead of advancing American troops.