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Saddam's Baathists Vow to Attack U.S. Interests Over Saddam Execution

Saddam Hussein's Baath Party threatened Wednesday to retaliate if the ousted Iraqi leader is executed, warning in an Internet posting it would target U.S. interests anywhere.

The statement appeared on a Web site known to represent the Baath, which was disbanded after U.S.-led forces overthrew Saddam in 2003. The site is believed to be run from Yemen, where a number of exiled members of the party are based.

On Tuesday, Iraq's highest court rejected Saddam's appeal against a conviction and death sentence for the killing of 148 people who were detained after an attempt to assassinate in Dujail, northern Iraq, in 1982. The court said the former president should be hanged within 30 days.

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"Our party warns again of the consequences of executing Mr. President and his comrades," the statement said.

"The Baath and the resistance are determined to retaliate, with all means and everywhere, to harm America and its interests if it commits this crime," the statement added, referring to Baath fighters as "the resistance."

"The American Administration will be held responsible for any harm inflicted on the president because the United States is the decision-maker [in Iraq] and not the puppet Iraqi government."

The statement said that if the execution takes place, it would be impossible for the Baath to take part in any prospective negotiations with U.S. and Iraqi officials to reduce the violence in Iraq.

Saddam's defense lawyers, who are based in Amman, called on Arab governments and the United Nations to intervene to stop the execution.

"Otherwise, all may be participating in what is going on, either actually or due to their silence in face of the crimes, which are being committed in Iraq in the name of democracy," the lawyers said in a statement in English that was e-mailed to The Associated Press bureau.

The statement, signed by "the Defense Committee for President Saddam Hussein," said the court's rejection of Saddam's appeal was part of the "continued shedding of pure Iraqi blood by the current regime in Iraq, which [is] directly connected with the American occupation."

One of Saddam's counsel, Najib al-Nueimi, a former justice minister in the Gulf state of Qatar, said it was now time for Saddam's family to appeal to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

"The defense team has exhausted all the legal channels to appeal this decision, so it is up to the president's family to present an appeal for clemency to the current president, asking him not to sign the execution papers," al-Nueimi said, speaking in a phone interview from Qatar.

Saddam's wife, Sajda, lives in Qatar, and his daughter Raghad, who has supervised his defense team, lives in Amman.

Asked whether the family would appeal to Talabani, al-Nueimi would only say: "It's up to them."

Later in the day, the lawyer of the former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz condemned the verdict saying it was a flagrant violation of the regulations of the court. He believes that court regulations require that an execution occur after 30 days _ not within this period, as the court announced.

Badee Izzat Aref told the AP in a telephone call from Dubai that he met Saddam and Aziz last week in Baghdad and understood from them that Aziz will testify in court for the benefit of Saddam in his ongoing trial. Saddam is currently on trial for the military campaign, codenamed Operation Anfal, that took place during the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war. An estimated 180,000 Kurds died during the campaign.

"He has very important issues to reveal during the trial," Aref said. "He will uncover the involvement of many important foreign and local personalities."

"The Iraqi government wants to accelerate the execution process to avoid the testimony of Tariq Aziz," Aref said.

Noting that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani he was against the death penalty, whether against Saddam or anybody else, Aref said, "If he gives authority to his vice president to sign the execution order, he will face great embarrassment before his party and the Kurdish people."