Khalil al-Dulaimi, Saddam Hussein's chief lawyer, told FOX News that U.S. officials have called him and asked to pick up Saddam's personal effects as Iraqi officials reported Friday that the former Iraqi dictator was visited by two half brothers in his jail cell the day before.
Deputy justice minister Busho Ibrahim has disputed claims that Hussein has been handed over to the Iraqi authorities
The Iraqi government is "anxious to get Saddam's execution done" and that it is likely to be carried out before the New Year — perhaps even within the next 24 hours, a U.S. military official said.
This official said American forces are now in the process of finalizing the former Iraqi dictator's transfer to Iraqi custody and to the location where he would be executed. Several U.S. officials said they are not ruling out the possibility that Saddam will be put to death as early as Friday.
Iraq's highest court on Tuesday rejected Saddam's appeal against his conviction and death sentence for the killing of 148 Shiites in the northern city of Dujail in 1982. The court said the former dictator should be hanged within 30 days.
Saddam's half brothers visited him in his jail cell and he gave them his will, Iraqi officials said, indicating his execution may be approaching. But they said he had yet to be transferred to Iraqi custody.
On Thursday two half brothers visited Saddam, a member of Saddam's defense team said, citing another of Saddam's lawyers.
"Upon his request, his two half brothers ... were brought to him and spent some time in his cell," Badee Izzat Aref told The Associated Press in a telephone call from Dubai.
"Saddam handed his brothers his personal belongings," Aref said.
A senior commander at the Iraqi defense ministry also confirmed the meeting, and said that Saddam handed over his will to one of his half brothers. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
But Raed Juhi, spokesman for the High Tribunal court that convicted Saddam, denied that Saddam's relatives visited him.
The startling news that the execution could come before 2007 came on the same day Saddam's chief lawyer implored world leaders to intervene saying Saddam should enjoy protection from his enemies as a "prisoner of war."
"According to the international conventions, it is forbidden to hand a prisoner of war to his adversary," Saddam's lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi said.
"I urge all the international and legal organizations, the United Nations secretary-general, the Arab League and all the leaders of the world to rapidly prevent the American administration from handing the president to the Iraqi authorities," he told The Associated Press.
Cardinal Renato Martino, Pope Benedict XVI's top prelate for justice issues and a former Vatican envoy to the U.N., condemned the death sentence in a newspaper interview published Thursday, saying capital punishment goes against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
After Saddam's death sentence was handed down last month, Louise Arbour, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, urged Iraq to ensure a fair appeals process and to refrain from executing Saddam even if the sentence is upheld.
Some international legal observers and human rights groups have also called Saddam's trial unfair because of alleged interference by the Shiite-dominated government. There has also been internal debate among Iraqis about legal procedures surrounding the timeframe and whether the presidency is required to approve the execution.
"The law does not say within 30 days, it says after the lapse of 30 days," said Busho Ibrahim, deputy justice minister. There was no immediate explanation for the conflicting claims.
Al-Dulaimi warned that turning over Saddam to the Iraqis would increase the sectarian violence that already is tearing the country apart.
"If the American administration insists in handing the president to the Iraqis, it would commit a great strategic mistake which would lead to the escalation of the violence in Iraq and the eruption of a destructive civil war," he said.
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said there was concern about the potential for violence in carrying out the execution.
"I'm sure the Iraqi government is thinking through that and working with the coalition in terms of the impact that could have."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.