An Iraqi court on Monday raised the sentence against Saddam Hussein's vice president to death by hanging for the killings of Shiites in the town of Dujail.

The decision had been expected after an appeals court ruled that Taha Yassin Ramadan's previous sentence of life in prison was too lenient.

Ramadan is the fourth member of the ousted regime to face capital punishment for the killings of 148 Shiites after a 1982 attempt on Saddam's life in the mainly Shiite town of Dujail, north of Baghdad.

Saddam, his half brother and former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, former head of Iraq's Revolutionary Court, also were sent to the gallows.

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"I swear to God that I'm innocent, Allah is my supporter and will take revenge on all who treated me unjustly!" Ramadan yelled after the verdict was read.

The chief judge, Ali al-Kahachi, ordered him removed from the courtroom. He said the case would be automatically appealed.

Ramadan was convicted on Nov. 5 of murder, forced deportation and torture and sentenced to life in prison. A month later, the appeals court said the sentence was too lenient, and returned his case to the High Tribunal, demanding he be sentenced to death. The court agreed to turn it to a death sentence.

Three other defendants were sentenced to 15 years in prison in the case; one was acquitted.

Saddam was hanged on Dec. 30, while Ibrahim and al-Bandar were executed Jan. 15, provoking anger among their fellow Sunnis after the former leader's half brother was decapitated on the gallows.

Human Rights Watch and the International Center for Transitional Justice issued a joint statement on the eve of Ramadan's hearing saying the evidence against him was insufficient for a death sentence.

"The tribunal found Ramadan guilty without evidence linking him to the horrific crimes committed in Dujail," said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. "Ramadan was convicted in an unfair trial, and increasing his punishment from life imprisonment to death reeks of vengeance."

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