Iraqi president opposes minister's hanging


IRAQ:The Iraqi president yesterday raised objections to the planned execution of Saddam Hussein's former defence minister, who is due to be hanged with two other former regime officials for their roles in a massacre of Kurds.

President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said former defence minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai deserved to be spared because he had been carrying out orders under threat of death by Saddam, and because he had engaged in official contact with the Kurdish community under the ousted regime.

Earlier this week, an Iraqi appeals court upheld the death sentences imposed against al-Tai, along with Ali Hassan al-Majid, who gained the nickname "Chemical Ali" after poison gas attacks on Kurdish towns in the 1980s, and Hussein Rashid Mohammed, former deputy director of operations for the Iraqi armed forces.

All three were convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in June for their role in the crackdown known as Operation Anfal that killed up to 180,000 Kurdish civilians and guerrillas two decades ago.

Under Iraqi law, the appeals court decision must be ratified by Mr Talabani and Iraq's two vice-presidents.

Mr Talabani has said he is opposed to the death penalty. But he previously deputised vice-president Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shia Muslim, to sign execution orders on his behalf. The Iraqi president said, however, that he would not support the decision against al-Tai.

Al-Tai negotiated the ceasefire that ended the 1991 Gulf war, when a US-led coalition drove Iraqi forces from Kuwait.