Legal row delays hanging of Iraq's "Chemical Ali"

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BAGHDAD, Oct 17 (Reuters) The execution of Saddam Hussein's cousin, widely known as ''Chemical Ali'', will be delayed while Iraqi officials try to settle a legal dispute over who should sign the order, judicial sources said.

Ali Hassan al-Majeed was convicted in June of planning and directing the Anfal (Spoils of War) military campaign in 1988, in which prosecutors said up to 180,000 Kurds were killed and which the trial court later ruled was an act of genocide.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ite-led government is keen to see Majeed, once one of the most feared men in Iraq, follow Saddam to the gallows as soon as possible.

He was to have been hanged within 30 days of his sentence being upheld by an appeal court on Sept. 4, but the execution was postponed because it would have taken place during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ended last weekend.

Debate continues over whether Iraq's presidency council needs to issue a decree giving the go-ahead for the execution or if Maliki's government can set a date on its own authority.

The council is made up of President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, Vice-President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shi'ite, and Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab.

Hashemi is rumoured to have refused to sign the execution order, although he has yet to make a public statement on the matter. At issue is whether a refusal to sign would amount to a veto, hence the efforts to clarify the role of the council.

Maliki's government had formed a seven-member committee, including legal experts and advisers to Talabani and Maliki, to reach a consensus on the issue, a member of the committee told Reuters this week.

''The government has formed a committee upon the orders of the president to look into the mechanism of carrying out death sentences issued by the Iraqi High Tribunal,'' he said.

The confusion over the precise role of the presidency council became apparent in the days leading up to Saddam Hussein's execution on Dec. 30 for crimes against humanity. His hanging went ahead, but the issue remained unresolved.

A presidency council adviser said the committee would meet this week or next and Majeed would not be executed until it gave its report.

REUTERS RSA RAI2159

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