Maliki demands US hand over prisoners for execution

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BAGHDAD, Nov 11 (Reuters) Iraq's Prime Minister accused the US military today of thwarting attempts to execute former members of Saddam Hussein's government and demanded they be handed over so their sentences could be carried out.

A court in September upheld the death sentences against Saddam's cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majeed, former Defence Minister Sultan Hashem, and a former army commander, Hussein Rashid Muhammad. Under Iraq's constitution the sentence should have been carried out within 30 days.

The three were convicted of genocide for their roles in a campaign against Iraq's Kurds in 1988.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said the US embassy had played an ''unfortunate role'' in preventing the handover of the three prisoners, who, like many other high-ranking members of Saddam's government, are in US military custody.

''We insist on implementing the verdict against all the defendants and they should be delivered so the decision against them can be implemented,'' he told reporters in Baghdad.

The US military has said it will not hand over the prisoners until it receives what it calls an ''authoritative government of Iraq request''.

What constitutes such a request is at the centre of a row between Maliki's Shi'ite-led government and President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and Sunni Arab Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi.

Talabani and Hashemi say that Iraq's constitution stipulates that the three-man presidency council -- made up of the president and two vice presidents -- should sign the order.

Maliki disagrees and today accused them of trying to politicise the issue and forcing his government to violate the constitution by failing to execute the men on time.

''We insist on doing this. We will not retreat from our stance -- to receive them and implement the decision against them.'' Hashemi has threatened to resign if Maliki's government goes ahead with the executions without a presidential decree authorising them. He said he narrowly stopped the government from executing them in September.

Some Iraqi officials are suspicious that the US military is protecting Sultan Hashem, amid persistent allegations he collaborated with Washington to try to topple Saddam in 1996 and again in the US-led invasion in 2003.

In 1988, Hashem was commander of Task Force Anfal, which targeted Kurdish areas in northern Iraq in a military campaign that killed tens of thousands and destroyed entire villages.

But his supporters say he was simply a figurehead and that real authority lay with Saddam's feared cousin Majeed, who was in overall charge of the operation.

REUTERS SBC HT2035

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