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Iraqi deal in the works to suspend execution of Saddam-era officials

The indefinite hold on six planned executions of members of Saddam Hussein's regime could prevent a widening of political and sectarian rifts at a precarious time in Iraq.

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Opposition to Mr. Hashim’s death sentence is strongest in the ex-general’s hometown of Mosul – home to hundreds of former Iraqi Army generals cast aside when the US disbanded the Iraqi Army and still a hotbed of the Sunni insurgency. But he has widespread support among many Iraqis who see him as a nationalist rather than as a part of Hussein’s regime.

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“Sultan Hashim was a professional military man, he wasn’t a politician. He was doing his duty to defend Iraq professionally,” says Zuhair al-Araji, former mayor of Mosul and now a member of parliament with the secular al-Iraqiya coalition. “Such professional, nonpolitical figures should not be punished for the mistakes of the regime.”

Many Iraqis feel that Hashim, who could easily have fled, was betrayed by the United States after being persuaded by US Army Gen. David Petraeus, commander of US forces in northern Iraq at the time, to turn himself in with the widespread expectation that he would be acquitted.

Instead, the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Court, set up by the US to try former regime officials, convicted him of involvement in Hussein’s campaign against Iraqi Kurds and sentenced to death. US military commanders have said they had no control over his fate after Iraq regained sovereignty.

A resistance group loyal to Hussein warned over the weekend that executing "patriotic military leaders'" would set a dangerous precedent that would put current military commanders at risk of being punished in the future for any government crimes.

The 'General Command of the Armed Forces' led by Saddam Hussein's former deputy Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, who is still at large, warned the government in a statement against "carrying out these unjust sentences and calls on all international organizations to intervene and stop the death penalties for the military commanders."

Mr. Araji, the former Mosul mayor, was part of an Iraqiya delegation led by former prime minister Iyad Allawi that discussed the issue with President Jalal Talabani last week. Araji says that the president – a Kurd with a longstanding policy of not signing execution orders, leaving that task to his Shiite vice president – agreed to have a legal committee review the rulings. A spokesman for the presidency office, asked about the committee, said it was premature to comment on the matter.

“If they can by some legal loophole bring about the amnesty of some of those sentenced to death by the judiciary, we will receive their order and implement it,” says Saade, the Justice Ministry spokesman.

Justice sacrificed for national reconciliation?

Commuting or postponing the sentences would allay concerns that military officials are being made to pay for the crimes of the former regime. But it has also raised fears among some that justice is being sacrificed in the name of national reconciliation.

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