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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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“Some people say these sentences might damage national reconciliation – should national reconciliation override justice?” asks Abbas al-Bayati, a lawmaker and member of the parliamentary security committee, who says he personally believes the executions should be carried out.

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Nevertheless, he – like a wide range of lawmakers in the Iraqi parliament – expects the death sentences for Hashim and Aziz to be suspended indefinitely.

“Until now, there is no agreement to delay, but there is also no agreement to implement the sentence,” says Mr. Bayati, a member of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition.

Former Interior Minister Juwad al-Bolani, now a member of parliament, says he believes that sentences for both men “will either be commuted or included in political agreements to review the decisions.”

“As a lawmaker, I don’t want to interfere in the judicial system – it is independent – but there is a desire from more than 50 percent of the lawmakers,” to commute some of the sentences to life in prison says Ibrahim al-Rikabi, an independent member of the State of Law.

Some members of parliament believed that former Iraqi Army general Hussein Rasheed al-Tikriti, convicted for putting down a revolt by Iraqi Shiites in the south in 1991 while he was secretary of the general command of the Armed Forces, could also be given a reprieve.

Any amnesty is not expected to apply, however, to another ex-Army general transferred by the US, Aziz Saleh al-Numan, who was convicted last year of attempted genocide in a campaign by the regime against Shiite Kurds. Both of the elderly generals were among those transferred last week from US custody.

Remaining prisoners in US custody

The US, which has until Dec. 31 to hand over all remaining Iraqi detainees, has released all but 10 of the prisoners it had kept in its custody after transferring control of most of the Camp Cropper detention facility last year. Among the nearly 200 just released last week, more than 80 were considered enduring security threats and over 100 of them "dangerous radicals." The remaining group of 10 is being held for legal and administrative reasons.

One of the questions in the US handing over detainees is whether the legal basis for holding them would hold up under stricter rules for keeping prisoners since Iraq regained its sovereignty. The US has traditionally been reluctant to share all intelligence it has on detainees with Iraqi authorities.

After embarrassing, high-profile prison breaks there are also concerns about the ability of Iraq to keep the most dangerous of the detainees, among them hardened Al Qaeda fighters, in custody.

Sahar Issa and Laith Hammoudi contributed reporting.

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