Iraq has stayed the execution of two of Saddam Hussein’s top military officials in a sensitive decision for the country’s multi-sectarian government.
Sultan Hashim, who was a former defense minister, and Hussein Rasheed, who was Saddam’s former army chief of staff, were sentenced to death by a court in June 2007 because of their involvement in a brutal campaign which targeted members of the country’s Kurdish minorities.
Iraq’s Vice President Tareq Al-Hashemi, a Sunni, said on Wednesday the presidency council, a body set up to act as a balance among Iraq’s various sectarian and ethnic groups, had agreed to uphold a suspension of the two mens’ death sentences.
“I can calm the families of the prisoners and say there will be no change in the position … regarding implementing the death sentence made against them,” Hashemi said.
The two men were convicted of genocide for directing the 1988 Anfal military campaign against Kurds.
Prosecutors said up to 180,000 people were killed when chemical weapons were used and villages razed.
Eight years after the US invasion that toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein, the fate of former Saddam officials remains a sensitive issue.
Saddam was himself sent to the gallows in 2006 and many of his former loyalists have been sentenced to death.
Implementing death sentence against Hashim and Rasheed, both Sunnis, might have provoked Iraqi minority Sunnis. Many Shiite and Kurds had backed the death sentences.
As US troops prepare to leave Iraq at the year-end, the USmilitary last week had delivered the two defendants into Iraqi custody, together with 200 other inmates of Saddam’s era, including two of the former leader’s half-brothers.
No decision has been made on the sentences passed on the two half-brothers.
Violence has eased since the sectarian bloodshed of 2006-2007 but factional tensions still rattle the government shared among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
Under the constitution, the Iraqi president can ratify death sentences.
But Iraqi political factions agreed to distribute the decision-making among the president and his two Shiite and Sunni deputies in the presidency council.