U.S. and Iraqi officials have met to set the hour of Saddam Hussein's execution, a lawyer said hours after a Baghdad judge announced that the ousted Iraqi president would be hanged before Sunday.

The final obstacle to Saddam's execution was removed lateFridayas a U.S. judge rejected a last-minute court challengeby the former dictator's lawyers.

Americanauthorities willmaintain custody of Saddam until very close to the execution time to spare him from possible humiliation, Najeeb al-Nauimi, a lawyer on Saddam's defence team, said in Baghdad at about midnight local time (4 p.m. ET) Friday.

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Saddam Hussein, shown in court on Dec. 20, has handed over his will and personal effects to relatives. ((Nikola Solic, pool/Associated Press))

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports a top Iraqi official as saying Saddam will be executed before 6 a.m. localtime Saturday, or 10 p.m. ET Friday.

Witnesses gather in Green Zone

The official witnesses to Saddam's impending execution gathered Friday in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone in final preparation for his hanging as state television broadcast footage of his regime's atrocities.

The physical handover of Saddam — who was sentenced to death after being convicted in early November of committing crimes against humanity in the slayings of 148 Shia Muslims in the northern city of Dujail in 1982 — is considered the last step before execution.

Al-Nauimi saidthe United States wanted Saddam — a Sunni Muslim who was ousted by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 after 24 years in power —"to be hanged respectfully." He saidWashington also wantedto prevent the mutilation of his corpse, as has happened to other senior figures from the ousted government.

"That could cause an uprising and the Americans would be blamed," al-Nauimi said.

Earlier, ajudge from the appeal courtthat upheld Saddam's death sentence on Tuesday said his execution was imminent.

"Saddam will be executed today or tomorrow," Munir Haddad said in Baghdad. "All the measures have been done."

When Iraq's Appeal Court upheld the death sentence on Tuesday, it said he must be hanged within 30 days.

Last-minute appeal denied

Earlier Friday, Saddam's defence team asked for an emergency restraining order in a last-ditch effort to block his transfer to Iraqi officials poised to carry out his execution, only to be denied.

"Petitioner Hussein's application for immediate, temporary stay of execution is denied," U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said after a hearing over the telephone with attorneys.

His lawyers filed a 21-page request in a Washington court arguing that since Saddam faces a civil lawsuit in the United States, he has rights as a civil defendant that would be violated if he were executed.

Handed over personal effects, will

Saddam's defence team confirmed Friday that he had given his will and personal effects to relatives.

Two of his half-brothers visited Saddam in his jail cell at a U.S. military prison and collected his belongings Thursday, a member of Saddam's defence team said.

Al-Nauimi said he and Saddam's daughter had also requested a final meeting with the deposed leader but their request was rejected.

"His daughter in Amman was crying. She said, 'Take me with you,' " Al-Nauimi said.

Timing could be affected by Eid holiday

The Iraqi constitution states that people cannot be executed on state-recognized religious holidays, and the religious holiday of Eid starts on Sunday for Sunni Muslims in Iraq.

'They don't care whether it is Eid or respect Eid as a religious day. They just want to carry out a wish which was made by [U.S. President George] Bush months and months ago.'-Najeeb al-Nauimi

A U.S. military officer said that Saddam would likely be hanged before then, according to a report from NBC News.

Al-Nuaimi told CBC Newsworld he did not believe the holiday could postpone the execution.

"They don't care whether it is Eid or respect Eid as a religious day," he said.

"They just want to carry out a wish which was made by [U.S. President George] Bush months and months ago."

U.S. troops brace for violence

The Pentagon said U.S. forces in Iraq are braced for the aftermath of the execution, which could increase the fighting between the country's Shia Muslim majority and the Sunni Muslim minority.

Under Saddam, a Sunni Muslim, the government was dominated by Sunnis even though it put in place a number of secular policies. However, Shia politicians won the majority of seats in the parliamentary election of December 2005.

Since then, sectarian violence has periodically surged.

With files from the Associated Press