saddam-cp-11329511

An Iraqi reads a newspaper with the front page dedicated to news of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's death sentence appeal rejection in Baghdad on Wednesday. ((Samir Mizban/ Associated Press))

An Appeal Court has upheld the death sentence imposed on ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussein at his first trial, the country's national security adviser said Tuesday.

"The Appeals Court approved the verdict to hang Saddam," Mouwafak al-Rubaie, who was in Baghdad, told the Associated Press.

On Nov. 5, an Iraqi court sentenced Saddam, a Sunni Muslim, to the gallows for the 1982 killings of 148 people from the Shia Muslim town of Dujail after an attempt on his life there.

The Appeal Court decision must be ratified by President Jalal Talabani and Iraq's two vice-presidents. Talabani opposes the death penalty but has in the past deputized a vice-president to sign an execution order on his behalf— a substitute that was legally accepted.

Once the decisionisratified, Saddam and other co-defendants sentenced to death at the trial would be hanged within 30 days.

Court says Saddam's execution can't be blocked

Raed Juhi, a spokesman for the High Tribunal court that convicted Saddam, said the Iraqi judicial system would ensure that Saddam is executed even if Talabani and the two vice-presidents do not ratify the decision.

"We'll implement the verdict by the power of the law," Juhi said without elaborating.

An official on the High Tribunal court said the Appeals Court also upheld death sentences for Barzan Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti, Saddam's half-brother and intelligence chief during the Dujail killings, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, head of Iraq's Revolutionary Court, which issued the death sentences against the Dujail residents.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said the Appeals Court concluded the sentence of life imprisonment given former vice-president Taha Yassin Ramadan was too lenient and returned his file to the High Tribunal. Ramadan was convicted of premeditated murder in the Dujail case.

The official said the Appeals Court demanded the death penalty for Ramadan in a letter to the High Tribunal.

9-month trial deepened sectarian divides

At his trial, Saddam argued that the Dujail residents who were killed had been found guilty in a legitimate Iraqi court for trying to assassinate him in 1982.

The televised trial was watched throughout Iraq and the Middle East as much for theatre as for substance. Saddam was ejected from the courtroom repeatedly for political harangues, and his half-brother once showed up in long underwear and sat with his back to the judges.

The nine-month trial inflamed Iraq's political divide, however, and three defence lawyers and a witness were murdered during its 39 sessions.

Saddam is in the midst of a second trial on charges of genocide and other crimes during a 1987-88 military crackdown on Kurds in northern Iraq. An estimated 180,000 Kurds died during the operation.

Saddam was found hiding with an unfired pistol in a hole in the ground near his home village north of Baghdad in December 2003, eight months after he fled the capital ahead of advancing U.S. troops.