Babylon & Beyond

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IRAQ: Political impasse a lifesaver for some

January 29, 2008 |  8:06 am

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's feuding with President Jalal Talabani and others in the Iraqi leadership is considered a hindrance to national reconciliation, but at least three men are benefitting from it. In fact, it is keeping them alive.

The men are former associates of Saddam Hussein, and they were sentenced to hang for taking part in military atrocities that killed as many as 180,000 Kurds in northern Iraq in the 1980s. They include  Sultan Hashim Ahmad Jabburi Tai, a former Iraqi military officer; Ali Hassan Majid, aka Chemical Ali for his use of poisonous gas on the Kurds; and Hussein Rashid Mohammed, who was Hussein's deputy head of army operations.

But Iraq's president and two vice presidents must sign off on executions, and therein lies the rub.  Talabani, who is a Kurd, and Vice President Tariq Hashimi, a Sunni Arab, have argued against the hangings — Talabani because he opposes the death penalty and Hashimi because he says sparing the lives would foster Sunni-Shiite-Kurdish reconciliation.

As a result, the sentences, which were passed in June and should have been carried out in the fall, cannot go ahead, even though Maliki's Shiite-led government has made clear it would like to see the convicts go to the gallows. During a meeting with journalists over the weekend, government spokesman Ali Dabbagh said this was one of the downsides to democracy: having to abide by rules that one does not like.

He challenged people who would overrule the tribunal that sentenced the men to explain how they could ignore the ruling without violating the constitution. "Let them show us how to do this without breaking the law. You cannot do it this way," he said. "This is not the way to deal with Iraq. Once we open such doors, this will make the constitution a piece of rubber," to be bent any way that suits people's desires, Dabbagh said.

In the meantime, the men remain in the hands of U.S. officials, who say they will not be turned over to Iraqi officials until the government has settled the issue.

— Tina Susman in Baghdad