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Iraqis Brace For Hussein Execution

Iraqis on Thursday braced for the impending execution of former leader Saddam Hussein after a warning by his political movement that "grave consequences" would follow.

Hussein's execution must be carried out before January 27 -- or within 30 days after the Iraqi High Tribunal upheld the death sentence, as required by Iraqi law.

That timeline means Hussein's death could occur any day.

Hussein was sentenced to death for his role with the 1982 killings of 148 people in Dujail, a mostly Shiite town north of Baghdad, following an attempt on his life. Hussein was found guilty of murder, torture, and forced deportation.

The Dujail episode falls within 12 of the worst cases out of the 500 documented "baskets of crimes" during the Hussein regime.

The U.S. State Department says torture and extrajudicial killings followed the Dujail incident and that 550 men, women and children were arrested without warrants.

An appeal by Hussein's lawyers failed on Tuesday.

The same day, the Baath party warned that it would retaliate against the United States and its interests as well as against members of the Iraqi High Tribunal if the execution is carried out.

The party also vowed a complete shutdown of peace negotiations with coalition forces, according to a statement the group released on

The Baathists have been operating as part of the insurgency against the U.S. and its allies since Hussein's regime fell in 2003.

The group had "previously warned the U.S. administration of the grave consequences" and had called the death sentence "the most dangerous red line the U.S. administration should not cross," the message said.

In a farewell letter posted on the former Baath Party's Web site Wednesday, Hussein bid farewell to Iraqis, calling on them not to hate the U.S.-led forces.

"Dear faithful people," Hussein said, according to The Associated Press, "I say goodbye to you, but I will be with the merciful God who helps those who take refuge in him and who will never disappoint any honest believer."

The appeals court also affirmed death sentences for two of Hussein's co-defendants, including his half brother, Barzan Hassan, AP reported.

The White House has praised the court's decision, calling the day a milestone.

"Saddam has received due process and the legal rights that he denied the Iraqi people," said Scott Stanzel, deputy White House press secretary.

Hussein's chief attorney, Khalil al-Dulaimi, called the ruling "crazy," and said it came from "an illegitimate and unconstitutional court."

Trial itself was on trial

While proponents of the Iraqi High Tribunal hail it for taking steps to ensure accountability for atrocities committed during Hussein's regime, critics have pointed to the lack of safety for attorneys and questioned the judiciary's independence and impartiality. Three defense lawyers were killed during the Dujail trial, and another fled the country after being seriously wounded.

Human Rights Watch, which had regularly issued reports about the Hussein regime's brutality, also criticized the Iraqi High Tribunal for an over-reliance on anonymous witnesses.

"The court has relied so heavily on anonymous witnesses that it has undercut the defendants' right to confront witnesses against them and effectively test their evidence."

And the watchdog group said that Iraqi jurists and lawyers lacked "an understanding of international criminal law."

"The court's administration has been chaotic and inadequate, making it unable to conduct a trial of this magnitude fairly."

Hussein and others are being tried in another case -- the killings of up to 100,000 Kurds during the 1988 Anfal campaign against Kurdish rebels, which included the use of poison gas against Kurdish towns in northern Iraq.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh and Joe Sterling contributed to this report

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