Byline: MARTIN BENTHAM
SADDAM HUSSEIN was today beginning his appeal against the death sentence imposed on him by Iraqi judges as doubts emerged about how soon it will be carried out.
Under Iraqi law the former dictator's appeal is due to be completed within a maximum of 30 days, allowing his hanging to take place soon after.
It emerged today, however, that some Iraqi lawyers are arguing the sentence should be postponed until Saddam's trial for the mass murder of Kurds is completed.
A further obstacle could be the role of Iraq's president Jalal Talabani. He is one of two men who must approve the death sentence but is known to be opposed to it despite being a Kurd himself.
The potential problems follow dramatic courtroom scenes yesterday when the deposed dictator defiantly shouted "God is Great" and "You are servants of the occupiers", as he was told he would be hanged for crimes against humanity.
Saddam, 69, bearded and carrying a copy of the Koran, initially refused to stand before judge Rauf Abdel Rahman as the verdict and sentence were read out in the highly-fortified Green Zone area of Baghdad. The news was expected to provoke a wave of retaliatory violence by Sunni insurgents who remain loyal to the deposed dictator and hostile to the new Shia-dominated government in Iraq, although by mid morning there was little sign of the predicted turmoil.
Around the world there was a mixed response to the verdict. US President George Bush described it as "a milestone in the Iraqi people's efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law".
Mr Bush will also be hoping that the sentence passed on Saddam boosts his Republican party's chances of avoiding defeat in this week's midterm elections.
America's increasing problems in Iraq have so far handed the political advantage to the Democrats.
In Britain, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said it was right that Saddam should face Iraqi justice for his appalling offences against the population.
Her Tory counterpart William Hague also praised the court for continuing its work in the face of intimidation and assassinations, and welcomed the fact that Saddam was to be executed.
"I think Saddam Hussein would be more likely to be a rallying point for the future if he was still alive," he told BBC Radio 4's World At One. "Some of his supporters would still have the hope that one day he would return to power."
Others, however, expressed reservations about the use of capital punishment despite Saddam's long record of mass murder.
Labour Party chairwoman Hazel Blears said the Government did not support capital punishment, although she added that the sentence was "a matter for the Iraqi justice system", while Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell - whose party opposed the war - sounded a stark warning that killing the dictator risked exacerbating Iraq's troubles.
"His martyrdom can only add to the instability and unrest in Iraq," he said.
"He should be detained for the rest of his natural life."
Human rights organisation Amnesty International said it "deplored" the sentence, and condemned the trial as a "shabby affair, marred by serious flaws" which had not met basic international standards. The European Union also expressed dismay at the death sentence.
In Iraq, however, prime minister Nouri Maliki hailed the conviction in a televised address saying that it was "not a sentence on one man, but a sentence against all the dark periods of his rule".
"Maybe this will help alleviate the pain of the widows and the orphans, and those who have been ordered to bury their loved ones in secrecy, and those who have been forced to suppress their feelings and suffering, and those who have paid at the hands of torturers," Mr Maliki added.
During the nine-month trial Saddam was alleged to have ordered the slaughter in revenge for an assassination attempt. …