by Mariam Karouny, Reuters
Saddam Hussein, due to be hanged within 30 days, said in a letter made public on Wednesday that his execution would be a sacrifice for his country and called on Iraqis to unite and fight U.S. forces.
"Here I offer myself in sacrifice. If God almighty wishes, it (my soul) will take me where he orders to be with the martyrs," Saddam said in the hand-written letter obtained from his defense lawyers in Jordan after it was posted on a Web site.
"If my soul goes down this path (of martyrdom) it will face God in serenity."
The defense team said it was written shortly after Saddam was sentenced to death in November for crimes against humanity. The Iraqi High Tribunal appeals court upheld the sentence on Tuesday and said Saddam should be hanged within 30 days.
Saddam's execution will come as President Bush looks to usher in a new era for U.S. policy in Iraq amid public anger at home over rising U.S. casualties.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite Islamist who heads a national unity government that also includes Sunni Arabs and ethnic Kurds, has said in the past Saddam's execution can not come soon enough. But he faces the challenge of implementing the sentence without fuelling sectarian and political tensions.
In his letter, Saddam called on Iraqis to unite.
"Your unity stands against falling into servitude," he said.
"Oh brave, pious Iraqis in the heroic resistance. Oh sons of the one nation, direct your enmity toward the invaders. Do not let them divide you ... Long live jihad (holy war) and the mujahideen against the invaders."
Reconciliation Efforts at Stake
With the government silent on how Saddam will be executed, speculation ranged from a swift hanging within days, announced only after the fact, to a public execution broadcast on television -- though few believed the latter was likely.
Political professor Hazim al-Naimi said the government appeared to want to dampen down media coverage. "They have had reconciliation conferences and there are others lined up for the coming months so they are playing a clever game by not commenting and letting it cool down," Naimi told Reuters.
There were no major celebrations or protests against the decision as many Iraqis, preoccupied with sectarian violence and shortages in basic services, had expected the appeal to fail.
"This is a just sentence because Saddam oppressed the Iraqi people but I think it came at the wrong time because we're living through a cycle of violence," said Mohammed Nasir.
Edward Iskander, a 37-year-old Baghdad shopkeeper, agreed.
"I just hope they let him die naturally because if we execute him, his followers will unleash mayhem," Iskander said.
A car bomb in Baghdad killed eight people on Wednesday and 40 bodies were discovered, most shot and tortured, serving as a reminder of the daily carnage in the capital, where an average of more than 100 people are killed every day.
Anti-American anger bubbled to the surface when a spokesman for radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc called for a government investigation into the killing by U.S. forces of a senior Sadrist official near Najaf.
Thousands of angry Sadr supporters marched through Najaf on Wednesday chanting anti-American slogans.
The U.S. military said Iraqi army troops with U.S. advisers raided the man's home because he was the head of a bomb-making cell and implicated in a bomb attack in October. A U.S. statement said a U.S. soldier shot him after seeing him point his rifle at an Iraqi soldier during the raid.
The Sadr bloc has been boycotting Maliki's government since the prime minister met Bush last month. It has repeatedly called for the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
Maliki, who depends on Sadr's movement in parliament, has said U.S. troops will eventually go but are needed for now.
(Additional reporting by Claudia Parsons, Mussab Al-Khairalla, Ibon Villelabeitia in Baghdad and Suleiman al-Khalidi in Dubai)
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