Saddam Hussein is likely now living his last hours. Conflicting reports are emerging from Iraq and the United States, but most agree that he is likely to be taken to the gallows within hours.
Reuters is reporting that the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, is meeting with US officials in a struggle to conclude arrangements, including the site of the execution and the fate of Saddam's body, before the official start of the Muslim holiday of Eid at noon on Saturday (4am Saturday EST).
The Guardian reported that an aide to the Prime Minister, who declined to be named, had said the execution would be carried out before 6am. "All the measures have been done. I am ready to attend and there is no reason for delay," he said.
Briefings from Washington were more cautious, still denying reports that had emerged early on Friday that the US had formally handed over custody of Saddam to the Iraqi authorities. Some reports suggested, however, that this would only occur "at the foot of the gallows".
If the execution is not completed by the start of the Eid festival, most sources agree that religious sensibilities mean that it could not be carried out during its course; it continues until January 6. Many reports suggested, however, that for the Iraqi regime an execution just before the festival, during which time most people stay in their homes, would be ideal for enforcing security, particularly in Baghdad. On Friday US forces in Iraq were said to have been placed on high alert, and embassies around the world have been told to increase security.
One of Saddam's defence lawyers, Khalil al-Dulaimi, had earlier told the media that he had been asked to collect the former dictator's effects from prison. It was also reported that two of Saddam's half-brothers, also on trial for actions during his dictatorship, had been taken to see him in prison and he was said to have given them his will.
An appeal court last Tuesday upheld his death sentence for the killing of 148 people after an attempt to assassinate him in the northern city of Dujail in 1982. Saddam was also on trial for the mass slaughter of Kurds during a 1987-88 military campaign. It is unclear if that trial, which also has a number of other defendants, will continue.
Commentators are divided about the likely effects within Iraq of the execution. It may well further inflame opinion within the already restive minority Sunni community, but it is possible that Saddam is already seen as yesterday's man, of no particular relevance to today's insurgency.