BAGHDAD - Iraq is to restore the death penalty after the return of sovereignty later this month, in a measure which could affect ousted president Saddam Hussein, justice minister Malik Dohan al-Hassan said.
"The death penalty is suspended in Iraq but with the return of sovereignty, nothing obliges us to maintain this suspension. We want to reinstitute it for very specific cases," he told AFP.
When Saddam was captured in December 2003, the United Nations and the European Union voiced their opposition to the idea of restoring the death penalty.
The death penalty was suspended in Iraq by then US Central Command chief General Tommy Franks in April 2003, as the US-led coalition invaded the country and toppled Saddam's regime.
On June 12, 2003, the coalition adopted the 1969 Iraqi criminal legislation but maintained its ban on the death penalty.
"Under Saddam Hussein, there were some 120 crimes punishable by death but we are going to narrow it down to those who, for instance, were responsible for mass graves or plundering the country's oil wealth," the minister said.
In 2002, the 214 executions carried out in Iraq put the country in third place behind China and Iran in the grisly ranking of states where the death penalty is applied, according to the NGO Hands off Cain.
The justice minister, less than a week after his appointment, was adamant that Saddam deserved no less than the firing squad.
"Some people ask me if Saddam Hussein can escape a death sentence. For me, his case is very simple. He was the head of the armed forces and he deserted. According to his own laws, his crime is already punishable by death," he said.
The US adviser to the Iraqi justice ministry had forwarded a request from the coalition for the death penalty to be abolished, but Hassan explained he rejected it.
"I told him the social situation and the cultural level were not the same in Iraq and his country," he stressed.
"A sentence should contain a deterrent element. The harshness of a sentence and its deterrent element should be decided on the basis of local social values.
"If you condemn a criminal in Iraq to 10 years in prison, it won't prevent him from doing it again," he argued.
Hassan cited a case in which Saddam slapped the death sentence on Iraqis who had been found guilty of a string of car thefts. "The phenomenon stopped immediately," he said.
His fellow minister in charge of finance, Adel Abdel Mahdi, concurred.
"In the present circumstances, we cannot but reinstate the death penalty. We have already discussed the issue in the Governing Council and the majority was favourable to the death penalty," he said.
When Saddam was captured in December 2003, the United Nations and the European Union voiced their opposition to the idea of restoring the death penalty, but Hassan remained unimpressed.
"There are still many countries like the United States that resort to the death penalty. Why shouldn't Iraq have the right to do it?" he asked.
"They've been running the streets since they got here," Lyde said. "They're spreading terror like mayonnaise."
© Copyright 2004 AFP