Saddam to Be Turned Over to Iraqis Today, Officials Say

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 29, 2006 — -- There is growing anticipation -- and no small amount of confusion -- in Baghdad this morning about when Saddam Hussein will be executed.

A senior official in Washington tells ABC News that Hussein will be transferred to Iraqi custody by the end of today.

The actual date for the execution is still a closely guarded secret, and will be decided on solely by Iraqis, the official says.

Prime Minister Nouri Kamel al-Maliki was quoted on Iraqi television this morning, saying there should be no delay in implementing the sentence, but he said nothing about the timing.

Hussein's lawyers say they have been told to prepare to pick up his personal effects, but they do not know when they should do that.

Thousands Volunteered to Be Executioner

When the countdown to the execution begins, an official who is involved in coordinating the execution tells ABC News that Hussein will be given time to pray and to request a last meal.

Then three separate officials will triple-check his name tag before he is led to a specially constructed gallows.

Thousands of Iraqis both here and overseas have volunteered to be the executioner. The government has said it will keep the identity of the executioner secret, for the executioner's own protection.

At the gallows, there will be a cleric to read the former Iraqi dictator his last rites, representatives of the court and the prosecution, and a government cameraman who will film the entire event.

It is possible that some portions of the execution will be broadcast later to show the public the sentence has indeed been carried out.

Hussein's arms and legs will be manacled, and a hood will be put over his head. The noose will be placed around his neck, and then the executioner will pull the lever that releases the trapdoor under his feet.

Fears About Violence

There are some fears that the execution could cause an increase in violence, particularly from Hussein loyalists in the Sunni community.

For that reason, the government says it will not announce the hanging until after it has been carried out. It is also likely that the government will announce an extended curfew in Baghdad to keep people off the streets after the execution.

The United States does not want to be associated with the actual process of the execution, which officials say is an Iraqi affair.

Because of concerns about a violent backlash, though, a U.S. military official says this morning that U.S. troops have been put on higher alert.

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