WASHINGTON, Dec. 29, 2006 — -- Saddam Hussein will remain in U.S. custody until he is taken to his execution, which could happen within the hour.
A senior U.S. defense official told ABC News the execution is expected to happen this weekend, but a member of the Iraqi parliament said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wants Saddam executed Saturday morning -- which could be as early as Friday evening in the United States.
Even when he is taken to the gallows, the United States will be guarding him, and he will effectively be in joint U.S.-Iraqi custody.
The tight U.S. security surrounding Saddam during his final hours is meant to eliminate the risk of a last-minute attack or escape. As one official said, "We don't want to have to find him hiding in a hole again."
Saddam is currently being held at a facility specifically built for him. The 7-by-11 cell is at a secret location in the Baghdad area. He is not being held at Camp Cropper, where other high-profile detainees are held.
The official says the exact timing of his execution is up to the Iraqi government, but unless there is an unforeseen delay it will happen by Sunday, Dec. 31.
The U.S. military is bracing for possible revenge attacks by Sunni insurgents still loyal to Saddam, after the execution is announced.
"My biggest fear is we see an increase in sectarian violence following the execution," a senior U.S. military official tells ABC News. The primary fears are an increase in car bombs and other attacks by Sunni insurgents targeting Shiite Muslims.
Although military officials expect Sunni insurgents to use the execution as an excuse to step up sectarian attacks, the official said, "I don't expect anything major or prolonged."
ABC News' Jonathan Karl and Terry McCarthy contributed to this report.