BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Iraqi authorities plan to put Saddam Hussein on trial within five days after the Oct. 15 referendum on the new constitution, an official close to the proceedings said Thursday.

The official spoke after government spokesman Laith Kubba announced that Iraq had carried out its first executions since Saddam was ousted in 2003. Three men were hanged at 10 a.m. in a Baghdad prison for murdering three policemen.

U.S. officials scrapped the death penalty in 2003 but Iraqi authorities reinstated it after the transfer of sovereignty so they would have the option of executing Saddam if he is convicted of crimes committed during his regime.

“Saddam’s trial will start right after the October referendum between Oct. 16 and at the latest Oct. 20,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make the official announcement.

European Union countries have distanced themselves from legal proceedings against Saddam, refusing to provide forensic and other assistance, because of the prospect that Saddam may be put to death.

Iraqi authorities plan a series of trials for specific alleged offenses rather than lumping them together.

The first trial will focus on the alleged massacre of hundreds of Shiites in Dujail in 1982 following a failed assassination attempt on Saddam.

Separate trials are expected for the gassing of Kurds at Halabja and the 1991 suppression of the Shiite uprising in the south, officials said.

The government announced Aug. 17 that the three men hanged Thursday had been sentenced to death by a court in Kut last May. The government statement said they also were convicted of kidnapping and rape.

“It was a difficult decision because we are living in a democratic atmosphere,” the government spokesman said. “This is the highest punishment taken against people who have conducted assassinations, and it aims at deterring criminals from going too far in their crimes.”

Iraqi officials say about seven other people, including one woman, have been sentenced to death. Their cases are under review or appeal.

Death sentences must be approved by the three-member presidential council headed by President Jalal Talabani, who opposes capital punishment. Talabani refused to sign the authorization himself but his office said he let one of his vice presidents, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, do so for him.

Associated Press reporter Hamed Ahmed contributed to this report.


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