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Iraq Transition

Iraqi appeals court upholds Hussein death sentence

Story Highlights

• NEW: White House praises upholding of Saddam Hussein's death sentence
• Hussein's attorney: "We're not surprised by this crazy ruling"
• Hussein faces hanging in 1982 killings of 148 in mostly Shiite town of Dujail
• At least 20 killed when a car bomb goes off near Sunni mosque in Baghdad
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The Iraqi High Tribunal's appellate chamber on Tuesday upheld Saddam Hussein's death sentence in the Dujail massacre case, Judge Aref Shaheen announced.

Shaheen said the court's decision was the final word in the case.

The toppled Iraqi dictator's execution must take place before January 27, Shaheen said. Iraqi law requires a death sentence to be carried out within 30 days. (Watch to see how Hussein's legal options are waning Video)

On November 5, Hussein was sentenced to death by hanging for his role in the 1982 killings of 148 people in Dujail, a mostly Shiite town north of Baghdad. Hussein's attorneys appealed, and the appellate chamber began reviewing the case December 5.

Hussein's chief defense attorney, Khalil al-Dulaimi, said he had heard about the decision, but said it came from "an illegitimate and unconstitutional court." (Watch to see why many consider the trial flawed Video)

"We are not surprised by this crazy ruling," al-Dulaimi said.

The lawyer, speaking from Amman, Jordan, said three other members of the defense team met with Hussein on Tuesday before the decision was announced and described him as being in high spirits.

Under international law, most governments have the power to stay any executions, but Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has said his government would not do so in Hussein's case.

The White House released a statement praising the court's decision.

"Today marks a milestone for the Iraqi people's efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law," said Scott Stanzel, deputy White House press secretary.

"We look forward to seeing the written judgment. Saddam has received due process and the legal rights that he denied the Iraqi people."

Hussein and two co-defendants -- his half-brother and former intelligence chief Barzan Hassan, and Awad Bandar, former chief judge of the Revolutionary Court -- were found guilty in the killings in Dujail after an attempt to assassinate the then-Iraqi leader.

Hussein and others are being tried in another case -- the killings of up to 100,000 Kurds during the 1988 Anfal campaign against Kurdish rebels, which included the use of poison gas against Kurdish towns in northern Iraq.

However, Shaheen said Hussein's involvement in that case would cease with his execution.

At least 20 killed outside Sunni mosque

Attacks left 46 Iraqis dead in Baghdad and elsewhere in the nation Tuesday, including at least 20 people when a car bomb went off outside a Sunni mosque in the capital.

Thirty-five also were wounded when the car exploded outside the Abu Hanifa Sunni mosque in Baghdad's Adhamiyah district, an area under Iraqi army control, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said. The mosque is one of the most revered for Sunnis in Iraq.

Earlier Tuesday, three car bombs exploded in quick succession at an intersection in western Baghdad's al-Bayaa district, killing 16 people and wounding 70 others, an Interior Ministry official said. (Watch as officials evacuate bombing victims Video)

A high-ranking Iraqi Interior Ministry official also was shot dead and a trade official was kidnapped Tuesday in the capital.

The slain Interior Ministry official -- Maj. Gen. Imad Mohsen Jaafar -- was killed when unidentified attackers sprayed his car with bullets as he drove down a northern Baghdad street, a ministry official said. Jaafar was Iraq's border crossing director.

Another Iraqi government official, Muhanad Saleh, the Trade Ministry's director of the Baghdad international fair, was abducted by gunmen in western Baghdad, the ministry official said.

Also Tuesday, a police officer was killed by a mortar explosion in a central Baghdad residential area, an Interior Ministry official said. Six other police officers and six civilians were wounded in the blast, the official said.

Five Iraqi civilians were killed and 18 hurt when a roadside bomb exploded in a central Baghdad outdoor market, the official said.

Across Baghdad, 41 bodies were discovered in various neighborhoods, an Interior Ministry official said.

In northeastern Iraq, a roadside bomb went off near an elementary school in Kirkuk, killing three children and wounding eight others, Kirkuk police said.

U.S. troops killed

Three American soldiers also died Tuesday in a roadside bomb blast northwest of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

Eighty-nine U.S. troops have died in Iraq in December, including four soldiers who were killed in three separate roadside bombings in and around Baghdad on Christmas Day, the U.S. military said.

The number of U.S. military personnel killed in the Iraq war stands at 2,977, including seven civilian contractors of the Defense Department, pushing the death toll above that of the September 11, 2001, attacks. An estimated 2,973 people were killed in the attacks on New York, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania.

President Bush has said the U.S.-led war in Iraq is part of a broader policy to battle threats overseas after the 9/11 attacks.

The president has said the Iraq invasion was a necessary part of the war on terror because Hussein's regime was a "clear threat" that posed "a risk that the world could not afford to take." Bush has said Hussein had "nothing" to do with 9/11.

Other developments

  • Iraqi and Iranian authorities slammed the United States on Monday for arresting several Iranians who were visiting Iraq. A U.S. official said the Iranians were suspected of involvement in attacks against Iraqi security forces. A spokesman for Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said Talabani had invited the Iranians to the country, and the president was "unhappy" about the arrests. An Iranian Foreign Ministry representative warned that "this action is not justifiable by any international rules." The arrests come amid tensions between Washington and Tehran over Iran's nuclear program. (Full story)
  • British and Iraqi soldiers raided an Iraqi police station Monday in the southern city of Basra where they suspected a rogue police unit was planning to kill 76 prisoners. After the prisoners were removed, the soldiers destroyed the police station, a British official said.
  • CNN's Sam Dagher and Jomana Karadsheh contributed to this report.

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