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Iraq Transition

Iraqi PM says he refused U.S. request to delay execution

Story Highlights

• British Prime Minister Tony Blair criticizes handling of Saddam Hussein's death
• Iraqi leader says delay in execution would have "left door open for trouble"
• Nuri al-Maliki says he turned down request from U.S. ambassador for delay
• Al-Maliki says video showing Hussein being taunted was "isolated act"
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq's prime minister said Tuesday that he turned down a U.S. request to delay Saddam Hussein's hanging because he wanted to show Iraqis that no deal would let the former dictator escape punishment.

"The situation in the country was shaky with many rumors about possible deals between Saddam and the government," Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told reporters.

"These rumors, which were started by Saddam's defense lawyers, created tension among the people, and we felt the necessity of terminating this man who was troublesome in his life and troublesome in his death."

Hussein, 69, was hanged December 30 after being convicted for his role in a 1982 massacre in Dujail, a town north of Baghdad. (Full story)

Al-Maliki acknowledged that Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, asked him to postpone the execution by 10 days to two weeks.

"We refused because of what I described earlier: The tension in the country was high," al-Maliki said. "We didn't want to leave the door open for trouble, and we didn't want the victims' families to take to the streets in protest."

Video of the hanging, shot with a crude cell-phone camera and released on the Internet shortly afterward, showed Shiites taunting Hussein, a Sunni, moments before his execution. (Watch Iraqis pass around footage of execution Video )

The video angered moderate Sunnis and other Iraqis who criticized the way al-Maliki's government handled the execution.

The images fed Sunni fears that Hussein's death was a sectarian lynching by the Shiite-led government. (Watch how coalition forces struggle to police Sunni insurgents and Shiite death squads Video)

But al-Maliki, a Shiite, played down the controversy on Tuesday.

The video "was an isolated act committed by a man who acted naively and in violation of the law," he said. "We launched an inquiry, we detained the man, and he will get his punishment. (Full story)

"He took the pictures and shared them with some friends over mobile phones. Then someone forwarded the video to the media, and this man had no idea what kind of act he was committing or where his act would lead him."

The handling of the execution also prompted worldwide criticism, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair's first public comments on the matter Tuesday.

"The manner of Saddam's execution was completely wrong," Blair said. "But that shouldn't blind us to the crimes he committed against the people, including the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis, 1 million casualties in the Iran-Iraq war and use of chemical weapons against his own people, wiping out entire villages of people.

"So, the crimes that Saddam committed doesn't excuse the manner of his execution, and the manner of the execution doesn't excuse the crimes. Now I think that is a perfectly sensible position that most people would reasonably accept."

A new video surfaced Monday on the Internet, apparently showing Hussein with a gaping neck wound and facial bruising after his execution. (Full story)

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