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Britain considers death penalty in Iraq

London Times September 25 2003

THE British Government has begun discussions with the United States about reinstating the death penalty in Iraq to curb growing lawlessness.

In a move that will raise questions about Tony Blair's commitment to human rights in the Middle East, Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General, has been called in to advise on the legal implications of restoring capital punishment in Iraq.

It comes amid demands from Baghdad leaders for draconian measures against the insurgents who are perpetrating daily attacks against coalition forces and sabotaging pipelines.

British officials fear that if the demands continue they could find themselves in conflict with the US, where capital punishment is practised in many states. It could also provoke uproar in the European Union, whose Convention on Human Rights bans capital punishment by member states.

Ann Clwyd, the Prime Minister's special envoy on human rights in Iraq, said: "We're against the death penalty, and I think the UK Government is actively considering the implications at the moment. I know our Attorney-General has been involved in discussions on the matter. I understand the feelings of the people of Iraq because they want revenge. But revenge can come in different ways."

Five months after the fall of Saddam Hussein, many Iraqis are becoming desperate about the security situation, which shows no signs of improving. Attacks against the coalition are as high as 23 a day and ordinary Iraqis are increasingly finding themselves the victims.

Yesterday morning, one Iraqi was killed and 23 were injured when a remote- controlled bomb exploded on a busy street in central Baghdad, as an American Humvee armoured vehicle passed by. The US soldiers were uninjured, but two buses full of commuters were devastated by the blast.

Capital punishment was widely and arbitrarily practised under Saddam, but was suspended soon after the war as one of the first acts of General Tommy Franks, the commander of the invading forces. Recently, however, members of the Iraqi Governing Council have begun to lobby for it to be restored.

Ahmed al-Barak, a human rights lawyer who is a member of the council, said: "We are suffering from serious crimes now and the penalty must be execution.

"For hurting the coalition, hurting the Iraqi people, hurting Iraq and its infrastructure, there must be capital punishment."

Mr al-Barak supports the death penalty for first degree murder, rape, attacks on coalition forces, acts of sabotage against oil and water pipelines and for those who collude in such crimes.

His views were widely echoed in Baghdad yesterday. Salma Ahmed, 29, an engineer, said: "We are from a different culture and civilisation, we are Muslims and Iraqis and we should follow 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth'."

According to Mr al-Barak, Paul Bremer, the US civil administrator in Iraq, has expressed his willingness to reach a compromise.

The prospect appals the British Government. Mr Blair is an explicit opponent of capital punishment.

British officials said that the issue was on hold until an overhaul of the corrupt judicial system presided over by Saddam, but they fear that they will face a damaging disagreement with the United States. Inconclusive talks have been taking place between British and American officials in Baghdad and elsewhere.

As a senior partner in the coalition, Britain effectively has a share of sovereignty in Iraq.

If executions were carried out before the coalition's withdrawal, British officials in Baghdad would find themselves in a difficult position legally.

There would also be awkward questions about Iraqis arrested by British soldiers who were subsequently sentenced to death.
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