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U.S. Wants To Focus On Saddam, Not Hanging

The U.S. government worked Wednesday to distance itself from the ugly details of Saddam Hussein's execution and tried to focus on the symbolism of the former dictator's death sentence.

"There seems to be a lot of concern about the last two minutes of Saddam Hussein's life and less about the first 69 (years), in which he murdered hundreds of thousands of people," White House press secretary Tony Snow said. "That's why he was executed."

CBS News correspondent Karen Brown reports that the president hasn't even seen the video of Hussein's hanging.

But the Bush administration was sending conflicting signals about the taunting and baiting that accompanied Hussein's execution, with the White House declining to join criticism of the procedure and the State Department and U.S. military raising questions about it.

"The president is focused on the new way forward in Iraq so these issues are best addressed out of Iraq, out of Baghdad," deputy White House press secretary Scott Stanzel said. "Prime Minister Maliki's staff have already expressed their disappointment in the filmings, so I guess we'll leave it at that."

Stanzel said the U.S. military and the U.S. Embassy in Iraq had expressed concerns about the timing of Saddam's execution and later about "the process and what took place."

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Wednesday that U.S. officials questioned conducting the execution on a Muslim festival day and as well as some procedures, such as who would be signing certain documents.

He said Iraqis had raised questions about "comments made by people in the room" during the final minutes before the execution and are conducting an investigation into tape made on a cell phone that got out.

"Clearly they didn't approve of that," McCormack said. He added, "Nothing that was done in any way should detract from the fact this was a very solid criminal procedure."

Iraqi state television broadcast an official video of Saturday's execution. The video had no audio and never showed Saddam's actual death. But a leaked cell phone video showed the deposed leader being jeered in his final moments, with witnesses shouting "Go to hell!" before he dropped through the gallows floor and died.

The person believed to have recorded the execution on a cell phone was arrested Wednesday, an adviser to Iraq's prime minister said.

The adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, did not identify the person. But he said it was "an official who supervised the execution" and who is "now under investigation."

"In the past few hours, the government has arrested the person who made the video of Saddam's execution," the adviser said.

The unruly scene was broadcast on Al-Jazeera television and was posted on the Internet, prompting a worldwide outcry and major protests among Iraq's minority Sunnis, who lost their preferential status when Saddam was ousted in the U.S.-led invasion of March 2003.

Britain's deputy prime minister, John Prescott, called the leaked images "unacceptable." The Vatican labeled the footage a "spectacle" that violated human rights.

In Baghdad, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the U.S. military spokesman, said the execution of Saddam Hussein would have gone differently if U.S. officials — not Iraqis — had orchestrated it.

"Would we have done things differently? Yes we would have. But that's not our decision. That's the government of Iraq's decision," Caldwell said.

He said the United States had nothing to do with the facility where the execution took place.

"We were not involved in any searches of any people, we had nobody present," Caldwell said. "We did not dictate any requirements that had to be followed. This was a government of Iraq decision on how that whole process went down."

In other developments in Iraq:

  • "Victory" will be the theme of President Bush's expected speech on Iraq war policy, but the White House will not commit to a date when the president will inform the nation of his new strategy. "We're getting closer to the date," Snow said Wednesday. "The president's still working through the policy." Speculation has centered around an announcement of his strategy next week.
  • Preparations are under way to execute two of Saddam Hussein's co-defendants in the next few days, but the details still must be worked out with the U.S. military, Iraqi media and a government official said.
  • Four Americans and an Austrian abducted in November in southern Iraq spoke briefly and appeared uninjured in a video believed to have been recorded nearly two weeks ago and delivered Wednesday to The Associated Press.
  • The number of civilians killed in the violence in Iraq rose sharply over the last three months, accounting for 5,000, or about 40 percent, of the more than 12,000 who died in 2006, the Iraqi government says. Only about half as many Iraqi soldiers died in 2006 as American troops, the government reported Tuesday. But the number of Iraqi security forces killed jumped to 1,539 — nearly double the American death count of 823 for the year — when the deaths of police, who conduct paramilitary operations, are added to the number of slain Iraqi soldiers.
  • An American soldier was killed by a roadside bomb while on patrol south of Baghdad, the U.S. military reported Wednesday. The statement said the soldier, whose name was withheld until family could be notified, died on Sunday. The military released no further information on the death.
  • Al-Maliki says he has no interest in a second term and seems fed up with his job even before the end of his first. Asked whether he would accept a second term, Maliki said in an interview published Tuesday by the Wall Street Journal: "Impossible." He added: "I wish it could be done with even before the end of this term. I would like to serve my people from outside the circle of senior officials, maybe through the parliament, or through working directly with the people."
  • The military says U.S. troops in western Iraq have detained 23 people suspected of having ties to senior al Qaeda leaders. The raids took place today in Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's volatile western Anbar province. During the raids, three of the suspects detonated an improvised explosive device, then ran into a house. American troops shot one of the suspects, wounding him as he tried to flee.
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