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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The highest appeals court in Iraq has upheld the death sentence for Saddam Hussein, and said he must be hanged within 30 days. The former dictator was convicted on charges against humanity.

The decision could mean that Saddam's second trial for genocide against Iraqi Kurds will not be completed, and it could provoke a reaction from human rights groups who said the first trial was improper. It's also expected to trigger more violence by Sunni insurgents who supported Saddam's regime.

NPR's Corey Flintoff joins us now from Baghdad. And Corey, this decision stems from a rather tumultuous trial. It was carried on sporadically for much of last year. Review the issues briefly for us.

COREY FLINTOFF: Renee, this first trial was all about an alleged attempt to assassinate Saddam in 1982 when his motorcade passed through a Shiite town called Dujail. Prosecutors said Saddam retaliated by executing 148 men and boys from Dujail after giving them a summary trial.

Saddam was finally convicted in early November and sentenced to death by hanging depending on the result of this appeal.

MONTAGNE: And is this really his final chance?

FLINTOFF: That's what the judge said. The decision has to be ratified by Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani. He personally opposes the death penalty, but he's had his vice president signed death warrants for him in the past. The government has said it would like to see Saddam executed and no on in the government is expected to oppose that.

MONTAGNE: So this is it, though as far as the courts go, there's no more appeals?

FLINTOFF: That is as far as we know. Yes.

MONTAGNE: Now, Saddam, as we've just said, is currently on trial for genocide in a vastly bigger case. He's accused of ordering poison gas attacks on Iraqi Kurds during the late 1980s, and in fact, killing tens of thousands of people. That trial, can it be completed before if it happens that he is hanged before his execution?

FLINTOFF: The head of the Iraqi High Tribunal said that this decision supersedes all the other criminal actions against Saddam, meaning, that the genocide trial would be over for him. It would carry on for the other six defendants though. That's also bound to elicit calls for justice from the Kurds who survived Iraqi government attacks.

This genocide trial was the first chance that many of them had nearly 30 years to tell these horrendous stories of seeing their villages bombed with poison gas and watching whole families die from chemical burns.

MONTAGNE: Well, in a strange sense, human rights groups preferred this second trial because they declared the first trial to be so flawed as to be, you know, legally, actually not, you know, legally flawed.

FLINTOFF: Yes. Human rights groups complained, well, on several grounds. One was opposition to the death penalty under any circumstances. But others centered on the way the court was constituted and the way the trial was carried out. International experts said Saddam should have tried by an international court, like the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

The Bush administration has totally supported the right of the court and it says it shows - the Saddam trial shows that Iraq successfully reestablishing the rule of law.

MONTAGNE: And just briefly, Corey, what about the threat of violence now that this sentence has been upheld?

FLINTOFF: Well, it's been expected that there'd be an upsurge in violence no matter which way the decision went. Now, that the conviction's been upheld, it's expected to enrage Sunni insurgents and former Saddam loyalists. And the Iraqi government and the U.S. military are both bracing for what could be a new round of attacks.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much. NPR's Corey Flintoff speaking to us from Baghdad.

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