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Amnesty Urges Iraq Executions Halt On Legal Fears

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- Rights group Amnesty International has said Iraq should halt the imminent execution of 128 prisoners, because their trials may not have met international standards, a charge the Iraqi judiciary denies.

Amnesty called on Iraq to make public the names and charges against those to be executed, and said the death penalty was a poor deterrent in a country plagued by suicide bombers.

"Iraq's creaking judicial system is simply unable to guarantee fair trials in ordinary criminal cases, and even less so in capital cases," said Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa program.

"We fear that numerous people have gone to their death after unfair trials," he added.

A spokesman for the Iraqi judiciary said 125 Iraqis were currently awaiting execution and that their names and details of their cases were freely available.

"The verdicts from the criminal court comply with the law and meet international standards," Abdul-Sattar al-Birqdar said.

A death-penalty verdict automatically goes to a panel of 23 judges with at least 25 years legal experience for appeal, to be decided by a simple majority, he said.

Iraq reintroduced the death penalty in 2004 after it was suspended following the U.S. invasion a year earlier. Executed in 2006, former leader Saddam Hussein has been Iraq's most high-profile recipient of the death sentence since then.

His trial and execution was criticized by some as rushed and highly politicized. Some aspects of Iraqi's legal system are still in flux after years of war and sanctions, and Amnesty said some convictions are likely to have been obtained under torture.

The group estimates that more than 130 people have been executed over the past three years, and many more sentenced to death, while cautioning accurate figures are hard to obtain.

The fate of tens of thousands of Iraqis in detention after years of sectarian bloodshed is a sensitive issue. The country's majority Shi'a, minority Sunnis, and other groups say they are trying to reconcile as the violence abates.