BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Saddam Hussein's chief lawyer implored world leaders today to prevent the United States from handing over the ousted leader to Iraqi authorities for execution, saying he should enjoy protection from his enemies as a "prisoner of war."
Iraq's highest court on Tuesday rejected Saddam's appeal against his conviction and death sentence for the killing of 148 Shiites in the northern city of Dujail in 1982. The court said the former president should be hanged within 30 days.
"According to the international conventions, it is forbidden to hand a prisoner of war to his adversary," Saddam's lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi said.
"I urge all the international and legal organizations, the United Nations secretary-general, the Arab League and all the leaders of the world to rapidly prevent the American administration from handing the president to the Iraqi authorities," he told The Associated Press.
An official close to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said Saddam would remain in a U.S. military prison until he is handed over to Iraqi authorities on the day of his execution. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to address the media.
Al-Dulaimi warned that turning over Saddam to the Iraqis would increase the sectarian violence that already is tearing the country apart.
"If the American administration insists in handing the president to the Iraqis, it would commit a great strategic mistake which would lead to the escalation of the violence in Iraq and the eruption of a destructive civil war," he said.
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said there was concern about the potential for violence in carrying out the execution. "I'm sure the Iraqi government is thinking through that and working with the coalition in terms of the impact that could have," he said.
Attacks on Thursday killed at least 28 Iraqis, while the U.S. military announced the deaths of four American soldiers and a Marine.
In Baghdad, a suicide bomber carrying two empty plastic containers joined a crowd of people lining up to buy kerosene near a stadium, said Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, a spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry. The attacker then detonated his explosive-laden belt, killing at least 10 people and injuring 20 others.
Two bombs also exploded opposite a park in the South Gate area of Baghdad, killing nine people and wounding 43, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.
Another blast targeted a police patrol in western Baghdad but missed, killing two civilians instead, police said. Four people were wounded.
Gunmen wearing police uniforms attacked an army checkpoint in the city of Balad north of Baghdad, killing three Iraqi troops and wounding eight people, authorities said. A bomb also killed an Iraqi soldier in a military vehicle near Qazaniya, close to the Iranian border, police said.
The U.S. military said a roadside bomb killed an American soldier and wounded another Thursday while they were on patrol north of Baghdad. Three soldiers also died from roadside bombs in the capital and a Marine was killed in western Anbar province on Wednesday, the military said.
With 100 American troops dead so far this month, December is the second-deadliest month of 2006 for U.S. military personnel. At least 105 troops died in October.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy said it believes four American security contractors and an Austrian are still being held captive after being kidnapped in southern Iraq six weeks ago.
The men went missing Nov. 16 when a large convoy of trucks being escorted by their Crescent Security Group was hijacked on a highway near Safwan, a city on the border with Kuwait. Suspected militiamen dressed in Iraqi police uniforms ambushed the convoy, taking 14 hostages, including the five security guards, and nine truck drivers who were later released.
"At this time, U.S. officials believe the American citizens are still being held by their captors," embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said, without elaborating.
A video of the kidnapped Americans reportedly surfaced this week, showing them to be alive and in good condition. The footage, reported by McClatchy Newspapers, was believed to have been made about a month ago. If authentic, it would be the first proof that all five men survived the ambush.
Against the backdrop of sectarian killings that have dragged Sunni Arabs and Shiite Muslims into civil warfare, Saddam urged Iraqis in a letter posted on a Web site Wednesday to "remember that God has enabled you to become an example of love, forgiveness and brotherly coexistence."
But he also voiced support for the Sunni Arab-dominated insurgency, saying: "Long live jihad and the mujahedeen."
An official from Prime Minister al-Maliki's Dawa Party, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said Wednesday that "the government wants Saddam executed as soon as possible."
Issam Ghazzawi, another member of Saddam's defense team, said there was no way of knowing when the former dictator's execution would take place.
"The only person who can predict the execution of the president ... is God and (President) Bush," Ghazzawi said Thursday.
Saddam is in the midst of another trial, charged with genocide and other crimes during a 1987-88 military crackdown on Kurds in northern Iraq. That trial was adjourned until Jan. 8, but experts have said the trial of Saddam's co-defendants is likely to continue even if he is executed.