British foreign secretary says officials urged Iraqi authorities not to execute Saddam

British officials in Baghdad urged the Iraq government to spare Saddam Hussein on the day before his execution, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said in a letter disclosed Thursday.

Beckett said high-level representations were made in the Iraqi capital on Dec. 29, but she did not reveal specific detail of the clemency plea.

"I can assure you that the British government repeatedly made clear to the Iraqi government its opposition to the death penalty in all cases," Beckett said in a letter to lawmaker Andrew Mackinlay, published Thursday. "This included lobbying at the highest level in Baghdad on 29 December, the eve of the execution."

Beckett said that following Saddam's hanging, the British government had again contacted Iraqi officials to stress their opposition to the use of the death penalty.

"We continue to urge the Iraqi authorities to abolish the death penalty," Beckett told the lawmaker.

Giving evidence to a joint session of parliament's scrutiny panels on foreign and defense affairs on Thursday, Beckett insisted reaction to Saddam's hanging had been largely muted, reports AP.

Beckett said there were some sectors of Iraqi society that had been angered, but "there is not strong evidence that it has caused a huge problem across the board."

Prime Minister Tony Blair on Tuesday said the manner of Saddam's hanging had been unacceptable citing the taunting of the former Iraqi dictator on the gallows and the release of illicit cell phone video footage of the execution.

"The crimes that Saddam committed does not excuse the manner of his execution, but the manner of his execution does not excuse the crimes," Blair said.

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