Rifkind: Saddam sentencing ‘deeply suspicious’

The timing of Saddam Hussein’s sentencing in the run-up to the US mid-term elections was “deeply suspicious”, former foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind has declared.

The Conservative MP accused the Bush administration of using the timing of the verdict, which saw the former Iraqi leader sentenced to death by hanging, to boost the Republicans’ performance at the polls.

However, Sir Malcolm admitted he had “no proof” for the allegations.

“I would like to believe that it was a pure coincidence it was announced the day before the American congressional elections. I don’t believe it was,” the Kensington and Chelsea MP and a critic of the Iraq war told BBC One’s Question Time.

“I think he was convicted months ago. The date of the announcement I suspect – I have no proof but I deeply suspect – was requested by the United States as an attempt to help influence these elections. It didn’t work and it shouldn’t have been tried.”

Although Sir Malcolm, who served under John Major from 1995-1997, was against the death penalty, he said he would not “lose sleep” over the execution.

Monday’s sentencing sparked condemnation from human rights groups, with Amnesty International describing the trial as “deeply flawed and unfair”.

But foreign secretary Margaret Beckett said the former dictator and his co-defendants had been “held to account” for crimes against humanity. Tony Blair said the case had been “handled by the Iraqis”, but admitted he opposed the death penalty in any case – “whether it’s Saddam or anybody else”.

Refusing to comment on Sir Malcolm’s allegations, a spokesman for Number 10 told politics.co.uk: “The Iraqi justice system is entirely a matter for the Iraqi judicial authorities.”

In the US mid-terms, the Republicans lost both the Senate and House of Representatives to the Democrats for the first time in 12 years. The White House has dismissed the accusations as “preposterous”.