Lawyers for former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein say he has been transferred from U.S. custody to Iraqi control in preparation for his execution. However, a U.S. State Department spokesman in Washington says the transfer has not yet taken place. From northern Iraq, VOA's Margaret Besheer reports, it is not clear when the execution will take place.

The transfer of custody from the Americans to the Iraqis is one of the final steps before the death sentence can be carried out.

A spokesman for Saddam's defense team in Jordan confirmed Friday, in an interview with Associated Press Television, that the United States contacted Saddam's lawyers to collect the former dictator's personal belongings.

Ziad al-Khasawneh said he had spoken to Saddam's chief lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, who said the Americans contacted him regarding collecting Saddam's belongings.

On Tuesday, Iraq's highest appeals court upheld Saddam's death sentence, handed down on November 5, for the 1982 executions of 148 Shi'ite men from the town of Dujail. The court ordered Saddam to be hanged by January 27.

Earlier Friday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office released a statement saying the execution would go ahead. The statement says, "Our respect for human rights requires us to execute him, and there will be no review or delay in carrying out the sentence."

The spokesman for Saddam's legal team said executing Saddam and his co-defendants under the current circumstances would only intensify violence in Iraq. He said it would shut all windows of opportunity for political dialogue, and, he said, it is not permissible under legal practices to execute someone during the holiday period.

Muslims will celebrate the end of the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, beginning on Sunday.

A regular curfew in effect in Baghdad is expected to be extended when the execution takes place, as officials are concerned that Saddam loyalists and Sunni Arab extremists may increase attacks in retaliation for their former leader's execution.