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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The United States said on Sunday it will hold Saddam Hussein's cousin, known as "Chemical Ali", and two other former officials sentenced to death, until Iraqi leaders reach a consensus on their fate.
Iraq's prime minister, president and a vice president have been at odds over who has the authority to order the execution of Ali Hassan al-Majeed, former Defence Minister Sultan Hashem and former army commander Hussein Rashid Muhammad.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said: "They are in United States custody and ... once the government of Iraq has reached a consensus on what they wish to do with these detainees we will then take action."
The Iraqi government said on Friday Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had asked U.S. President George W. Bush to order the handover of the three so they can be executed. Negroponte said he would not comment on diplomatic communications.
An Iraqi court in September upheld the death sentence against the three men who were convicted of genocide for their roles in a campaign against Iraq's Kurds in 1988. Under Iraq's constitution, the death sentence should have been carried out within 30 days.
"At the moment the government of Iraq itself has not reached a consensus as to what to do about the situation so we await that," Negroponte told a news conference in Baghdad.
President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd who opposes the death penalty, and Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, a member of Saddam's Sunni Arab minority, say Iraq's constitution requires that the three-man presidency council -- made up of the president and two vice presidents -- agree to an execution.
Maliki's government says the council has no such power.
The U.S. military has said it would keep the three men until it receives an "authoritative government of Iraq request".
Many Sunni Arabs believe former Defence Minister Hashem should be spared execution, arguing he was only a figurehead in a campaign run by Majeed.
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