Middle East News
Violence, condemnation, jubilation as Saddam is hanged
Dec 30, 2006, 17:32 GMT
Deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was handed over from US custody to the coalition-backed Iraqi authorities before dawn Saturday and, within the hour, hanged to a mixed reaction in Iraq and abroad of condemnation, jubilation and outbreaks of violence.
The 69-year-old former dictator, who had ruled with an iron fist for 24 years before his ousting in 2003, declined to be hooded as he went to his death before cameras whose images shortly afterwards flashed round the world.
Saddam was executed at 6 a.m. (0300 GMT) as the major Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha was about to begin at daybreak, put to death four days after an appeals court rejected an appeal against the sentence for crimes against humanity, relating to the killing of 148 people in the town of Dujail in 1982.
Shiites who suffered under his rule celebrated across Iraq, Sunni supporters expressed outrage, a swell of Western opinion - including the Vatican - also expressed condemnation of the death penalty enactment, and feared bombings began in Shiite areas of the country.
At least 75 people were killed 125 wounded in a series of bomb blasts in Shiite areas. Three car bombs exploded in separate Shiite districts in Baghdad, leaving at least 45 dead and 75 wounded.
Earlier in the day, 30 people were killed and 50 wounded in a bomb blast in a market in predominantly Shiite Kufa, about 150 kilometres south of Baghdad. The attack took place on a market.
In Baghdad's Shiite-dominated Sadr City, with a population 2 million, many had taken to the streets to celebrate, but much of the rest of Baghdad was reported quiet amid widespread fears of an unpsurge in violence during the coming days.
Several hundred Iraqis in Tikrit, Saddam's home town, demonstrated against the execution, gathering in front of the Saddam Mosque in the centre of the town 180 kilometres north of Baghdad, demanding the Iraqi government hand over Saddam's body to his family.
In reaction worldwide, Iran termed the execution a 'victory for the Iraqi people.' However, Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid-Reza Assefi criticized the swift execution, speculating that the US preferred to avoid disclosure of more details in the court hearings.
From his Texas ranch, US President George Bush issued a prompt statement praising Saddam's trial. 'Today, Saddam Hussein was executed after receiving a fair trial - the kind of justice he denied the victims of his brutal regime,' Bush said.
But there was plenty of criticism over enactment of the death penalty. The Vatican called the execution 'tragic news' which risked further inciting revenge and sowing the seeds for new violence.
The British government also criticized the execution, although it welcomed the fact that Saddam had been made accountable for his 'appalling crimes' by a court of law.
Russia warned the execution could cause the situation in Iraq to deteriorate. A foreign ministry spokesman criticized the fact that international appeals for the suspension of the death sentence against Saddam had been ignored.
Germany's Foreign Ministry expressed understanding for Iraqis who supported the execution, but said it was in principle opposed to the death penalty, while the French government called on Iraqis to 'look into the future and work towards reconciliation and national unity'.
Among the Palestinians, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum condemned the execution, calling it a 'political assassination' of a 'prisoner of war' whose hanging was 'in violation of international law.'
The Fatah movement also condemned the execution, according to the Palestine News Network. It also said that the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails had announced several days of mourning.
Hours after the execution, Iraqi television showed the shroud- wrapped body. It had already released footage showing Saddam's last moments, but stopping short of the actual hanging.
The pictures showed the former president handcuffed as two masked executioners in black jackets first tied a scarf, and then placed a rope around his neck.
Saddam, dressed in a black coat, appeared calm in a low-ceilinged room, where a small fence had been set up around the gallows. He apparently rejected the executioners' offer to be hooded.
The death warrant had been signed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki, who Friday had warned that 'nobody could abrogate the verdict.'
Saddam was handed over to Iraqi authorities by US-led coalition forces only an hour or so before the execution, according to Iraqi National Security Adviser Muwaffak al-Rubaie.
Al-Rubaie, who witnessed the execution, said only Iraqi authority members were present. A judge read Saddam his sentencing and the 'full letter' of Islamic and judicial requirements had been met.
'We took him to the gallows and he was saying some few slogans. He was very, very, very, broken,' he said.
Al-Rubaie also confirmed that Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam's half-brother and former head of the intelligence service, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, former head of Iraq's Revolutionary Court, were not executed alongside Saddam.
The head of Saddam's legal defence team, Khalil Duleimi, speaking in Amman, refrained from commenting on the execution. 'There is nothing more to say. It won't do any good now,' he said.
Duleimi said the defence team had been kept in the dark. On Friday, he received a call from a US army major telling him to nominate someone to collect Saddam Hussein's personal belongings.
It wqs not immediately clear what would happen to Saddam's body. His tribe and the municipal council of his home town Tikrit demanded it be taken to Tikrit in a US plane and under US protection so that he could be buried there.
Sheikh Ali al-Nada of the Tikrit-based al-Bayjat tribe and the town council said Saddam Hussein should be buried close to his two dead sons, Uday and Qusay.
However, Yemen's al-Sahwa newspaper quoted 'well-informed' sources as saying Saddam's elder daughter Raghad, who lives in exile in Jordan, asked Yemeni authorities 'to receive Saddam's body and temporarily bury him in the country until the Iraq is liberated from occupation and the body can be removed to Iraq.'© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur