Sunday, December 31, 2006

Saddam buried in Tikrit

In accordance with Muslim tradition, Saddam Hussein was buried within 24 hours of his death in the family plot near Tikrit. A local tribesman told journalists that the burial had taken place at 4am Sunday in a family plot in Awja, the village of Saddam's birth. He was buried next to his sons Uday and Qusay. The family overrode the wishes of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. His spokesman had earlier said the government wanted Saddam to be buried in a secret location to prevent the site becoming a place of pilgrimage.

The new Shia Prime Minister has strengthened his hand in his own community after pushing through the execution of Saddam over the protest of Saddam’s own Sunni constituency and the Kurds who wanted to see him tried for genocide against their peoples. Iraqi TV showed al-Maliki signing the death warrant in red ink on Friday night. Afterwards he said "Saddam's execution puts an end to all the pathetic gambles on a return to dictatorship.”

World opinion is sharply divided over the execution. President Bush said the former Iraqi dictator had received the kind of justice he denied his victims. Iran and Kuwait also welcomed the execution. Britain said Saddam had been "held to account" but reiterated its opposition to the death penalty. But Saudi Arabia, expressed “surprise and dismay” that the hanging was carried out on the day of the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha. Russia and the Vatican also expressed anger at the decision.

Some analysts in the West have also expressed suspicion that Saddam’s death was orchestrated by the Americans so that he would be unable to give testimony that might be embarrassing to the US in the ongoing Kurdish trial. Iraqi journalist Cirwan Mostafa warned that his death prior to that trial’s completion would be a “conspiracy woven by powerful parties and maybe the Americans so that Saddam is not sentenced for crimes he committed against the Kurds with the knowledge of the whole the world and the Americans who kept silent at that time."

The sudden execution on the eve of the Eid-al-Adha religious holiday did nothing to help stem the sectarian violence. On the day of his death car bombs killed almost 70 people in Baghdad and Najaf. The bombs exploded in Shia suburbs. In north-west Baghdad, two parked cars exploded in quick succession, killing 37 civilians and wounding 76. Another 31 people died and 58 were hurt when a bomb planted on a minibus exploded in a fish market in Kufa near Najaf. A mob cornered and killed the man who planted that bomb as he walked away from the explosion.

Meanwhile the US military announced the deaths of three Marines and three soldiers, making December the year’s deadliest month for US troops in Iraq with the toll reaching 109. Three marines died on Thursday from wounds suffered in combat in the western Anbar province. Yesterday, one soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in north-west Baghdad and another was killed in Anbar. A sixth was killed by a roadside bomb in south-west Baghdad.

The overall total of US dead since the start of the 2003 invasion is now 2,998. The total number of Iraqi dead in this time is a matter of intense debate. Iraqi Body Count put the figure as between 52,000 and 58,000 however the British medical journal Lancet published an article in October which suggested over 650,000 have died.

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