Saturday, December 30, 2006

Saddam the Martyr?

After denying the possibility for the last three days, Iraq executed its former leader Saddam Hussein early this morning. The Iraqi deputy foreign minister confirmed the news to the BBC. Iraqi TV said the execution took place at 6am local time. The execution took place at the Iraqi-controlled compound known by the Americans as “Camp Justice” in the northern Baghdad suburb of Khadimeya. He died unhooded and carrying a copy of the Koran.

Saddam was sentenced to death in November for the killing of 148 people in the northern Iraqi city of Dujail in 1982. On Tuesday, an Iraqi appeals court upheld the sentence. The court said the former president should be hanged within 30 days. Rumours have since been rife that he would be executed by the weekend. The rumours intensified after a US military office said that Saddam would be hanged before the beginning of the Eid religious holiday which starts on Sunday.

On Thursday Saddam’s lawyers published a letter he wrote after he received the death sentence. In it he stated that his execution is a sacrifice to Iraq, and that his death will lead to martyrdom. "I offer my soul to God as a sacrifice, and if He wants, He will send it to heaven with the martyrs”. He signed the letter as “President and Commander in Chief of the Iraqi Mujahed Armed Forces”.

On Thursday, Saddam's defence lawyers in Jordan issued an unsuccessful last ditch call to Arab governments and the United Nations to intervene to stop the execution. Chief lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi said Saddam was a prisoner of war and should not be handed to his enemies according to international law. On the same day, the Vatican condemned the sentence, saying it was wrong to answer crime with another crime.

Speculation increased yesterday after US officials handed Saddam over to Iraqi authorities. US officials stated then he could be hanged as early as Saturday. However the official Iraqi line was that would not happen. A swag of officials issued heated denials. These came from at least two cabinet ministers, the Justice Ministry responsible for executions, a court prosecutor as well as an aide to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. But an Iraqi television channel was closer to the truth when they quoted a judge saying he would die on Friday or Saturday.

Saddam was executed at dawn. An Iraqi official told Associated Press his execution was attended by a Muslim cleric, lawmakers, senior officials and relatives of victims. He was 69 years old and ruled Iraq for 24 years until the US-led invasion in 2003. He was captured in December that year.

As the news filtered through the streets of Baghdad, many people took to the streets in the pre-dawn hours to fire guns in the air in celebration. Many expressed disbelief it had happened and wanted to see proof. However not everyone is happy about his execution, including some of Saddam’s old enemies. Kurdish leaders denounced the timing of the execution as a miscarriage of justice. Saddam was still on trial for atrocities and genocide against the Kurds in northern Iraq between 1987 and 1988. That trial was adjourned until 8 January though the trial of his co-defendants will continue.

Saddam means “stubborn one” in Arabic and he lived up to his name by showing no remorse during his sometimes farcical trial last year. In November a five-judge Iraqi panel announced a unanimous sentence of death for Hussein and two of his seven co-defendants, including Hussein's half brother.

His Baath Party was officially disbanded after the 2003 invasion but some members escaped to Yemen where they issued a warning of retaliation on Wednesday. The Baath Party website issued statement, signed by "the Defence Committee for President Saddam Hussein.” It said "our party warns again of the consequences of executing Mr. President and his comrades," and continued, "the Baath and the resistance are determined to retaliate, with all means and everywhere, to harm America and its interests if it commits this crime.”

Saddam is survived by his wife Sajda in Qatar, and his daughter Raghad who supervised the defence team in Amman.

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