Page 2 of 2   <      

Saddam Hussein Is Put to Death

"My father, my brother, my leader has died," said Um Muhammed, 45, weeping. "We have become like sheep without a shepherd."

Abdul Samad Ahmed, a professor at the University of Tikrit, said: "There is no such sectarian government in the whole world like this one, that would bring sorrow to one-third of the Iraqi people, since Saddam is a Sunni. Let Maliki know the days will turn and a day will come in which he will be executed on Eid, as well," he added, referring to Iraq's Shiite prime minister, Nouri-al-Maliki.

Also to be hanged are Hussein's half brother Barzan Ibrahim and Awad Haman Bander, the former chief justice of the Revolutionary Court, but they were not executed with him. Four other co-defendants received prison terms ranging from 15 years to life. On Tuesday, the appeals court upgraded former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan's life sentence to the death penalty.

Also Tuesday, the appeals court upheld Hussein's death sentence for the killings of 148 people after an attempt was made on his life in the northern Iraqi city of Dujail in 1982. The court said the former president should be hanged within 30 days. Since his capture by U.S. troops in December 2003, Hussein had legally been in Iraq's custody but remained under American watch at a military prison.

The Iraqi government, led by Shiite Muslims and northern Kurds, kept the impending execution a secret from its citizens. In doing so, government officials feared that even close to death, Hussein could cause additional chaos. Sunni Arab loyalists, who view him as a symbol of their resistance, had already vowed to take revenge.

"It's like God asking you to choose between Heaven and Hell," said Thamer al-Musawi, 47, a barber in Baghdad's Karrada neighborhood, speaking before the execution. "If Saddam gets executed, you go to Hell. If he doesn't, you go to Heaven. I will choose Hell just so Saddam is executed.

"He is not a human being. He does not deserve to be alive."

Hussein leaves a legacy of fear, poverty and a profound despair among Iraqis that their nation, rich in history and endowed with oil, crumbled under his watch, and has been engulfed in war since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 to overthrow Hussein. At the same time, many Iraqis, engulfed by sectarian violence and a lack of services, have expressed nostalgia for the security they enjoyed under Hussein, although they despised his rule.

Hussein's execution marks a shift in the fortunes of Iraq's Sunni Arabs, who formed the core of Iraq's bureaucracy under his rule and are struggling for a foothold in the country's political process. A central question is whether his death at the hands of a Shiite-led government will alienate more Sunnis and hinder efforts at national reconciliation.

Iraqi and U.S. officials also predicted an upsurge in violence, at least in the short term, as Hussein loyalists and former Baathists seek to avenge his death. But it is unclear how influential those groups are today. The goals of the insurgent groups that form the bulwark of the Sunni resistance have been to oust the U.S.-led occupation and gain political power rather than fight for Hussein.

Some Iraqis said that religious and sectarian symbolism guided the timing of the execution. Sunni Muslims consider Saturday the beginning of Eid, while Shiites start celebrating Sunday. Eid commemorates prophet Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his son to God. It also marks the end of the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, a trip millions of Muslims worldwide make each year. In Eid, a sheep is usually slaughtered as a symbol of Ibrahim's sacrifice and its meat is shared among neighbors, relatives and the needy.

Hussein's final days were rife with controversy. Many human rights groups criticized his death sentence as unfair and marred by procedural flaws. There was failure to disclose key evidence to Hussein's attorneys, as well as violations of the basic rights of the defendants to confront witnesses, rights activists said. The first presiding judge resigned. Iraqi politicians routinely denounced the tribunal as weak. Three defense attorneys and a witness were assassinated. Outbursts by the second chief judge, Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman, undermined his impartiality, the activists said.

"The rushed execution of Saddam Hussein is simply wrong," Larry Cox, the U.S. head of Amnesty International, said in a statement. "It signifies justice denied for countless victims who endured unspeakable suffering during his regime and now have been denied their right to see justice served. It is a failed opportunity to establish the rule of law in Iraq."

Iraqi and U.S. officials, in turn, angrily declared that the Iraqi government did not interfere in the judicial process. The verdict, they said, would close the book on one of modern Iraq's most violent periods. Nevertheless, the year-long trial further deepened Iraq's sectarian divide, as Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds reacted to Hussein's case along the fault lines of sect and history.

Late Friday, a U.S. judge refused to halt the hanging.

Many Kurds were disappointed that Hussein was executed for the Dujail killings, widely viewed as a test case for the larger Anfal genocide trial. That trial, which began in August, was chronicling, often in painful testimonies, the systematic killings of tens of thousands of Kurds with chemical weapons and poison gas. Hussein was scheduled to return to the courtroom Jan. 8.

Staff writer Nancy Trejos, special correspondents Saad al-Izzi, Naseer Nouri, Waleed Saffar, Muhanned Saif Aldin, Saad Sarhan and Hasan Shimmari and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.

<       2

© 2007 The Washington Post Company