Guard at Hanging Blamed for Covert Video of Hussein

Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, January 4, 2007; Page A14

BAGHDAD, Jan. 3 -- The Iraqi government's dismay over the unauthorized release of footage of Saddam Hussein's execution led to the arrest Wednesday of a security guard who used a cellphone camera to record the hanging, according to an adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The prime minister's political adviser, Sadiq al-Rikabi, said Iraqi authorities are questioning the guard to see whether he acted independently or was working with others to undermine the government's desire to reveal only a brief portion of the execution. Rikabi would not identify the guard, who had not been charged, or say where he was being held.

The video, which spread widely on the Internet, shows an unruly spectacle in which an onlooker taunts Hussein by yelling, "Go to hell." Another voice is heard chanting, "Moqtada, Moqtada, Moqtada," in reference to Moqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite Muslim cleric who leads one of Iraq's most powerful militias.

The video outraged Sunni Muslim loyalists of Hussein and was condemned by some Western leaders, such as Britain's deputy prime minister, John Prescott, who called the images "unacceptable."

The release of the footage was "a mistake. It was not something proper or acceptable," Rikabi said. "This execution was not an open event, to have been seen by the people all over the world. This is an implementation of justice, and we needed just a small piece about the execution, just to show the people this is Saddam," he said.

Rikabi said cellphones and cameras were collected from witnesses after the execution to prevent such an incident.

The allegation that a security guard was responsible for the grisly unofficial video was contradicted by the deputy prosecutor in Hussein's trail, Munqith al-Faroun, an official witness to the execution. He said he watched two other official observers using their cellphones to record the execution, but no guards.

Faroun insisted that "it was those who accompanied us who took that video, and I'm responsible for what I say. Maybe one of the guards did it secretly, but there were two officials who were doing it openly."

U.S. officials have privately expressed frustration that Hussein was executed just four days after an appeals court upheld his death sentence and at the start of a Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha.

"The ambassador and U.S. mission personnel did engage the government of Iraq on issues relating to procedures involved, and the timing of the execution given the upcoming holy days," said Lou Fintor, a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Baghdad. "While the government of Iraq gave consideration to U.S. concerns, all decisions made regarding the execution were Iraqi decisions based on their own considerations."

During a briefing for reporters in Baghdad on Wednesday, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell stressed that the United States was not responsible for how the execution was conducted.

"If you are asking me, 'Would we have done things differently?' Yes, we would have," Caldwell said. "But that's not our decision. That's the government of Iraq's decision."

In Washington, White House spokesman Tony Snow said attention should focus on Hussein's crimes. "There seems to be a lot of concern about the last two minutes of Saddam Hussein's life and less about the first 69 [years] in which he murdered hundreds of thousands of people," he said.

Calls for clemency continued Wednesday for two other former Iraqi officials sentenced to hang for their participation in the killings of 148 people from the village of Dujail in the 1980s.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour issued a statement saying she "directly appealed" to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to stay the executions of Awad Haman Bander, the former chief justice of the Revolutionary Court, and Barzan Ibrahim, Hussein's half brother.

"The concerns that I expressed just days ago with respect to the fairness and impartiality of Saddam Hussein's trial apply also to these two defendants," Arbour said.

Rikabi said he did not know when the two would be executed. Another Maliki adviser, Mariam Rayis, said on al-Arabiya television that the executions would not take place Thursday but might occur after the holiday ends Saturday.

Meanwhile, a video appeared on the Internet on Wednesday that purports to show five Western security contractors -- four Americans and an Austrian -- who were kidnapped Nov. 16 when their convoy was ambushed in southern Iraq.

In the video, one of the hostages says, "I'm well, my friends are well. We've been treated well."

Fintor, the U.S. Embassy spokesman, said he was aware of reports of the video but declined to comment further. He said U.S. officials remain in contact with the families of the kidnapped contractors and continue to call for their release.

The U.S. military announced Wednesday that a soldier was killed Dec. 31 when a roadside bomb exploded near a patrol south of Baghdad. The soldier's name was not released pending notification of family members.

The daily discovery of bodies continued Wednesday as Iraqi national police patrols found 35 corpses, 25 of them in Baghdad, according to Col. Khalaf Jalil of the Interior Ministry. A roadside bomb exploded in southwest Baghdad, killing a policeman and wounding two others, he said.

Special correspondents Saad al-Izzi and Waleed Saffar and other Washington Post staff in Iraq, and staff writer Peter Baker in Washington contributed to this report.

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