Arab World Outraged Over Hangings in Iraq

By Nora Boustany
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, January 18, 2007

Beirut's daily an-Nahar newspaper ran a caricature Tuesday of the Iraqi flag adorned with three nooses. At the center of the red, white and black banner, the outline of the coiled ropes appears similar to the word "Allah" in Arabic script.

The cartoon appears under the caption "The New Iraq."

That gallows humor reflected the swelling tide of Arab anger and revulsion at the Iraqi government's execution Monday of Barzan Ibrahim, who was beheaded as he was hanged, and the cellphone recordings of the taunts and gloating that greeted Saddam Hussein before his execution Dec. 30.

Many in the Arab world questioned whether the beheading of Ibrahim, Hussein's half brother and his onetime intelligence chief, was a premeditated slight or, as the government has insisted, the accidental consequence of a sloppy execution. He was put to death along with Awad Haman Bander, leader of Hussein's Revolutionary Court, and the hangings evoked widespread condemnation from the United Nations, the European Union and human rights organizations.

Saddam's execution came early Dec. 30 before the sacred Muslim Eid al-Adha, or feast of sacrifice, commemorating the day Abraham was about to slaughter his son on Mount Arafat but was spared the loss when a sheep appeared for offering.

"The barbaric manner in which Saddam Hussein was executed and on the Eid feast was very offensive," said Bassim Alim, an outspoken Saudi lawyer. "It was Shiite retribution not only on Saddam but against all Sunnis. This is proof that Shiites are incapable of incorporating other sects in their rule and that they cannot be a unifying force in Iraq."

He added: "The Iraqi prime minister is acting as if he is prime minister of only Basra and Kufa. Even the Iraqi constitution bars someone from being executed on their religious holiday."

For the past 10 days, Beirut's as-Safir newspaper has run a poll of close to 15,000 respondents: 19 percent said the execution of Hussein was just but the timing was wrong; 19 percent said the execution was unjust because it was carried out under U.S. occupation; and 36 percent said it was deficient because Hussein was not tried for all the crimes committed by his regime. About 25 percent said the execution was mishandled and would create more civil strife.

Talal Salman, publisher and editorial writer of as-Safir, quoted U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as saying that the hangings of Ibrahim and Bander were an Iraqi execution and that they did not involve the United States. Salman used the Arabic word "fitna," which means sowing discord, and said fitna in Iraq "has become a new weapon in the hands of its foreign occupation."

Salman accused the United States of deliberately creating strife in Iraq in an attempt to cover up its expected failure.

The Saudi-owned al-Hayat newspaper, published in London, quoted a former Iraqi judge as saying that during his time in office, people on death row such as Ibrahim, who had cancer, were usually pardoned or given amnesty because of their ailments. Hussein preferred executing opponents of his regime by firing squad.

Mohammed Safa Ben Sheik Ibrahim Hakki, a Saudi academic, wrote at length about "the sterile debate" Hussein's execution will engender between his outraged supporters and his detractors. He described some people who rejoiced at his killing with mock weddings and rose petals, while others wrote poetry eternalizing Hussein's last words and called Hussein a martyr.

In commenting on the beheading of Ibrahim, none of the Arab commentators mentioned the shock many around the world experienced when foreigners were being kidnapped in Baghdad and beheaded by insurgents, often with grisly videotapes appearing on the Internet.

In Beirut, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, a Sunni, said in an interview this month that the deepening sectarian strife in Lebanon was brought into sharper focus with the executions in Baghdad. "I see in it ill will," he said. "All the voices and the slogans and the ideas that have surfaced smack of bad intent."

Correspondent Faiza Saleh Ambah in Saudi Arabia contributed to this report.


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