Juan Cole / Salon.com & Nir Rosen / Iraqslogger.com & Amer Hohsen / IraqSlogger.com – 2007-01-02 23:09:49
Saddam: The Death of a Dictator
Juan Cole / Salon.com
Dec. 30, 2006 | The body of Saddam, as it swung from the gallows at 6 a.m. Saturday Baghdad time, cast an ominous shadow over Iraq. The execution provoked intense questions about whether his trial was fair and about what the fallout will be. One thing is certain: The trial and execution of Saddam were about revenge, not justice. Instead of promoting national reconciliation, this act of revenge helped Saddam portray himself one last time as a symbol of Sunni Arab resistance, and became one more incitement to sectarian warfare.
Saddam Hussein was tried under the shadow of a foreign military occupation, by a government full of his personal enemies. The first judge, an ethnic Kurd, resigned because of government interference in the trial; the judge who took his place was also Kurdish and had grievances against the accused. Three of Saddam’s defense lawyers were shot down in cold blood. The surviving members of his defense team went on strike to protest the lack of protection afforded them. The court then appointed new lawyers who had no expertise in international law. Most of the witnesses against Saddam gave hearsay evidence. The trial ground slowly but certainly toward the inevitable death verdict.
Like everything else in Iraq since 2003, Saddam’s trial became entangled in sectarian politics. Iraq is roughly 60 percent Shiite, 18 percent Sunni Arab and 18 percent Kurdish. Elements of the Sunni minority were favored under fellow Sunni Saddam, and during his long, brutal reign this community tended to have high rates of membership in the Baath Party.
Although many members of Saddam’s own ethnic group deeply disliked him, since the US invasion he has gradually emerged as a symbol of the humiliation that the once-dominant Sunni minority has suffered under a new government dominated by Shiites and Kurds.
Saddam was a symbol of Sunni-Shiite rivalry long before the U.S. occupation. In 1991, while he was in power, he had ferociously suppressed the post-Gulf War Shiite uprising in the south, using helicopter gunships and tanks to kill an estimated 60,000. After the invasion, many Shiites wanted him to be captured, while many Sunnis helped him elude capture.
When Saddam was finally caught by US forces in late 2003, Shiites in the Baghdad district of Kadhimiya crossed the bridge over the Tigris to dance and gloat in the neighboring Sunni Arab district of Adhamiya, provoking some clashes. After his capture, students at Mosul University, in Iraq’s second-largest and mostly Sunni Arab city, chanted, “Bush, Bush, hear our refrain: We all love Saddam Hussein!” and “We’ll die, we’ll die, but the nation will live! And America will fall!”
As the US consolidated control over Iraq, meanwhile, Sunni alienation increased. The American occupiers adopted punitive measures against members of the Baath Party, who were disproportionately though by no means universally Sunni Arab. The army was dissolved, sidelining 400,000 troops and the predominantly Sunni officer corps. Thousands of Sunni Arab civil servants and even schoolteachers were fired.
A “de-Baathification” committee, dominated by hard-line Shiites like Nouri al-Maliki (now prime minister) and Ahmed Chalabi, denied large numbers of Sunni Arabs the right to participate in political society or hold government positions on grounds of links to the Baath Party. Sometimes politicians were blackballed simply because a relative had been high in the party.
As Iraq spiraled down into a brutal civil war with massive killing and ethnic cleansing, many Iraqis began to yearn for the oppressive security of the Saddam period. After the destruction of the golden dome of the Shiite Askariya mosque in Samarra last February, Iraqis fell into an orgy of sectarian reprisal killings.
By the time of Saddam’s trial, sectarian strife was widespread, and the trial simply made it worse. It was not just the inherent bias of a judicial system dominated by his political enemies. Even the crimes for which he was tried were a source of ethnic friction. Saddam Hussein had had many Sunni Arabs killed, and a trial on such a charge could have been politically savvy.
Instead, he was accused of the execution of scores of Shiites in Dujail in 1982. This Shiite town had been a hotbed of activism by the Shiite fundamentalist Dawa (Islamic Call) Party, which was founded in the late 1950s and modeled on the Communist Party. In the wake of Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini’s 1979 Islamic Revolution in neighboring Iran, Saddam conceived a profound fear of Dawa and similar parties, banning them and making membership a capital crime. Young Dawa leaders such as al-Maliki fled to Tehran, Iran, or Damascus, Syria.
When Saddam visited Dujail, Dawa agents attempted to assassinate him. In turn, he wrought a terrible revenge on the town’s young men. Current Prime Minister al-Maliki is the leader of the Dawa Party and served for years in exile in its Damascus bureau. For a Dawa-led government to try Saddam, especially for this crackdown on a Dawa stronghold, makes it look to Sunni Arabs more like a sectarian reprisal than a dispassionate trial for crimes against humanity.
Passions did not subside with time. When the death verdict was announced against Saddam in November, Sunni Arabs in Baquba, to the northeast of the capital, staged a big pro-Saddam demonstration. They were attacked by the Shiite police that dominate that mixed city, who killed 20 demonstrators and wounded a similar number. There were also pro-Saddam demonstrations in Fallujah and Mosul. Baghdad had to be put under curfew.
The tribunal also had a unique sense of timing when choosing the day for Saddam’s hanging. It was a slap in the face to Sunni Arabs. This weekend marks Eid al-Adha, the Holy Day of Sacrifice, on which Muslims commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son for God. Shiites celebrate it Sunday. Sunnis celebrate it Saturday –- and Iraqi law forbids executing the condemned on a major holiday. Hanging Saddam on Saturday was perceived by Sunni Arabs as the act of a Shiite government that had accepted the Shiite ritual calendar.
The timing also allowed Saddam, in his farewell address to Iraq, to pose as a “sacrifice” for his nation, an explicit reference to Eid al-Adha. The tribunal had given the old secular nationalist the chance to use religious language to play on the sympathies of the whole Iraqi public.
The political ineptitude of the tribunal, from start to finish, was astonishing. The United States and its Iraqi allies basically gave Saddam a platform on which to make himself a martyr to Iraqi unity and independence — even if by unity and independence Saddam was really appealing to Sunnis’ nostalgia for their days of hegemony.
In his farewell address, however, Saddam could not help departing from his national-unity script to take a few last shots at his ethnic rivals. Despite some smarmy language urging Iraqis not to hate the Americans, Saddam denounced the “invaders” and “Persians” who had come into Iraq.
The invaders are the American army, and the Persians are code not just for Iranian agents but for Iraqi Shiites, whom many Sunni Arabs view as having Iranian antecedents and as not really Iraqi or Arab. It was such attitudes that led to slaughters like that at Dujail.
In his death, as in his life, Saddam Hussein is managing to divide Iraqis and condemn them to further violence and brutality. But the Americans and the Shiite- and Kurd-dominated government bear some blame for the way they botched his trial and gave him this last opportunity to play the spoiler.
Iraq is on high alert, in expectation of protests and guerrilla reprisals. Leaves have been canceled for Iraqi soldiers, though in the past they have seldom paid much attention to such orders. But perhaps the death of Saddam, who once haunted the nightmares of a nation, will soon come to seem insignificant. In Iraq, guerrilla and criminal violence executes as many as 500 persons a day. Saddam’s hanging is just one more occasion for a blood feud in a country that now has thousands of them.
Copyright 2006 Salon Media Group, Inc
Hijacking Eid and Hanging Saddam
Nir Rosen / Iraqslogger.com
(December 31, 2006) — Saddam Hussein became the first modern Arab dictator to die violently since Egypt’s Anwar Sadat in 1981. Saddam’s hanging at the hands of chubby Iraqi men wearing ski masks is likely to be perceived by many as an American execution and as part of a trend of American missteps contributing to sectarian tensions in Iraq and the region.
The trial of Saddam was viewed by detractors as an event stage-managed by the Americans. According to Human Rights Watch, the Iraqi judges and lawyers involved in prosecuting Saddam were ill prepared and relied on their American advisers. American minders shut off the microphones and ordered the translators to halt whenever they disapproved of what was being said by the defendants.
The important Muslim holiday of Eid al Adha was due to begin over the weekend. For Sunnis it began on Saturday the 30th of December. For Shias it begins on Sunday the 31st. According to tradition in Mecca, battles are suspended during the Hajj period so that pilgrims can safely march to Mecca. This practice even predated Islam and Muslims preserved this tradition, calling this period ‘Al Ashur al Hurm,’ or the months of truce. By hanging Saddam on the Sunni Eid the Americans and the Iraqi government were in effect saying that only the Shia Eid had legitimacy.
Sunnis were irate that Shia traditions were given primacy (as they are more and more in Iraq these days) and that Shias disrespected the tradition and killed Saddam on this day. Because the Iraqi constitution itself prohibits executions from being carried out on Eid, the Iraqi government had to officially declare that Eid did not begin until Sunday the 31st. It was a striking decision, virtually declaring that Iraq is now a Shia state. Eid al Adha is the festival of the sacrifice of the sheep. Some may perceive it as the day Saddam was sacrificed.
Saddam had been in American custody and was handed over to Iraqis just before his execution. It is therefore hard to dismiss the perception that the Americans could have waited, because in the end it is they who have the final say over such events in Iraq. Iraqi officials have consistently publicly complained that they have no authority and the Americans control the Iraqi police and the Army. It is therefore unusual that Iraqis would suddenly regain sovereignty for this important event. For many Sunnis and Arabs in the region, this appears to be one president ordering the death of another president.
It was possibly a message to Sunnis, a warning. The Americans often equated Saddam with the Sunni resistance to the occupation. By killing Saddam they were killing what they believed was the symbol of the Sunni resistance, expecting them to realize their cause was hopeless. Sunnis could perceive the execution, and its timing, as a message to them: “We are killing you.” But Saddam’s death might now liberate the Sunni resistance from association with Saddam and the Baathists.
They can now more plausibly claim that they are fighting for national liberation and not out of support for the former regime as their American and Iraqi government opponents have so often claimed. A lack of a hood (victims normally do not have a choice to wear a hood) a scarf to prevent rope burn for the soon to be distributed photo, a hallmark of US “We Got Him” psyops tactics. Even the US plane that flew him to his final resting spot seems to indicate US management.
The unofficial video of the execution, filmed on the mobile cell phone of one of the officials present is sure to further inflame sectarianism, because it is clearly a Shia execution. Men are heard talking, one of them is called Ali. As the executioners argue over how to best position the rope on his neck Saddam calls out to god, saying, “ya Allah.”
Referring to Shias, one official says “those who pray for Muhamad and the family of Muhamad have won!” Others triumphantly respond in the Shia chant: “Our God prays for Muhamad and the family of Muhamad.” Others then add the part chanted by supporters of Muqtada al Sadr: “And speed his (the Mahdi’s) return! And damn his enemies! And make his son victorious! Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada!”
Saddam then smiles and says something mocking about Muqtada. “Muqtada! It is this…” but the rest is blocked by the voices of officials saying “ila jahanam,” or “go to Hell.” Saddam looks down and says “Is this your manhood…?” As the rope is put around Saddam’s neck somebody shouts “long live Muhamad Baqir al Sadr!” referring to an important Shia cleric who founded the Dawa Party and was also Muqtada’s relative. Baqir al Sadr was executed by Saddam in 1980.
He is venerated by all three major Shia movements in Iraq, the Dawa, the Sadrists and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Others insult Saddam. One man asks them to stop: “I beg you, I beg you, the man is being executed!”
Saddam then says the Shahada, or testimony, that there is no god but Allah and Muhamad is his prophet. When he tries to say it again the trap door opens and he falls through to be hung. One man then shouts that “the tyranny has ended!” and others call out triumphal Shia chants. Somebody wants to remove the rope from his neck but is told to wait eight minutes.
The Sunni Islamo-nationalist website Islam Memo claimed that the Safavids (Persians, meaning Shias) burned Saddam’s Quran after they killed him. They also said that Saddam exchanged insults with the witnesses to his execution and cursed one of them, saying “God damn you, Persian midget.”
The same website also claimed that Ayatolla Ali Sistani blessed Saddam’s execution and that the Iraqi government refused to provide Saddam with a Sunni cleric to pray for him before the execution. Finally, they asserted that Saddam said “Palestine is Arab” and then recited the Muslim Shahada, testifying that there is no god but Allah and Muhamad is his prophet, and then he was executed. The website claimed that following his death Saddam’s body was abused.
Although the Shia dominated Iraqi media claimed Saddam was terrified prior to his execution and fought with his hangmen, Saddam’s on screen visage was one of aplomb, for he was conscious of the image he was displaying and wanted to go down as the grand historic leader he believed himself to be.
Predictably, there were celebrations in Shia areas. The civil war continued.
Following the execution three car bombs exploded in Baghdad’s Shia district of Hurriya, killing and injuring dozens. A car bomb went off in Baghdad’s Seidiya district, near its amusement park, killing at least two civilians and two policemen. A roadside bomb exploded near a children’s hospital in the majority Shia area of Iskan, killing two and injuring several others. In the southern town of Kufa, dominated by supporters of Muqtada al Sadr, a car bomb exploded near a market, killing and injuring dozens. In the northern town of Tel Afar a man wearing a suicide belt exploded himself in a market, killing at least five and injuring several others.
It was also claimed that Ayatollah Sistani’s representative was killed and his office was burned. In the Anbar province’s town of Saqlawiya there was a big demonstration against Saddam’s execution and large portraits of the former leader were carried by the marchers.
Immediately after the execution five mortars were fired in Falluja, targeting the southern checkpoint to that city, known as the Numaniya checkpoint. In Tikrit there was also a large demonstration and Saddam’s tribe officially requested that the Iraqi government allow his body to be buried near his parents in Owja, the town where he was born.
I asked a Kurdish Iraqi friend how he felt after seeing the video of Saddam’s execution. “it is sad to see someone who knows he is going to die in a minute,” he told me, “but I am happy that he died that way and not in as the so called human rights groups want, to be in a jail where they wanna make sure he has access to TV, newspaper and good health.”
He agreed with me that the images of Saddam could potentially cause some people to sympathize with him, but added that “but if anyone who could live the life of an Iraqi for only one day, they would want worse than that to happen to Saddam. Last night, all of a sudden, I remembered all the agonies my family went through in their life, we had to leave our home 20 times and walk to the borders and leave everything we had and buy new stuff every few years.
“He never had the feeling you and I have now for him when he was ordering Ali Hassan Majid and the henchmen to bury people with their kids in the deserts, so why should I now feel sorry for him? But I hope I see one day when the current Saddamlets are hanged too, like Talabani, Ayad Alawi.”
One thing that is clear, is that the death of Saddam did not bring closure or peace to Iraq. Sunnis are now gathering at Saddam’s grave, demonstrators are now showing his iconic image and revenge has been threatened. President George Bush declared his nemesis’ death “a milestone” and it may just be the clearest message that is there will be no mercy for Sunnis in a Shia and Kurdish dominated Iraq.
Arab Media: Shia-Sunni Tensions Rise
Saddam’s Execution and the Video of It Prompt War of Words
Amer Hohsen / IraqSlogger.com
Editor’s note: While virtually all Iraqi newspapers have ceased publication during the two-week-long Eid holiday, we’re examining the Arab world media’s coverage of Iraq. Our daily summary and critique of Iraqi newspapers will resume after the Eid holiday.
Saddam’s execution is increasing Sunni-Shi`a tensions to a breaking point, not only in Iraq, but across the entire Arab World. Most observers agree that the timing and format of Saddam’s execution could not have been any worse, and editorials in Arab newspapers are trying to answer the puzzle: how could the Iraqi Government and the occupational authority manage to make a controversy out of the execution of one of the most brutal dictators the Arab World has ever known?
A telling face-off occurred today in al-Ittijah al-Mu`akis, one of the most widely watched and controversial talk shows in the Arab region, hosted by al-Jazeera’s Faysal al-Qasim. This week’s show (aired on Tuesday) was devoted to a discussion of Saddam’s execution and pitted Mish`an al-Juburi (ex-politician, currently living in exile and facing terrorism and corruption charges in Iraq) against Sadiq al-Mousawi (introduced as the head of the ‘Iraq Media Center’ — the ‘center’s’ website is currently offline). The heated episode exhibited some of the boldest sectarian language to be heard on a mainstream news channel so far.
Two minutes into the episode, al-Mousawi left the studio in anger (only to return later) after al-Juburi accused him of being an ‘Iranian Safavid’ posing as an Iraqi, and showed documents that proved (according to Juburi) that Mousawi -whom Juburi charged of having changed his name – applied for Iraqi citizenship only in 2004. While al-Mousawi argued that Saddam’s execution represented the end of a hated tyrant and a rupture with a black phase in Iraq’s history; al-Juburi said that Saddam –through his execution- has become a symbol of resistance who was assassinated by the ‘Iranian enemy’.
Al-Juburi added that the Iranian infiltration in Iraq through its ‘Safavid’ allies is massacring Sunnis and patriots; the episode ended with both guests exchanging insults and threats, with Mousawi accusing Juburi of inciting terrorism and Juburi calling Mousawi ‘a grandson of al-`alqami’. (A linguistic decoding is in order: ‘safavid’ (a reference to a 16th century Azeri-Turkic dynasty that ruled Iran and converted most of its population to Shi`ism) is a pejorative term used to refer to the Shi`a and accentuate their assumed ‘non-Arab’ character.
The term first appeared in Alqa`ida’s literature and seems to be gaining wider usage. Likewise, ‘the grandsons of al-`Alqami’ is a pejorative term used by Sunni extremists to refer to shi`as; Mu’ayyid al-deen Ibn al-`alqami was a Shi`a Vizir of the last `Abbasid Caliph, and according to historical accounts, exaggerated by anti-Shi`a narratives, he had struck secret deals with the invading Mongol army and eased Hulagu’s sacking of Baghdad and the destruction of the `Abbasid dynasty).
In Al-Hayat, a major Pan-Arab newspaper, the liberal commentator Hazim Saghiyeh wrote calling the execution of Saddam a ‘barbaric ritual’. The ‘barbarism’ of the execution, according to Saghiya is in that the killing ‘cannot stop the injustice and aggression’ but excels in ‘resurrecting the symbolisms of the primitive mob and its instincts of revenge’. The execution, Saghiya added, is not a portal into a ‘new Iraq’, but a resurrection of ‘a very old Iraq’.
In pro-Saudi al-Sharq al-Awsat, `Abdel Rahman al-Rashid (who is also editor-in-chief of al-`Arabiya channel) said that ‘sectarian conflicts’ will be the defining character of the new year. Al-Rashid observed that in the past year sectarian tensions were so high that every event of import was analyzed through a sectarian lens. Al-Rashid saw Saddam’s execution as the latest episode in this escalation, especially with the release of the execution video which made the event look like a ‘sectarian party’.
The ‘unofficial’ video that was taken by a cell phone ‘smuggled’ into the execution chamber is causing a stir in Iraq. Az-Zaman headlined: ‘the smuggled scenes of Saddam’s execution shatter the reconciliation project’. Az-Zaman quoted Munqiz al-Far`un, the assistant public prosecutor in the Dujail trial, as saying that a ‘high ranking official’ took the short clip.
The news site Elaph.com mentioned that only two ‘high ranking officials’ were in the room: Mouaffac al Rubai`i and Sami al-`Askari, al-Maliki’s political advisor. Al-`Askari admitted that ‘improprieties’ were committed during the execution, in reference to the taunting of Saddam by Sadrist guards, but said that ‘an investigation’ will be launched to address the issue.
In Al-Sharq al-Awsat, the Islamic scholar Fahmy al-Hwaidi wrote an op-ed calling for an ‘investigation into the ethnic cleansing crimes’ that are ‘currently being committed in Iraq’. Al-Hwaidi said that an investigation should be carried out to determine those responsible for the extreme sectarian violence (he claimed that around a million and a half Iraqis have been killed in the ethnic cleansing campaigns so far). Al-Hwaidi lamented the sectarian tensions ravaging Iraq and the wider Arab World and the re-emergence of sectarianism as a divisive political identity.
He said that he spent his life fighting against sectarian politics, but that he now finds himself in a difficult position as a moderate Sunni. He recounted saying to the ex-prime minister of Iraq, Ibrahim Al-Ja`fari, ‘what is happening in Iraq now has reminded us that we are Sunnis, after we used to see ourselves strictly as Muslims’.
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