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Iraq Report: January 12, 2007

Uncertainty Grows Over Execution Date For Hussein Aides

Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti in court in April 2006

January 4, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Uncertainty is growing over when the Baghdad government will hang the two top officials of Saddam Hussein's government who were sentenced to death along with him in November.

Earlier reports from Iraq suggested the hanging could take place today, but now some officials say privately it could be postponed to January 7.

On Death Row

The two officials are Hussein's half-brother, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, who headed Hussein's intelligence service, and Awad al-Bandar, the former head of the Revolutionary Court.

Both men were sentenced to death along with Hussein on November 5 for crimes against humanity in connection with the revenge killings of 148 Shi'ite civilians from Al-Dujayl following an assassination attempt on Hussein in 1982.

But when the two former officials will be executed remains uncertain.

Earlier, officials in Baghdad had told media privately that the hanging would be today. But as dawn -- the usual time for executions -- passed, some officials told news agencies the event was postponed to January 7.

The uncertainty comes as Hussein's execution continues to stir much international debate.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour appealed to Baghdad on January 3 not to hang Hussein's aides.

Fair Trial? Fair Process?

That repeats appeals from many human rights groups not to execute those sentenced to death in the Al-Dujayl trial:

"Human Rights Watch is against the implementation of the death penalty in general but particularly in this case of Saddam and his two colleagues who were on trial for the Dujayl massacrem," Human Rights Watch spokesperson Umri Shah told RFE/RL today. "We had many concerns over how the trial progressed and the many flaws in the whole process and, given that situation, the death penalty was totally inappropriate in this case."

Awad al-Bandar in court (epa file photo)

The Baghdad government and Washington have said the Al-Dujayl trial process was fair and say Iraq's legal system has the right to apply capital punishment.

The debate over Hussein's execution has seen a number of world leaders present their views on capital punishment in recent days.

Death-Penalty Debate

Sometimes, that itself has created further controversy.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon was asked for his view on Hussein's execution.

"The issue of capital punishment is for each and every [UN] member state to decide," Ban said. "As secretary-general, at the same time, while I am firmly against impunity, I also hope that members of the international community should pay due regard to all aspects of international humanitarian laws."

Ban -- who is from South Korea, a state with the death penalty -- was speaking on January 2 in New York. His remark stirred controversy because the UN Charter calls for the abolition of capital punishment.

Meanwhile, Italy has announced it will lead a drive in the UN to get a worldwide moratorium on executions.

The emotions over Hussein's hanging have risen with the circulation of an illicit mobile-phone video that shows witnesses in the gallows chamber taunting him before his death.

The execution of Saddam Hussein (AFP)

Prior to the video's appearance, the Iraqi government had portrayed the execution as a calm and dignified event:

"I am honestly proud of the way it was executed," Iraqi national security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i told CNN on December 30. "It was done in a proper way, in all the international standards and the Islamic standards and Iraqi standards. I am really, really proud of the way it went on."

The Iraqi government has since called for an investigation into the illicit videotaping of the hanging. But the government has given no sign it will call off its plans to execute Hussein's codefendants.

Hussein Execution Video Proves Damaging For Premier

By Sumedha Senanayake

Official footage of Hussein being led to execution

January 4, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Following the release of unauthorized video footage showing former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein being taunted before his execution, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has ordered an inquiry into who was responsible for the footage. But the video has already inflamed tensions between Iraq's Shi'a and Sunnis and called into question al-Maliki's control of his own government.

While many Sunni Arabs expressed outrage at the scenes of guards taunting Hussein before he was hanged, the rushed execution on the onset of Eid al-Adha, a religiously significant holiday marking the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, shocked many Iraqis.

Video Widens Sectarian Divide

In al-Maliki's statement released after Hussein's execution on December 30, he described the event as ending the "policy of exclusion, discrimination, and marginalization, from which Iraq suffered for 35 years." However, in the eyes of many Sunnis, the rush to execute Hussein and the accompanying fracas only heighten their feelings of marginalization.

Both the execution's timing and the revelation of the subsequent video have caused outrage among Iraq's Sunni Arabs. The government's execution of the former Iraqi leader at the beginning of Eid al-Adha was perceived by many Sunnis as an affront. As for the mobile-phone video footage, it reinforced the highly sectarian perception of the execution itself.

Salim al-Jaburi, a member of the Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front, said on January 3 that the video would push some Sunnis further away from the political process and make national reconciliation more difficult, Reuters reported the same day.

"The timing of the execution and the footage shown hurt the feelings of those who have the desire to join the political process," al-Jaburi said. "The big question now is how serious is the government in calling for national reconciliation. It now has to prove it."

More importantly, the voices of several guards heard invoking the name of Muqtada al-Sadr in the video moments before the execution strengthens the belief among Sunni Arabs that members of the Imam Al-Mahdi Army and other Shi'ite militias have infiltrated the Iraqi security forces at the highest levels.

An Interior Ministry source said that the team given the responsibility for implementing the execution was dismissed, and instead militia members were the ones who carried out the death sentence, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on January 3.

Sunnis as well as U.S. officials have long accused al-Maliki of being either unable or unwilling to rein in the Shi'ite militias. The shouts of "Muqtada" from the select group of guards and witnesses allowed to attend the execution will certainly do nothing to convince them otherwise.

Embarrassment For Al-Maliki

The whole affair concerning Hussein's treatment and the release of the video has become increasingly embarrassing for the government of Prime Minister al-Maliki. Not only has the issue brought a firestorm of domestic and foreign criticism, but it also raises questions about al-Maliki's leadership.

Demonstrators protest Hussein's execution in Tikrit (epa)

The fact that an unauthorized video of the execution was shot and released without al-Maliki's consent indicates a blatant breach of security protocol, which undermines his authority.

Shortly after the execution, national security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i told CNN that Hussein was treated with respect throughout the execution process. "There was absolutely no humiliation" when Hussein "was alive and after he was executed."

Asked in the same interview if people in the execution room danced around Hussein's body as it hung from the noose, al-Rubay'i described this as a "normal reaction." Al-Rubay'i has continued to defend the behavior in the execution chamber, though he has said that legal action would be taken against anyone found to have made unauthorized videos of the execution.

Furthermore, Hussein's execution was supposed to be carried out in a solemn manner, as evidenced by the government-released video that showed the hangman placing the noose around the neck of a composed Hussein. That footage was not only released to dispel any doubts as to whether the execution actually occurred, but it was meant to convey a sense that justice was served in a respectable manner.

However, the unauthorized footage showed that all decorum was abandoned and the execution turned into a spectacle that seemed more geared toward enacting revenge than justice. Indeed, U.S. officials were concerned over the legal issues centering on whether the three-man Presidency Council needed to ratify the execution order before it was carried out, a process that was bypassed. Ignoring this process further brings into question the motives behind al-Maliki's desire to quickly execute Hussein in a seemingly less-than-transparent manner.

In fact, President Jalal Talabani, who comprises the council with the two vice presidents, released a statement on January 2 indicating that he was unaware of the timing of the execution, Al-Sharqiyah reported. Kurdish lawmaker Mahmud Uthman also said that the Kurdish leadership only learned of the execution on Iraqi state television and no Kurdish officials were in Baghdad for the execution, KUNA reported on January 3. Kurdish officials had previously urged the government not to execute Hussein before the Anfal trial was completed.

Making A Martyr Of Saddam

The treatment of Hussein depicted in the unauthorized video may have inadvertently transformed the former Iraqi dictator into an even larger figure, with many in the Sunni Arab world condemning the taunts and the release of the video. Hussein's relative dignity in contrast to the unruly behavior among some of the guards and witnesses who taunted him has now turned him in the eyes of some into a victim of a vindictive Shi'ite-led government.

Pakistanis protest Hussein's execution in Karachi (epa)

For many in the Arab world, Hussein's trial was viewed as illegitimate, particularly while Iraq is still under U.S. occupation, and the rush to execute him has exacerbated this belief. To some Sunni Arabs, the decision to execute Hussein fell squarely on the shoulders of the United States, no matter what the Iraqi government said.

"The most import that the decision on the execution [of Hussein] was not made by politicians, despite their desire to make such a decision," said Muhammad Bashar al-Faydi, a spokesman for Iraq's Muslim Scholars Association, Al-Jazeera satellite television reported on December 31. "It was made by the occupation and so the occupation is the party that executed the former Iraqi president."

Finally, the spectacle of Hussein's execution has come to overshadow his past crimes. It is unclear how the Anfal trial will proceed without Hussein and many of the atrocities that he was accused of committing may never be brought to light.

Ironically, in the town of Al-Dujayl, where Hussein was found guilty in the killing of 148 Shi'a in 1982, the town erected a mourning tent and scores of locals offered their condolences over Hussein's death, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on January 2. Many covered their faces, for fear of reprisal attacks.

Execution Video Raises Fears Of Sectarian Backlash

Images of Hussein's execution

January 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A mobile-phone video of Saddam Hussein's execution is raising tensions around the December 30 hanging of the former Iraqi leader.

The pirate footage contrasts sharply with what Iraqi viewers saw on state television the day of the hanging, a sanitized view without a soundtrack.

Many Sunni Muslims -- in Iraq and elsewhere -- were reported to be outraged that the execution took place on Eid al-Adha, a holy period that marks the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

But the mobile-phone video that one witness took -- and that is now circulating widely in Iraq and on the Internet -- now provides the missing sounds.

The Soundtrack

And the sounds are those of insults and taunts thrown at Hussein as he faces death.

The insults recall -- and now could heighten -- the bitter divides in Iraq over the former leader.

The sound on the mobile phone video begins with one of the onlookers in the small gallows chamber shouting the name of radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the spiritual leader of the Imam Al-Mahdi Army.

Another voice praises al-Sadr's uncle, Muhammad Bakr al-Sadr, the founder of the Shi'ite Al-Da'wah Party, who was executed by Hussein in 1980.

The shouting out of these names amounts to cries for retribution -- of blood for blood. In the footage, Hussein counters by asking whether his executioners "consider this bravery." Then someone pleads for calm, and the condemned man has just enough time to call out the names of Allah and his Prophet before the trapdoor opens.

Voices: Muqtada [Al-Sadr]...Muqtada...Muqtada.
Hussein: Do you consider this bravery?
Voice: Long live Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr.
Voice: To hell.
Voice: Please do not. The man is being executed. Please no, I beg you to stop.
Hussein: There is no God but Allah, and I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God. There is no God but Allah, and I testify that Muhammad...
[trapdoor opens]

The taunts of the witnesses touch on deep sensitivities in Iraq. That is because they give Hussein's last moments the air of an act of personal revenge carried out by the Shi'ite religious parties that now dominate the Baghdad government.

Their rise is seen as threatening by many in Iraq's Sunni Arab community, where Hussein had his power base.

Rising Sectarian Tensions

The question now is how much the video might help to cast the execution as a sectarian settling of accounts -- an image that Washington wanted to avoid.

Hussein was officially executed for crimes against the Iraqi people. He was sentenced to death in connection with the mass killings of 148 Shi'ite civilians from the town of Al-Dujayl following an assassination attempt on him in 1982.

A second trial had also begun against Hussein over the mass murders of Iraqi Kurd civilians in the 1980s.

Even without the mobile-phone video, anger over Hussein's execution has run high in some Sunni-dominated areas. On January 1, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Al-Dujayl to praise him.

"We condole the Islamic nation and the Prophet Muhammad's nation with death of the mujahid, Saddam Hussein, mercy be up him, and also we condole the brave Ba'athists with the death of their leader Saddam," one masked demonstrator said. "God is great."

Many Sunnis -- in Iraq and elsewhere -- were also reported to be outraged that the execution took place on Eid al-Adha, a holy period that marks the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

Saudi Arabia said in a statement that "leaders of Islamic countries should show respect for this blessed occasion...[and] not demean it."

Looking For A New Strategy

All this has helped fuel rumors in Baghdad that can only complicate Washington's challenges there. The rumors include charges that the execution was a U.S.-engineered affair to humiliate Muslims.

An image of the Hussein execution (ISNA)

The United States has denied any hand in the timing of the execution. Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" quoted an Iraqi official as saying privately that the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad wanted the execution postponed for two weeks to avoid any appearance of rushing Hussein to the gallows, but was ignored by the Iraqi government.

The latest concerns over how Hussein's death will be regarded in fractious Iraq come as U.S. President George W. Bush is expected to unveil a new strategy for the country possibly as early as next week.

U.S. media are widely quoting sources in the administration as saying Bush will seek to increase U.S. forces by 20,000-30,000 troops. The reported "surge" would aim to help the existing 140,000 U.S. troops stabilize Baghdad and its surrounding provinces.

How such a strategy would be received by the U.S. public and by the opposition Democratic Party-led Congress remains to be seen.

The Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan congressionally established commission, recently recommended that the White House shift its military focus in the country gradually away from direct combat and toward a support role.

It recommended that by the first quarter of 2008 -- barring unexpected incidents -- the only remaining U.S. combat forces should be those needed to protect Iraqi troops.

What Impact Will Hussein's Death Have?

A torn down statue of Saddam Hussein being hit with shoes in Sadr City on December 26, 2003

December 30, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- With Iraq in the grip of a worsening insurgency, what impact will former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's execution have on the country? RFE/RL correspondent Breffni O'Rourke spoke with International Crisis Group senior political analyst Joost Hiltermann in Amman about the possibilities.

RFE/RL: What difference will Saddam Hussein's death make to Iraq?

Joost Hiltermann: Well, I think in the short term, the execution of Saddam Hussein will further polarize Iraqi society, because even though Saddam Hussein is not particularly liked by the majority of the Sunni Arab community, he is by default the only symbol they have at the moment, and his death will -- for them -- ratify their exclusion from the new political order in Iraq, because the execution is being carried out at the behest of the Shi'ite and Kurdish parties, which are seen by Sunni Arabs as wanting to disenfranchise them.

"He also still has a certain reputation in the Arab world more broadly, and so his execution will be seen by many in the Arab world really as an attempt by Iran, in particular, to settle scores for the Iran-Iraq War."

RFE/RL: Will Hussein's death worsen the insurgency, or will it take away some of its steam?

Hiltermann: I think we will see only a short-term spike in violence in response to the execution when it occurs. But in the longer term it will have very little impact, in the sense that Saddam Hussein is no [longer] seen as the leader of those who were removed from power in 2003, and [Iraqis] will in fact be able to move in new directions, now that his long shadow has been removed.

RFE/RL: So Hussein has become basically irrelevant in the present Iraqi equation?

Hiltermann: Yes, that is certainly correct, in the medium and long term.

RFE/RL: However, he has termed himself a "sacrifice," and asked Iraqis to unite to face the enemy. Do you think he will be turned into a martyr?

Hiltermann: Well, he will certainly be seen as a martyr in some quarters, again because he retains a certain symbolic power, not only among the Sunni Arab community in Iraq, but also among some secular Shi'ites -- people who were part and parcel of the former regime. He also still has a certain reputation in the Arab world more broadly, and so his execution will be seen by many in the Arab world really as an attempt by Iran, in particular, to settle scores for the Iran-Iraq War.

RFE/RL: The trial of Hussein was criticized as unfair by leading human rights groups, as well as by the UN Human Rights Council and states like the Vatican. Do you think it will come back to haunt the West?

Hiltermann: There were many irregularities in the trial, and many procedural problems, and the trial generally was perceived as biased. The larger problem is that in the current climate in Iraq, where the attempt to rebuild Iraq has utterly failed, and society has become greatly polarized, this trial could not succeed. The effort to try Saddam Hussein could not succeed even if this had been a fair trial -- opinion is so polarized now -- this is just seen as an incident of victor's justice.

RFE/RL: Will this clear the way for Ba'athists to return to their jobs, as experts in the economy and administration?

Hiltermann: To the extent that the current leaders of Iraq are willing to allow former senior Ba'athist Party members to return to positions in government, the execution of Saddam Hussein will help, because clearly they no longer have an identifiable leader to rally around. But the whole effort to reverse the de-Ba'athification process is fraught with difficulty, and it is hard to see how progress can be made in the coming months on this.

Uncertain Future Lies Ahead After Hussein's Execution

By Sumedha Senanayake
December 30, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The Arab and international media have been abuzz with rumors and reports concerning the impact of the execution of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

But now that Hussein has been hanged, it is unclear what his death will mean for Iraq’s future.

Warnings Of Violence

There have been several indications that there may be an increased violence following the former Iraqi leader’s execution. Fearing an upswing in violence, the Iraqi Interior Ministry has implemented new security measures, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on December 29. The ministry indicated that additional security forces would be deployed on the ground to prevent Hussein sympathizers from carrying out revenge attacks.

“The American administration, not the puppet government in Baghdad, has the final say. This farce called a court was nothing more than an American instrument used to put the responsibility of the crime of execution on the agent government,” said a Ba’ath Party statement on December 27.

On December 27, the Iraqi Ba'ath Party issued a statement saying that executing Hussein constituted a "red line" and vowed to carry out attacks against U.S. interests.

"The Ba'ath Party and the resistance are determined to retaliate, with all means and everywhere, to harm America and its interests if it commits this crime [of executing Hussein]," the statement read. The day before Hussein’s hanging, the U.S. State Department warned all its embassies to be on the alert for possible threats related to the execution.

Hussein’s death may inject new life into the Sunni-led resistance, driving them to increase their attacks. Also, his death may transform the former Iraqi leader in the eyes of some into a martyr who was victimized by an illegitimate Iraqi government backed by the U.S. Indeed, the Ba'ath Party and many in the Sunni Arab community have long perceived Hussein's trial as illegal and manipulated by Washington.

"The American administration, not the puppet government in Baghdad, has the final say. This farce called a court was nothing more than an American instrument used to put the responsibility of the crime of execution on the agent government," said a Ba'ath Party statement issued on December 27.

However, if the past is any indication, then there may not be any significant violence. When the Iraqi Special Tribunal announced its verdict against Hussein and his six co-defendants on November 5, it was widely speculated that the verdict would encourage Hussein sympathizers and supporters of the Ba'ath Party to launch revenge attacks. Although, several pro-Hussein demonstrations were reported in Sunni Arab strongholds, especially in Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, there were only sporadic reports of violence.

How Will It Affect National Reconciliation?

Concerning the issue of national reconciliation, it is difficult to determine whether Hussein’s death may enhance it or hamper the process.

Hussein’s execution will be most definitely be welcomed by certain segments of Iraqi society. The Shi'a, who were brutally suppressed by the former regime, will no doubt welcome his death as just retribution.

The Kurds may take a more ambivalent approach, since the Anfal trial, in which Hussein and six codefendants are accused of killing up to 180,000 Kurds in the 1980s, is far from complete. There could be bitterness among the Kurds, who may feel that Hussein should also pay for his crimes committed against the Kurdish people. Therefore, keeping Hussein alive may allow justice for a larger proportion of the Iraqi population who were subjected to the brutality of his regime.

However, Hussein's execution may increase the feelings of isolation and disenfranchisement amongst the Sunni Arab population. For many Sunnis, Hussein’s downfall and his eminent death are symbolic of their population’s steep demise in Iraq's current political power structure after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The Sunni-led Hussein government, dominated by the Ba'ath Party, filled many of the seats of power in the former regime, only to be dismissed after the invasion.

Furthermore, Hussein's trial and the subsequent verdict were criticized by several western human rights groups as being fundamentally unsound. On November 20, Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling Hussein's trial "flawed and unsound," and for his death sentence to be overturned. The execution may be viewed by some Sunnis as little more than a call for vengeance by Shi’ite population rather than seeking justice. Therefore, this perception may exacerbate the sectarian divisions between the Sunnis and Shi'a than fostering any sense of reconciliation.

It is also doubtful that the execution will do anything to encourage the Sunni-led insurgency to lay down their arms and embrace the national reconciliation process. For them, Hussein’s demise may have been a foregone conclusion, but what is more pertinent to them is the legitimacy of the Iraqi government with respect to the Sunni Arab population. In other words, what place will there be for Sunnis in the Iraqi government?

Saddam Hussein: A Life In Images

A photo gallery of images from the life of Saddam Hussein.