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Iraq: Uncertain Future Lies Ahead After Hussein's Execution

(RFE/RL) 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: Looking Back

Saddam Hussein: Looking Back
A DICTATOR'S LIFE: A photo gallery of images from the life of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

MORE: A timeline of the life of Saddam Hussein.