with Ali al-Fadhily
BAGHDAD - The footage of the execution of Saddam Hussein has generated controversy
in Iraq that is refusing to die down.
Footage of Saddam's last moments, taken by an onlooker with a mobile phone,
shows the former dictator appearing calm and composed while dealing with taunts
from witnesses below him. The audio reveals several men praising the Shi'ite cleric
Muqtada al-Sadr and Mohammed Bakr al-Sadr, founder of the Shi'ite Dawa Party, who
was killed by Saddam in 1980.
"Peace be upon Muhammad and his followers," shouted someone near
the person who filmed the events. "Curse his enemies and make victorious
his son Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada." These chants are commonly used by members
of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia..
There has been a huge international backlash to the footage. In India millions
of Muslims demonstrated against the execution being carried out during the sacred
festival of Eid.
Across Iraq, Shi'ites seem mostly pleased. "Of course things will be better
now that Saddam is dead," Saed Abdul-Hussain, a cleric from the Shi'ite dominated
city Najaf told IPS in Baghdad. "It is like hitting the snake on the head
and I hope his followers will hand over their weapons and accept the fact that
But few believe that Saddam was inspiring the armed resistance.
"Who is Saddam and why would he affect anything after his death,"
a 55-year-old teacher from Fallujah told IPS. "The idea of his leading
the resistance from jail is too ridiculous for a sane man to believe. We know
that Mujahideen (holy warriors) are the only ones who will kick the occupation
out of the country."
Others believe unity between Iraqis is the only answer to the occupation.
"Saddam was terminated the day he was captured by occupation forces,"
Salah al-Dulaimy from Ramadi told IPS. "Things will continue to be as bad
as they are for both Iraqis and Americans because nothing has really changed.
A president who was removed from power four years ago is just an ordinary man
although the way he was executed and the timing of the execution was a blessing
to so many Iraqis, who realized the necessity of being united no matter what
religion and sect they belong to."
Facing broadening criticism over release of the mobile phone footage, the Iraqi
government arrested a guard accused of filming the execution. Iraqi officials
said on Wednesday that the execution chamber was infiltrated by outsiders bent
on inflaming sectarian tensions.
"Whoever leaked this video meant to harm national reconciliation and drive
a wedge between Shi'ites and Sunnis," National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie,
who was among 20 officials and other witnesses present at the execution at dawn
last Saturday told reporters.
Rubaie later insisted that there was nothing improper about the shouting from
the crowd, or the fact that executioners and officials danced around Saddam's
body. "This is the tradition of the Iraqis, when they do something, they
dance around the body and they express their feelings," he said in an interview
A senior Interior Ministry official told reporters that the hanging was supposed
to be carried out by hangmen employed by the Interior Ministry but that "militias"
had managed to infiltrate the executioners' team.
The airing of the footage has further damaged the government of embattled Prime
Minister Nouri al-Maliki and possibilities of reconciliation between political
and sectarian groups in Iraq.
On Thursday the Iraqi government postponed the hanging of two of Saddam Hussein's
companions. Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikrit, Saddam's half brother and former intelligence
chief, along with Awad Ahmed al-Bandar, head of Saddam's revolutionary court,
were to have been hanged Thursday.
A senior official from Maliki's office told a reporter that the executions
were postponed "due to international pressure."
U.S. presidential press secretary Tony Snow, formerly of Fox News, dismissed
calls to join international condemnation of Saddam Hussein's execution. "The
government is investigating the conduct of some people within the chamber and
I think we'll leave it at that," Snow told reporters. "But the one
thing you got to keep in mind is that you got justice."
The U.S. military claims it had no control over the events at the execution,
despite handing Saddam over to Iraqi authorities just minutes before the footage
was taken. The U.S. military then transported the body to Tikrit where it was
Many Iraqis simply want the bloodshed and chaos that has engulfed their country
"I just pray to Allah to stop the bleeding that started when those strangers
came into our country," 65-year-old Ahmed Alwan from Baghdad told IPS.
"There is no future for us to think about under such a mess, and killing
Saddam will just add more hatred between Iraqis, especially with the savage
comments that appeared on the video."
Most Iraqis seem skeptical of the current U.S.-backed Iraqi government, which
has been unable to restore even basic services, let alone security.
"Our government thought they could fool us again by killing the man,"
30-year-old grocer Atwan in the Hurriya district of Baghdad told IPS. "We
have had enough and what we demand is a real change, or else we will take another
course regardless of what our religious and political leaders tell us. What
we want is a better life and real brotherhood between Iraqis."
Ali al-Fadhily is our Baghdad correspondent. Dahr Jamail is our specialist
writer who has spent eight months reporting from inside Iraq and has been covering
the Middle East for several years.
(Inter Press Service)