Saddam hanging could have been 'more dignified'

United States President George Bush said Saddam Hussein could have been hanged in a “more dignified way” and one his closest Arab allies said on Friday a video of Shi’ite officials taunting him on the gallows was “barbaric”.

In Bush’s first comments on Saddam’s unruly televised hanging, which has inflamed sectarian passions in Iraq ahead of his announcement next week of a new Iraq strategy, he said he expected the Iraqi government to conduct a full investigation, but said the ousted leader was given justice.

“I wish, obviously, that the proceedings had ... gone in a more dignified way. But nevertheless, he was given justice,” said Bush, who is planning to change his top military and civilian officials in Baghdad in moves that would wrap up a change of officials responsible for the war.

“We expect there to be a full investigation of what took place,” Bush told reporters in the White House on Thursday.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, one of Washington’s closest allies in the Middle East, joined the growing chorus of criticism, saying pictures of the execution were “revolting and barbaric”.

Violence in Iraq has heightened regional sectarian and ethnic tensions between the mainly Sunni Muslim Arab world and Shi’ites who dominate Iraq and neighbouring, non-Arab Iran.

In an interview with Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronoth, Mubarak said the timing was “unreasonable” and that he had written to Bush asking him to postpone the execution.
The Iraqi government has said the US envoy asked for a two-week delay.

“Then the pictures of the execution were revolting and barbaric, and I am not discussing here whether he deserved it or not. As for the trial, all experts in international law said it was an illegal trial because it was under occupation.

“Also, there was a conspiracy to carry out the execution before the end of the year,” Mubarak said.

The hanging took place on Saturday, the first day of the Eid al-Adha holiday. Two of Saddam’s aides, also convicted for crimes against humanity, will hang shortly, officials said.

Iraqi investigators said they have identified two guards who illicitly filmed the images, which show observers yelling “Go to hell” and chanting the name of a radical Shi’ite cleric and militia leader before Saddam falls through the trap.

Suspicious of the Shi’ite majority’s rise to power since Saddam was toppled in a US invasion, thousands of Sunni Arabs have vented their anger at the execution.

Bush changes team

In neighbouring Iran, an influential Iranian cleric said on Friday the US wanted to use the execution to stoke tensions between Shi’ite and Sunni: “America’s method is to start sectarian differences,” Ahmad Khatami told worshippers at Friday prayers in a sermon broadcast on state radio.

Under pressure to change course in a war in which more than 3 000 US soldiers have died since the 2003 invasion, Bush is planning to name a new ambassador to Iraq and will likely pick new military commanders there, wrapping up a complete change of top officials responsible for prosecuting the war.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki accused a leading Sunni Arab clerics’ group on Friday of stirring up sectarian tension by saying that militias were preparing attacks on Sunni Arab neighbourhoods in Baghdad.

The Muslim Clerics’ Association, an umbrella group of religious leaders of Iraq’s Sunni minority, warned in a statement on Thursday that unidentified militias linked to a political group were planning attacks on some Baghdad districts.

Washington says the Mehdi Army, a militia linked to radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and various other groups in government are linked to militias.

“The office of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki says the statement of the Muslim Clerics’ Association is totally baseless and raises tension and we hold the Muslim Clerics responsible for any action that results from this,” said a statement from the prime minister.—Reuters

Client Media Releases

UKZN student heads to FIFA Women's World Cup
NWU extraordinary professor discusses Global South