Saddam Hussein Executed by Maliki Government ‘Thugs’

The New Year has brought little good news from Iraq, with 3,000 US troops now confirmed dead and the execution of Saddam Hussein severely undermining confidence in Iraq’s Maliki government.

Mr Hussein was convicted and sentenced to death in November for crimes against humanity relating to the slaughter of 148 men and teenage boys in the Shiite town of Dujail, north of Baghdad, in 1982.

John Burns of The New York Times attended Mr Hussein’s trial, which he said was “one of the fairest ever conducted in the Middle East”. Yet he said the manner in which the execution was carried out has heightened fears that the Maliki government is little more than a pack of “bullying street thugs”.

In video footage believed to have been taken with a mobile phone, Mr Hussein cuts a calm and dignified figure amid the sounds of shouting and taunting that befit a mob lynching. With the noose sitting around his neck, Mr Hussein attempts to pray despite a jeering crowd of men chanting “Moqtada, Moqtada, Moqtada” and screaming “Go to hell!”. A relatively composed Mr Hussein hits back, “The hell that is Iraq?” Another man pleads with the mob: “Please don’t, the man is facing death. Please don’t. I beg you, no!” As Mr Hussein resumes his attempt to pray, the trap doors fly open with a thunderous clatter as he falls to his death.

The interruption of final prayers represents a particularly shocking affront, and this has caused deep offence in Sunni communities throughout Iraq and the Arab world.

Apart from the raucous behavior and the indignities permitted in the execution chamber, the conduct of the Maliki government in the lead up to Mr Hussein’s execution has drawn sharp criticism for its constitutional failures and conspicuous sectarian insensitivities.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki personally rushed the execution forward, despite concerns that the appeal process had been little more than a sham which took less than three weeks. Mr Hussein was also denied visits by his daughter and given only two hours’ notice of his execution, which had previously been scheduled for some time after January 10.

Moreover, the execution took place at 6:10 am on Saturday morning in Baghdad, contravening an Iraqi law that forbids executions during the religious festival of Eid al-Adha which began on Saturday for Sunnis and on Sunday for Shiites. Thus, the timing of the execution levelled a devastating insult at Iraq’s Sunni population while upholding the sanctity of the holy festival for Shiites.

Iraqi Kurds are also disappointed that Mr Hussein was never tried for killing 5,000 Kurds in the late 1980’s using chemical weapons. They feel that their grievances were brushed aside by the Maliki government and that the execution became a gruesome spectacle of Shiite revenge.

US and UK officials are privately dismayed at the destructive behavior of the Maliki government but are reluctant to publicly reprimand the Prime Minister for fear of further undermining confidence in his leadership.

Yet the inflammatory and divisive conduct of the Maliki government has grave implications for the US-led occupation and eventual withdrawal from Iraq. Clearly, a government that recklessly inflames sectarian tensions will only obstruct the paramount goal of national reconciliation.

In the course of Saddam Hussein’s execution, Prime Minister Maliki demonstrated contempt for Iraqi law and due process, and failed to respect the sensibilities of the country’s diverse population. Yet Mr Maliki seems oblivious to these concerns.

There are now growing doubts that Mr Maliki possesses the character required of a democratic head of state – never mind the exemplary, visionary qualities it will take to unite and lead a bitterly divided Iraq toward political stability and lasting peace.

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