BAGHDAD — Former dictator Saddam Hussein is due to be executed next month in a move that could bring more instability in an increasingly violent and chaotic occupation.
The execution is to follow a decision by a court of appeal Dec. 26 to uphold the death sentence for Saddam. Under present Iraqi law, execution must be carried out within 30 days of confirmation of the order.
Chief judge Aref Shahin said following confirmation of the death sentence: “From tomorrow, any day could be the day of implementation.”
Saddam is also in the midst of another trial over charges of genocide and other crimes during a 1987-1988 military crackdown on Kurds in northern Iraq. An estimated 180,000 Kurds died during the operation.
That trial has been adjourned until Jan. 8. Saddam’s co-defendants in that case are likely to face trial if he is executed.
Saddam was convicted last month for ordering the killing of 148 Shias in Dujail town in 1982 in revenge for an assassination attempt against him. He was sentenced to death by hanging.
The completion of the nine-month trial that saw 39 court sessions, through which three defence lawyers and a witness were murdered, will most likely inflame Iraq’s political divide further.
Hashim al-Ubaydi’s son was sentenced to death by a ‘revolution court’ of the Saddam regime. But he is not pleased to see that Saddam Hussein will be executed in the present circumstances.
“I was an opponent of Saddam and his policies, but I support putting him through a real national court away from occupation influence. I cannot forgive or forget that my son was executed, but as an Iraqi nationalist I cannot accept to see the president of my country put to trial in such a ridiculous way by invaders and their tails.”
Many Iraqi leaders say the timing of the trial and execution will enlarge the cracks between already divided Iraqis.
The Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS), the leading Sunni group, whose members were listed on Saddam’s most wanted list prior to the U.S.-led invasion and occupation, has expressed deep concern about the consequences of an execution.
AMS secretary-general Dr. Harith al-Dhari rejects suggestions that Saddam was a leader of Sunnis. He says 35 of the 55 most wanted persons by U.S. occupation authorities following the invasion were Shias.
Confirmation of the verdict has given rise to celebrations as well.
Some say the execution should be made a festive occasion. “Saddam must be executed at the first day of Eid (the Muslim Holiday),” a leader of the Shia Sadr Movement told reporters. “We demand live broadcast of the execution.”
Others will not be celebrating even within Kurdistan. “I hate Saddam and always wished him the death he deserved for his attitude against my Kurdish nation,” Sardar Herki from Sulaymaniya in northern Iraq told IPS on phone. “I still wish him death — but together with his successors who killed half the population of Iraq and arrested the other half.”
Compared with the present scenario, many Iraqis have begun to see the Saddam days as a “golden time”, a political science teacher told IPS. A report in the medical journal Lancet says more than 655,000 Iraqis have died unnaturally as a result of the occupation.
“Iraqis would have not objected so much if the situation had been improved by Saddam’s executors,” the teacher said. “His time was certainly not a golden time, but Iraqis felt proud of his policies against Iranian and American arrogance and greed. He managed to feed his people and provide them with security and basic services despite all the wars they fought, and the UN sanctions against Iraq.”
The defence team has objected to the verdict, and continues to campaign against it.
“The whole court procedures were illegal right from the beginning,” Khalil al-Dulaimy, chief of Saddam’s defence team told reporters in Baghdad. “Mr. President Saddam Hussein is a prisoner of war and he should not be handed over to his opponents by international law, and the international community must press the U.S. authorities not to do so.”
International human rights organisations are asking for suspension of the death sentence, while arguing that Saddam was denied a fair trial. Human Rights Watch has reported that the trail was marred by political interference.
In a statement that seems to warn of impending violence and increasing political divide, the Ba’ath Party, formerly led by Saddam, has threatened it would target U.S. interests anywhere if he was executed.
“Our party warns again of the consequences of executing Mr. President and his comrades,” said a statement that appeared on a website known to represent the party. “The Ba’ath and the resistance are determined to retaliate, with all means and everywhere, to harm America and its interests if it commits this crime.”