BAGHDAD — New divisions appear to be opening up between Iraqi political and religious leaders following the execution of Saddam Hussein Saturday.
Former president Saddam Hussein was hanged at an army base in the predominantly Shia district of Khadamiya in northern Baghdad outside of Baghdad’s Green Zone just before 6am local time.
The execution of the 69-year-old former dictator was witnessed by a representative of Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki and a Muslim cleric among others.
The execution appears already to be generating more sectarianism, which has already claimed tens of thousands of lives in the war-torn country. Sectarian divisions have opened up primarily between Shias and Sunnis, who follow different belief systems within Islam.
Several Shia leaders, particularly those of Iranian origin, say the execution would be a blow to resistance against the Iraqi government by Saddam loyalists. In Baghdad’s sprawling Shia slum, the Sadr City, where most of the three million inhabitants are loyal to the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, people danced in the streets while others fired in the air to celebrate the execution.
National security advisor Mouaffaq al-Rubaii, a Shia, declared that “we wanted him to be executed on a special day.”
Celebrations in Kurdish areas were no expression of unmixed joy, even though Kurds were persecuted more than any other group under Saddam’s regime.
“The world ignored Saddam’s crimes when he committed them,” Azad Bakir, a 35-year-old engineer in the northern Kurdish city Arbil told IPS on phone. “But we are committing the same crime again by executing him like this.”
And few Sunnis were cheering Saddam’s death. A senior member of the Islamic Party who asked not to be named said the timing of the execution at the start of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha would prove a grave mistake. The festival marks the end of the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
Muhammad Ayash, a spokesman for the Association of Muslim Scholars, a leading Sunni group, said Saddam had served his country well, and had been punished for the wrong reasons.
“He was executed for the good things he did such as fighting the U.S. aggression against the Arab nation,” Ayash told IPS. “He stopped the dark Iranian plans in the area, and helped Palestinians survive the continuous Israeli crimes.”
In predominantly Sunni cities like Beji, Ramadi and Saddam’s hometown Tikrit, people fired shots in protest and swore to avenge the execution of the “legitimate president” of Iraq.
The execution may not bring the end to violence across Iraq that some Iraqi government leaders expect. At least 68 people were killed in bombings after the execution Saturday.
So far 2,998 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq, including 109 just this month, according to the website Iraq Coalition Casualty Count.
The resistance to occupation is expected to continue. A spokesman for the Al-Mujahideen Army resistance group in Ramadi told IPS that his group saw Saddam Hussein simply as the leader of the Ba’ath Party who was “a helpless man in jail when we conducted our heroic operations against invaders.”
The spokesman, who refused to give his name, added: “We praise his bravery in facing death, but his death will not increase or decrease our carefully planned actions until the U.S. invaders and their allies leave our country.”
Across Iraq, Saddam seems to have won respect for the calm with which he went to his execution. And that could increase sympathy for him and his family.
A close friend of Saddam Hussein’s daughters in Amman in Jordan spoke with IPS on condition of anonymity. She said that when the daughters got news of the execution, “they cried of course, but then they praised God for having such a great father who faced death with such courage and faith.”
A friend of Saddam’s oldest daughter Raghad told IPS: “The family’s only concern now is to receive the body for burial in a dignified way suitable for a martyr and a national hero.”