|Saddam Hussein's death sentence divides the Iraqi people even as it is criticised by most of the international community.|
Saddam Hussein reacts as the verdict sentencing him to death is delivered on November 5. He is holding a copy of the Koran.
THE death sentence passed on Saddam Hussein on November 5 came as no surprise to either the Iraqi people or the international community. Iraqi leaders of the United States-supported government, from the Prime Minister down, had demanded nothing less. The entire courtroom drama was driven by a political agenda. The timing of the judgment, just a few days before the crucial congressional elections in the United States, was meant to give a fillip to the beleaguered Republicans. President George W. Bush tried to extract the maximum mileage from the sentence given out by a handpicked Iraqi court. On the campaign trail, Bush described the verdict as a "major move" and a "milestone" in Iraq's move towards democracy. However, as the results of the mid-term polls have shown, American voters preferred to base their judgment on the political and military fiasco the Bush administration has engendered in Iraq.
Most of the international community was also against the verdict. The European Union (E.U.) is unhappy with the death sentence passed on the Iraqi leader. The Finnish government, which currently holds the Presidency of the E.U., said: "The E.U. opposes capital punishment in all cases and under all circumstances and it should not be carried out in this case either."
The reaction was generally muted among pro-Western governments in the Arab world. However, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarrak warned that if Saddam was sent to the gallows, the violence in Iraq could escalate to unimaginable levels. There was no official response from the Iranian government, although Saddam is undoubtedly the most hated man in the country. The average Iranian holds him responsible for the eight-year "imposed war", as it is known there, which left the Iranian economy shattered and more than a million dead.
In Samarra, a protest against the death sentence on November 6.
The Iranian government would have preferred that Saddam was tried on this issue. But if that was done, it would expose the U.S.' culpability in arming and aiding Iraq in the 1980s. Donald Rumsfeld went to Baghdad and met Saddam in 1983 and 1984, and offered help and succour on both occasions. An American company supplied Iraq with components for biological weapons. The sale was licensed by the U.S. Commerce Department and approved by the State Department. Back then, Baghdad and Washington had a cozy relationship. After Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979, Baghdad and Washington entered into an opportunistic alliance: Saddam saw Shia resurgence as a threat to the unity of Iraq; overthrowing the clerical government of Teheran had become the top priority of Washington after its closest ally in the region, the Shah of Iran, was sent packing by the Iranian people.
In Palestine the ruling Hamas Party condemned the verdict. Hamas is known to be ideologically close to Teheran but this did not prevent the Islamist Party from expressing its opinion on the issue. In its statement soon after the verdict was announced, Hamas recalled the help Saddam provided to the Palestinians in their hour of need: "We, as the Palestinian people, support whoever supports our people and President Saddam was one of those." The Hamas spokesman said that those who had participated in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse judged Saddam and that the same elements were party to the crimes being committed against the Palestinian people. He also pointed out that the trial was conducted at a time when Iraq was under American occupation.
The reaction from New Delhi was cautious. The newly installed External Affairs Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, said in a statement that "such life and death issues require [a] credible process of law, which does not appear to be victor's justice and is acceptable to the people of Iraq as well as the international community." The Left parties would have liked the External Affairs Minister to be more forthright in his stance on the issue. They pointed out that Iraq was under occupation and the trial was farcical. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) said in a statement that the sentence would only be seen as "judicial assassination" and demanded that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government "categorically" condemn the "judicial travesty". The CPI(M) organised rallies across the country to protest against the verdict.
Saddam Hussein, who still considers himself the Iraqi head of state, had said at the beginning of the trial of the "Dujail killings", that as the Commander-in-Chief of the Iraqi Army he accepted full responsibility for the events that led to the death of villagers in the small town of Dujail in southern Iraq. He had told the court that as head of state and Commander-in-Chief, he wanted to face the firing squad "like a soldier" rather than be hanged. He had no illusions about the fate that awaited him. As the presiding judge, Rauf Rasheed Abdel Rahman, pronounced his judgment, Saddam responded by shouting "God is great" and "Long live the Iraqi nation". Condemned to die along with him were Barazan al-Tikriti, his step-brother, and Awad al Bandar. Both had held senior positions in the Iraqi government under the Ba'ath Party. Bandar was the judge who sentenced the 148 Dujail residents to death.
There was no formal surrender by the Iraqi government to the U.S.-led invading forces. Under international law, the American invasion was illegal. Under the Geneva Conventions, Saddam Hussein, as Commander-in-Chief of the Iraqi armed forces and a prisoner of war, is entitled to all its provisions. Under the Geneva Conventions, the U.S., despite the illegality of the war, as the occupying power has the right to try Saddam for human rights violations. However, there have been no actionable human rights violations committed by Iraq during the two wars with the U.S.
When the Dujail incident occurred on July 8, 1982, Iraq was at war with neighbouring Iran. Saddam's motorcade was attacked as it was passing through Dujail. "Bullets were in front of me and everywhere. God wanted to save me," Saddam had told the court. After his capture, Saddam became overtly religious, and always carried a copy of the Koran with him to court. Although the Ba'ath government remained staunchly secular, Saddam turned to religion after the disastrous "mother of all wars" (Gulf War). The second trial in which Saddam figures - on "the Hallabja" killings in the north of the country - also took place during the eight-year war with Iran. The Kurdish villagers of Hallabja were suspected by the Iraqi authorities of collaborating with Iran.
Saddam's lawyers were not allowed to present witnesses. Lawyers appearing for defence were systematically harassed and three of them were assassinated. The chief judge trying the Dujail case was forced to resign midway through the proceedings after he made the casual observation in court that Saddam Hussein was a capable leader. Shia and Kurdish leaders accused him of lenience towards Saddam. Following that the government rejected the nomination of the judge who was initially named to replace him on the grounds that he was a former member of the Ba'ath Party. A more acquiescent official was found to play the role of the "hanging judge".
In the Shia-dominated Sadr City, residents celebrate the verdict on November 5.
The U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Regimes Crimes Liaison Office supervised the day-to-day functioning of the court closely. U.S. security guards patrolled the court premises. American and British legal experts were on hand to advise the prosecution lawyers. Prosecuting lawyers were allowed to introduce evidence without the court allowing the defence to preview it. The presiding judge also had the habit of not allowing the defence to complete its arguments and abruptly bringing proceedings to an end. Bushra al-Khalil, a lawyer in Saddam's defence team, said that what transpired was "a mockery of justice and a judgment that comes from a sham and illegal court created by the U.S. occupation that cannot provide a fair trial". Saddam's defence team said in a statement issued after the verdict that the U.S. occupation forces had provided millions of dollars to prosecution lawyers to unearth evidence against Saddam while they (defence lawyers) were "assassinated, threatened, insulted, displaced out of their country and dismissed from the courtroom".
Human Rights Watch said that the inexperienced court should have availed itself of the expertise of legal groups from outside, that is the European Union and so on. "There was a certain amount of trial by ambush," said a spokesman for Human Rights Watch. Amnesty International also criticised the trial as "a shabby affair, marred by serious flaws". United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour called for a moratorium on executions and emphasised that the rights of defendants to a fair appeal must be "respected". The Vatican said that the judgment reflected the "eye for an eye mentality" that was pervading strife-torn Iraq.
Khalil al-Dulaimy, Saddam's chief defence lawyer, warned before the verdict was pronounced that the "doors of hell will open in Iraq, the sectarian divide will deepen, and many more coffins will be sent to America" if Saddam was found guilty. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Malki told the British Broadcasting Corporation that Saddam could be hanged before the year-end, ignoring the appeals process. Many Shia and Kurdish politicians are clamouring for the early execution of the Iraqi leader. Influential Shia clerics have joined the chorus of revenge for crimes real and imagined.
The Iraqi government ordered a two-day curfew to coincide with Saddam's judgment day. There were scattered celebrations in the Shia-dominated parts of the country, especially in Sadr City - a suburb of Baghdad and the bailiwick of Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr. Sadr's father and a brother were assassinated when Saddam was in power.
Despite the curfew, there were angry protests in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit and other parts of Sunni-dominated Iraq, highlighting the deep sectarian divide that has gripped the country after the American occupation. Ordinary Iraqis did not seem too bothered with the news of the sentencing, preoccupied as they were with the daily chore of surviving.
Many Iraqis remember that during Saddam's time, despite the sanctions and a war-ravaged economy, Shias and Sunnis co-existed peacefully and in Baghdad and in most of the countryside peace and tranquillity prevailed. People had jobs and children could go to school, without parents having to worry about their fate on a daily basis.Saddam was convicted for the deaths of 148 civilians but this is the average daily death toll in Iraq under the rule of the American-installed government.