Saddam Hussein Draws Death by Hanging; Arabs Divided on Sentence

Article excerpt


BAGHDAD -- Iraq's High Tribunal on Sunday found Saddam Hussein guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to hang, as the visibly shaken former leader shouted "God is great!''

His half brother and former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, head of the former Revolutionary Court, were sentenced to join Saddam on the gallows.

After the verdict was read, a trembling Saddam yelled out, "Life for the glorious nation, and death to its enemies!''

He initially refused Chief Judge Raouf Adbul-Rahman's order to rise. Two bailiffs lifted Saddam to his feet and he remained standing through the sentencing.

As the proceedings finished, clashes broke out between police and gunmen in north Baghdad's Azamiyah district, which is dominated by hardliners from among Saddam's fellow Sunni sect. In contrast, celebratory gunfire rang out in many other parts of the city.

The verdict was immediately condemned by the head of the second largest Sunni bloc in parliament, who predicted it would spark even greater bloodshed between Sunnis and the country's majority Shiites, who were heavily persecuted under Saddam's more-than two decades of authoritarian rule but now largely control the government and security forces.

"It was not wise and the government, not the court, has gone to the extreme with issuing this sentence, even in advance,'' Salih al-Mutlaq told the al-Arabiya satellite television station.

"This government will be responsible for the consequences, with the deaths of hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands, whose blood will be shed,'' al-Mutlaq said.

Saddam and his seven co-defendants had been tried by the Iraqi High Tribunal over a wave of revenge killings carried out in the city of Dujail following a 1982 assassination attempt on the former dictator.

Saddam faces additional charges in a separate case over an alleged massacre of Kurdish civilians. It wasn't clear when a verdict would be announced in that other case, or when Saddam's sentence would be carried out.

Before the trial began, one of Saddam's lawyers, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, was ejected from the courtroom after handing the judge a memorandum in which he called the Saddam trial a travesty.

Judge Raouf Abdul-Rahman pointed to Clark and said in English, "Get out.''

Guarding against violence, Baghdad was placed under a total curfew, with shops shuttered and pedestrians and vehicles almost completely absent from the streets of the city of six million people. Iraqi security forces and U.S. troops mounted additional patrols, but no major incidents had been reported.

"There is close cooperation between Iraqi and coalition forces in maintaining the curfew,'' said police Maj. Mahir Hamad Mousa of the al-Khansa station in Baghdad's Jadeeda district .''We have fully prepared for this duty,'' he said.

The guilty verdict for Saddam is expected to enrage hard-liners among Saddam's fellow Sunnis, who made up the bulk of the former ruling class. The country's majority Shiites, who were persecuted under the former leader but now largely control the government, will likely view the outcome as a cause of celebration.

Even with the verdict imminent, Saddam's lawyers and some Sunni politicians had called for the court proceedings to be suspended.

"It has become clear to the Iraqi people and the whole world that this court is politicized 100 percent,'' Salih al-Mutlaq, head of the second largest Sunni parliamentarian block, told the Doha-based al-Jazeera satellite channel.

Al-Mutlaq accused the U.S. and Iraqi governments of interfering with the work of the court and said a verdict would further polarize Iraqi society, already traumatized by sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunnis.

"This verdict will be the last nail in the coffin of the national reconciliation plan and the political process,'' al-Mutlaq said. …