Everyone's hand shoots up in Majid's Barbershop when asked if
Saddam Hussein should be convicted of crimes against humanity.
All 10 men in the Baghdad shop - three barbers, those getting a
trim, and a bunch of friends and neighbors - are united in their
pleasure that the case against Mr. Hussein is finally getting under
"This man is one of history's great war criminals,'' says Nihad
Malika, shaving the head of a 6-year-old boy. "This is a great day
for us, though his sentence won't come soon enough."
In a nation facing ethnic and religious fissures, a rampant
insurgency, and dissatisfaction over the pace of reconstruction,
Hussein's fate is one of the few issues Iraqis agree upon. Some
remain loyal to Hussein's regime in the Sunni communities he
favored. But most of the country still views his reign with loathing
and horror. As such, his trial is likely to bolster the new interim
Iraqi government as the most popular public act since the US drove
him from power last year.
Wednesday, the US signed papers granting Iraq's government legal
authority over Hussein and 11 other senior officials from his
regime, though they will physically remain in US custody. Thursday,
Hussein and his lieutenants are scheduled to be brought before an
Iraqi court and, while the cameras role, are expected to be charged
with genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
Whether it's the largely Shiite areas in the south that had tens
of thousands executed for opposing the regime in the 1990s, the
Kurdish north that remembers the use of nerve gas to kill some 5,000
residents of Halabja in 1988, or the many Sunnis who were murdered
by the regime, Iraq's court of public opinion is unwavering in its
condemnation of his rule.
Here in Sadr City - which Hussein called Saddam City to emphasize
his victory over his Shiite political opponents - evidence of the
regime's abuses are thick on the ground. Four of the men at Majid's
Barbershop had a brother or cousin executed by the regime, without
trial or charges, for belonging to outlawed Shiite political
Concerns about whether a man so deeply reviled can receive a fair
trial draw derisive snorts. "The ground, the marshes of this country
were witnesses to what he did,'' says Mr. Malika.
Ham Zemadi, a 28-year-old sociology student at Baghdad
University, remembers the day in 1999 when Iraqi security officers
surrounded a crowd at the Mohsen Mosque. They were protesting the
regime's murder of Ayatollah Mohammed Sadek al-Sadr and fired volley
after volley into the crowd, killing about 60 people. "There was
blood everywhere,'' he says. "Those people didn't get a trial."
This poor and almost completely Shiite district of 1 million
people in north Baghdad was systematically deprived of basic
government services for more than 20 years. Infant mortality is
higher here than in the rest of Baghdad, and its pitted roads and
pools of raw sewage a testament to the area's treatment by the
regime. Iraq's Shiites, about 60 percent of the population, were a
constant source of insurrection against Hussein's Sunni-dominated
regime and he responded with a heavy hand.
"Your pen will run out of ink before you've recorded all the
crimes just the people in this shop could tell you about," says
Rahim Hussein, whose brother Hasan was taken away by the regime in
1982 for belonging to a Shiite political party and never seen again.
"Saddam is going to try to claim he wasn't responsible, but he ruled
this country completely. All of these murders are on his hands."
Justice, if it comes, won't be swift. Iraq's appointed interim
prime minister, Iyad Allawi, appealed for "patience" from Iraq's
people and said it will probably be some months before trials begin.
Hussein, Allawi said, should receive "a just trial, a fair trial....
We would like to show the world that the Iraqi government means