Saddam traded insults with his executioners
By Steve Negus, Iraq correspondent

FT
December 31 2006 16:09

Saddam Hussein was buried on Sunday just before dawn in his home town
of Awja, drawing hundreds of mourners, as video circulated across the
country showing the former Iraqi president exchanging taunts with his
executioners just before his hanging.

The handover of Saddam's body to leaders of his clan was a surprising
move by a government which reportedly had earlier mulled burying the
deposed president in a secret grave. The decision may have been
intended to quash any rumours that the dictator was in fact not dead.


However, any conciliatory value from the decision may have been offset
by the broadcast of footage apparently filmed on videophone in the
execution chamber, showing Saddam exchanging insults with others in
the room.

Onlookers chanted Shia religious slogans and the name of the radical
young cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his relative Mohammed Bakr al-Sadr, a
theologian tortured and executed by Saddam's regime in 1980.

The former president answers back: `Do you consider this bravery?' He
then recites the shahada, the Muslim proclamation of faith, until the
trapdoor opens.

The exchanges highlight the sectarian tensions that are part of the
legacy of a regime which was dominated by Sunni Arabs and brutally
repressed Shia religious and political movements, and which were
mirrored in the reaction to his death.

In the largely Shia suburb of Sadr City, citizens fired into the air,
handed out candy and paraded down the street in their cars on the
morning after the death penalty was imposed on Saddam for a campaign
of repression against a Shia village in the 1980s.

Sunni parts of the country, on the other hand, witnessed angry
demonstrations on Saturday and funeral observances on Sunday. Some
mourners quoted in press reports proclaimed revenge against the
`Persians', a derogatory reference to Iraq's current leaders, many of
whom have close tries with Iran.

Even the timing of Saddam's execution seemed to reinforce the
sectarian gap ` although Iraqi law bans executions during religious
holidays, it took place just as the Sunni's Eid al-Adha feast was
beginning. Shia begin celebrations a day later.

Given this charged atmosphere, the execution of Saddam is unlikely to
dampen the Sunni insurgency, and indeed may complicate the chances of
reaching a deal with Sunni political parties aimed at undercutting the
violence.

However, Saddam's death could bolster the confidence of the Shia
parties which dominate the government of Prime Minister Nuri
al-Maliki, now fighting to shore up their popularity among their own
constituency. Mr Maliki has suggested that his government will try
early in the new year to disband Shia militias accused of targeting
Sunni civilians.