30 December, 2006

Saddam Hussein is hanged

Saddam Hussein, the man who dominated Iraq with brutal violence for nearly 25 years, was executed before dawn this morning (at 6am local time). The 69-year-old leader, who was overthrown by a multi-national coalition led by the United States in 2003, was convicted of crimes against humanity.

Since the execution was announced by local television, there have no signs of violence in Baghdad. The government did not impose a curfew as it had done on 5 November, the day when one of the trials of the ex-dictator ended in a death sentence for the killing of 148 Shiites who were arrested in 1982 in connection with an assassination attempt against Saddam. The sentence was confirmed by an appeals court on 26 December and had to be executed within 30 days.

Saddam was also on trial for the killing of tens of thousands of Kurds in 1988 in the Anfal campaign.

Saddam Hussein was executed Saturday, officials said, the 69-year-old former strongman mounting the gallows calmly and accepting his fate with a last defiant warning.

"He said 'I hope you will be united, and I warn you not to trust the Iranian coalition, because they are dangerous'. He said he was not afraid of anyone," Judge Moneer Haddad, who witnessed Saddam's execution for crimes against humanity, told AFP.

Saddam's taunt will be interpreted as a sideswipe at Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shiite-led ruling coalition, which many Iraqi Sunnis accuse of being a front for Iranian influence.

Another witness, National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, told state television the former strongman made no attempt to resist his executioners, as he was led to the noose with his hands bound behind him.

Neither official, members of a small group of dignitaries who formally witnessed the execution, would say exactly where the hanging took place except that it was outside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.

Rubaie said the Saddam's American jailers had handed him over to Iraqi officials and that there had been no US personnel in the building as the trapdoor dropped and the dictator's life was ended.

"We hope this great day will be a day for national unity and for the liberation of the Iraqi people," Rubaie told Al-Arabiya television, adding that the whole procedure had been filmed.

"Whether to screen it now or later is up to political leaders because this is a sensitive issue and we do not want to excite some of our people," he said, amid mounting sectarian tension.

"This issue is about establishing justice. I look to thousands of orphans and widows in Halabja, and the war with Iran and the invasion of Kuwait," he said, referring to some of Saddam's best known atrocities.

According to the AP, a crowd of about 200 Iraqi-Americans cheered outside a Dearborn mosque, chanting "Now there's peace, Saddam is dead" in English and Arabic.

They danced, sang, some dropping to their knees and crying, the AP reported.

Many draped Iraqi and American flags on their shoulders, heads, and car hoods.

The city is home to one of the largest communities of Muslims in America.

In US,President Bush said in a statement issued from his ranch in Texas that bringing Saddam to justice "is an important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain and defend itself, and be an ally in the war on terror."

He said that the execution marks the "end of a difficult year for the Iraqi people and for our troops" and cautioned that Saddam's death will not halt the violence in Iraq.

President. Bush, who was asleep at his Texas ranch when the hanging was carried out in Baghdad, said Saddam had received the kind of justice he denied his victims.

The fear that the hanging of the ex-ruler will bring “nothing good for the country” is widespread among Iraqi Christians in Europe too. They are convinced that even if this does not come about immediately, “sooner or later Saddam’s death will be avenged”.

Some key US allies expressed discomfort at the execution, which was roundly condemned by major human rights groups who argued that Saddam's trial had been deeply flawed.

Russia, which opposed the March 20, 2003 invasion to oust the dictator, and the Vatican both expressed regret at the hanging which some Muslim leaders said would exacerbate the violence in Iraq.

Britain, the main US ally in Iraq, said Saddam had been "held to account" but reiterated its opposition to the use of the death penalty, as did Australia, another key supporter of the US invasion.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett welcomed the fact that Saddam had been tried by an Iraqi court "for at least some of the appalling crimes" he committed against the Iraqi people.

"The British government does not support the use of the death penalty, in Iraq or anywhere else," she added Saturday.

Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer voiced similar reservations but also stressed the need to respect the right of sovereign states to pass judgement relating to crimes committed against their people.

"He has been brought to justice, following a process of fair trial and appeal something he denied to countless thousands of victims of his regime," Downer said.

Bush hammered home the same point, saying fair trials had been "unimaginable" under Saddam's rule.

"Bringing Saddam Hussein to justice will not end the violence in Iraq, but it is an important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain, and defend itself," he said.

Iran, the influential neighbour of Iraq and arch-foe of the US administration, also welcomed the news.

"The execution verdict of the court that tried Saddam has made thousands of Iranian, Iraqi and Kuwaiti victims happy," said foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini.

Saddam Hussein was reviled in Iran for a 1980 attack that sparked an eight-year war that cost around one million lives on both sides.

And no tears were shed in Kuwait, which Saddam invaded in 1990.

"Saddam was an enemy to the Iraqi people and the Islamic nation," said acting Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Sabah.

Israel, a strong US ally and enemy of Saddam, also hailed the hanging, with a high-ranking Israeli official declaring: "Justice has been done."

But there was also condemnation of the execution.

Russia's foreign ministry expressed regret, saying that international calls for clemency had been ignored.

"Unfortunately, the many appeals from representatives of various countries and international organisations for Iraq's authorities to hold back from capital punishment were not heard," a ministry spokesman was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

India, which had warm ties with the Saddam regime, said it was "disappointed" by the execution, while Pakistan called it a "sad event".

The ruling Hamas movement in the Palestinian territories said Saddam was a prisoner of war and described his hanging as an act of "political assassination" that flouted international laws.

Libya declared three days of national mourning after the execution.

Malaysia, a leading Muslim nation, warned the execution of Saddam could trigger more bloodshed.

"A lot of people, the international community generally, are not in favour of the hanging and question the due process that took place," Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, whose country is current chair of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, told AFP.

Outside of Britain, European reaction, led by the European Union (EU), focused on opposition to the use of capital punishment.

"The European Union has been consistently against the use of the death penalty," Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, told AFP.

"It could also prove to be divisive for the future of Iraq especially since there has been serious criticism of the way the trial was conducted," Tuomioja said.

France, a high profile opponent of the Iraq invasion at the United Nations, called on Iraqis to "look towards the future" and work towards reconciliation and national unity.

"Now more than ever, the objective should be a return to full sovereignty and stability in Iraq," the French foreign ministry said in a statement.

German junior foreign minister Gernot Erler said that his country "understood" the feelings of the victims of Saddam's brutal regime but remained opposed to capital punishment.

Among other major powers, Japan said it respected Iraq's decision to carry out the execution.

"Japan hopes Iraq will turn into a stable country and will continue supporting the country together with the international community," Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was quoted by Kyodo News as saying.

The Vatican saw the hanging as "tragic news", Vatican spokesman Frederico Lombardi said.

"There is a risk that it feeds the spirit of vengeance and plants the seeds for fresh violence," he said

The Iraqi church did not comment about the execution of the former ruler, preferring to urge the world once again to “pray for the country, so sorely tired”. Iraqis abroad were waiting for the televised execution but they fear “certain revenge from the supporters of a president who was always seen as a god”.

“Continue to pray for peace across the world and today especially in Iraq.” This is the call of the auxiliary bishop of the Chaldeans in Baghdad, Mgr Shlemon Warduni, a few hours after the capital execution of Saddam Hussein. Beyond the political repercussions of this death, the bishop took care to stress that what matters most to the Church at this time is “necessary respect for the human person, as God created him”. Mgr Warduni once again urged “the world to pray for the common good but especially that of Iraq that is so sorely tried today.”

Malaysia respects the decision to execute former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein but has reservations that his death may trigger more serious conflict, said Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak on Saturday.

Saddam Hussein – Chronology

Despite promises from Iraqi and U.S. leaders that 2006 would bring improvement, Iraqis have suffered through the worst year in living memory, facing violence, fragmentation and a disintegrated economy.

A year back Iraqis were promised that 2006 would be the fresh beginning of a, prosperous, democratic and unified Iraq. Through an elected parliament and a unity government, they would find peace, and start rebuilding a country torn apart by the U.S.-backed UN sanctions and then the U.S.-led invasion and occupation.

But everyone agrees that the situation now is worse than ever. Leaders in Iraq disagree only to the extent they blame one another for the collapse in security that has led to worsened services and living conditions.

Hanged this morning at dawn, Saddam Hussein dominated the Iraqi scene for nearly 25 years, ruling with an iron fist, massacres against the country’s ethnic and religious groups and the elimination of his political adversaries. We list the significant dates in his life.

April 28, 1937 – Born in the poor al-Awja village near Tikrit, 150 km north of Baghdad. His stepfather used to beat him often when he was a child.

October 1956 - Joins uprising against pro-British monarchy and becomes a militant of the Baath (“Rebirth”) Party.

October 1959 - A year after the overthrow of the monarchy, takes part in a failed attempt to kill Prime Minister Abdel-Karim Kassem. Flees abroad and lives in exile in Cairo for four years.

February 1963 - Returns to Baghdad when the Baath Party seizes power in a coup. Nine months later Baathists are overthrown and he is caught and jailed. Elected deputy secretary-general of the party while in prison.

July 1968 - Saddam helps plot the coup that puts the Baath Party back in power, deposing President Abdul-Rahman Aref. He is now the party’s no.2 after General Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr.

March 1975 - As vice-president of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), he signs an agreement with the Shah of Persia to ends support for an Iraqi Kurdish revolt, causing its collapse.

July 16, 1979 - Takes power after President Ahmed Hassan al -Bakr steps aside. He assumes the posts of prime minister, president of the RCC and supreme commander of the armed forces. Accuses hundreds of top politicians of the Baath party of betrayal and has them executed. During his 30 years of power, his name will feature in mosques, airports, neighbourhoods and cities. In schools, songs extolling him will be taught. His statues will be placed at the entrance of every village and his photo put up in every public office and private home.

September 22, 1980 – Self-styled leader of the Arab world, he launches war on the Iran of the Islamic Revolution. It will last eight years, claiming 200,000 lives and leaving hundreds of thousands injured.

March 16, 1988 - Iraqi forces launch chemical attack on Kurdish town of Halabja, killing about 5,000 people.

August 20, 1988 - A ceasefire is officially declared in the Iran-Iraq war. The campaign against Kurds continues. The war has emptied state coffers and leaves a debt of more than 70 billion dollars owed to other Arab states. Saddam starts thinking about how he can increase oil income.

August 2, 1990 - Launches invasion of and annexes Kuwait, accusing it of keeping oil prices down. The UN Security Council decides to impose sanctions on Iraq, which remain in force even after Saddam is thrown out of Kuwait, leading to the collapse of the economy and internal power struggles.

January 17, 1991 – The United States and other countries commence air attacks on Iraq and occupied Kuwait. The “Gulf War” ends on 28 February with the eviction of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. The bombardments devastate the infrastructure of the country and massacre frontline Iraqi troops (it is estimated that 150,000 were killed in a few weeks). While retreating, the soldiers set fire to oil wells causing an ecological disaster. Encouraged by the defeat of the army, Shiites revolt in southern Iraq. But western powers do not intervene and Saddam suppresses the uprising. Then he attacks the Kurd rebels in the north, forcing millions of people to flee to the freezing mountains. Western forces intervene to protect the fugitives through air controls that prevent the soldiers’ advance.

August 1995 – The husbands of his two younger daughters leave and go into exile. Six months later they accept an amnesty and return to Iraq. Within days, their wives divorce them and both are killed in a shootout.

October 15, 1995 - Saddam wins a presidential referendum and is elected unopposed with more than 99% of the vote.

2000 – Newly elected US president George W. Bush steps up pressure against Saddam. Washington calls more and more persistently for “regime change”. After the attack of 11 September 2001, Iraq will be included among the “States scoundrel”.

October 15, 2002 – New presidential election: official results show Saddam wins 100% of votes.

November 2002 – UN inspectors return to Iraq to search for banned weapons. The country destroys some missiles and says it has neutralised anthrax reserves. Inspector Hans Blix concludes that Iraq has collaborated and that there is no evidence of new armament programmes but he fails to convince the United States and Great Britain.

December 7, 2002 - Saddam apologises for invasion of Kuwait but blames the country’s government. Kuwait rejects the apology.

February 2003 - In first interview in more than a decade, Saddam denies Baghdad has any banned weapons or links to al Qaeda.

March 20, 2003 – The forces of the United States and other countries launch war against Iraq.

April 9, 2003 – US forces take Baghdad and put an end to Saddam's three-decade rule. The dictator disappears.



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