Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Nir Rosen on Hijacking Eid and Hanging Saddam

Hijacking Eid and Hanging Saddam
Timing and Hostile Repartee Creates Further Division
By NIR ROSEN 12/31/2006 2:17 PM ET

Saddam Hussein became the first modern Arab dictator to die violently since Egypt's Anwar Sadat in 1981. Saddam's hanging at the hands of chubby Iraqi men wearing ski masks is likely to be perceived by many as an American execution and as part of a trend of American missteps contributing to sectarian tensions in Iraq and the region. The trial of Saddam was viewed by detractors as an event stage-managed by the Americans. According to Human Rights Watch, the Iraqi judges and lawyers involved in prosecuting Saddam were ill prepared and relied on their American advisers. American minders shut off the microphones and ordered the translators to halt whenever they disapproved of what was being said by the defendants.

The important Muslim holiday of Eid al Adha was due to begin over the weekend. For Sunnis it began on Saturday the 30th of December. For Shias it begins on Sunday the 31st. According to tradition in Mecca, battles are suspended during the Hajj period so that pilgrims can safely march to Mecca. This practice even predated Islam and Muslims preserved this tradition, calling this period 'Al Ashur al Hurm,' or the months of truce. By hanging Saddam on the Sunni Eid the Americans and the Iraqi government were in effect saying that only the Shia Eid had legitimacy. Sunnis were irate that Shia traditions were given primacy (as they are more and more in Iraq these days) and that Shias disrespected the tradition and killed Saddam on this day. Because the Iraqi constitution itself prohibits executions from being carried out on Eid, the Iraqi government had to officially declare that Eid did not begin until Sunday the 31st. It was a striking decision, virtually declaring that Iraq is now a Shia state. Eid al Adha is the festival of the sacrifice of the sheep. Some may perceive it as the day Saddam was sacrificed.

Saddam had been in American custody and was handed over to Iraqis just before his execution. It is therefore hard to dismiss the perception that the Americans could have waited, because in the end it is they who have the final say over such events in Iraq. Iraqi officials have consistently publicly complained that they have no authority and the Americans control the Iraqi police and the Army. It is therefore unusual that Iraqis would suddenly regain sovereignty for this important event. For many Sunnis and Arabs in the region, this appears to be one president ordering the death of another president. It was possibly a message to Sunnis, a warning. The Americans often equated Saddam with the Sunni resistance to the occupation. By killing Saddam they were killing what they believed was the symbol of the Sunni resistance, expecting them to realize their cause was hopeless. Sunnis could perceive the execution, and its timing, as a message to them: "We are killing you." But Saddam's death might now liberate the Sunni resistance from association with Saddam and the Baathists. They can now more plausibly claim that they are fighting for national liberation and not out of support for the former regime as their American and Iraqi government opponents have so often claimed. A lack of a hood (victims normally do not have a choice to wear a hood) a scarf to prevent rope burn for the soon to be distributed photo, a hallmark of US "We Got Him" psyops tactics. Even the US plane that flew him to his final resting spot seems to indicate US management.

The unofficial video of the execution, filmed on the mobile cell phone of one of the officials present is sure to further inflame sectarianism, because it is clearly a Shia execution. Men are heard talking, one of them is called Ali. As the executioners argue over how to best position the rope on his neck Saddam calls out to god, saying, "ya Allah." Referring to Shias, one official says "those who pray for Muhamad and the family of Muhamad have won!" Others triumphantly respond in the Shia chant: "Our God prays for Muhamad and the family of Muhamad." Others then add the part chanted by supporters of Muqtada al Sadr: "And speed his (the Mahdi's) return! And damn his enemies! And make his son victorious! Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada!"
Saddam then smiles and says something mocking about Muqtada. "Muqtada! It is this..." but the rest is blocked by the voices of officials saying "ila jahanam," or "go to Hell." Saddam looks down and says "Is this your manhood...?" As the rope is put around Saddam's neck somebody shouts "long live Muhamad Baqir al Sadr!" referring to an important Shia cleric who founded the Dawa Party and was also Muqtada's relative. Baqir al Sadr was executed by Saddam in 1980. He is venerated by all three major Shia movements in Iraq, the Dawa, the Sadrists and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Others insult Saddam. One man asks them to stop: "I beg you, I beg you, the man is being executed!" Saddam then says the Shahada, or testimony, that there is no god but Allah and Muhamad is his prophet. When he tries to say it again the trap door opens and he falls through to be hung. One man then shouts that "the tyranny has ended!" and others call out triumphal Shia chants. Somebody wants to remove the rope from his neck but is told to wait eight minutes.

The Sunni Islamo-nationalist website Islam Memo claimed that the Safavids (Persians, meaning Shias) burned Saddam's Quran after they killed him. They also said that Saddam exchanged insults with the witnesses to his execution and cursed one of them, saying "God damn you, Persian midget." The same website also claimed that Ayatolla Ali Sistani blessed Saddam's execution and that the Iraqi government refused to provide Saddam with a Sunni cleric to pray for him before the execution. Finally, they asserted that Saddam said "Palestine is Arab" and then recited the Muslim Shahada, testifying that there is no god but Allah and Muhamad is his prophet, and then he was executed. The website claimed that following his death Saddam's body was abused.

Although the Shia dominated Iraqi media claimed Saddam was terrified prior to his execution and fought with his hangmen, Saddam's on screen visage was one of aplomb, for he was conscious of the image he was displaying and wanted to go down as the grand historic leader he believed himself to be.

Predictably, there were celebrations in Shia areas. The civil war continued. Following the execution three car bombs exploded in Baghdad's Shia district of Hurriya, killing and injuring dozens. A car bomb went off in Baghdad's Seidiya district, near its amusement park, killing at least two civilians and two policemen. A roadside bomb exploded near a children's hospital in the majority Shia area of Iskan, killing two and injuring several others. In the southern town of Kufa, dominated by supporters of Muqtada al Sadr, a car bomb exploded near a market, killing and injuring dozens. In the northern town of Tel Afar a man wearing a suicide belt exploded himself in a market, killing at least five and injuring several others. It was also claimed that Ayatollah Sistani's representative was killed and his office was burned. In the Anbar province's town of Saqlawiya there was a big demonstration against Saddam's execution and large portraits of the former leader were carried by the marchers. Immediately after the execution five mortars were fired in Falluja, targeting the southern checkpoint to that city, known as the Numaniya checkpoint. In Tikrit there was also a large demonstration and Saddam's tribe officially requested that the Iraqi government allow his body to be buried near his parents in Owja, the town where he was born.

I asked a Kurdish Iraqi friend how he felt after seeing the video of Saddam's execution. "it is sad to see someone who knows he is going to die in a minute," he told me, "but I am happy that he died that way and not in as the so called human rights groups want, to be in a jail where they wanna make sure he has access to TV, newspaper and good health." He agreed with me that the images of Saddam could potentially cause some people to sympathize with him, but added that "but if anyone who could live the life of an Iraqi for only one day, they would want worse than that to happen to Saddam. Last night all of a sudden I remembered all the agonies my family went through in their life, we had to leave our home 20 times and walk to the borders and leave everything we had and buy new stuff every few years. He never had the feeling you and I have now for him when he was ordering Ali Hassan Majid and the henchmen to bury people with their kids in the deserts, so why should I now feel sorry for him? But I hope I see one day when the current Saddamlets are hanged too, like Talabani, Ayad Alawi."

One thing that is clear, is that the death of Saddam did not bring closure or peace to Iraq. Sunnis are now gathering at Saddam's grave, demonstrators are now showing his iconic image and revenge has been threatened. President George Bush declared his nemesis' death "a milestone" and it may just be the clearest message that is there will be no mercy for Sunnis in a Shia and Kurdish dominated Iraq.



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