Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Saddam execution video angers Sunnis

The controversial video footage has caused anger amongst Sunnis

An Iraqi national security advisor has told Sky News that they were not in control of the guards who had mobile phones and abused Saddam in his final moments. Mowaffak Al Rubaie however dismissed rumours that Moqtada al Sadr was present at the former dictator’s execution.
He said the filming of the execution and the abuse “was terrible and disgusting” but refused to apologise to Saddam’s family. He said the execution of Saddam’s half brother would be better organised but to many commentators the damage has already been done. On the 30th December he told Sky News that the execution was carried out in an orderly way and in accordance with Islamic tradition. But the subsequent release of the footage contradicted this and forced his condemnation of the humiliation of a condemned man. He added that the hanging and the controversy surrounding it must be balanced with the crimes the former Iraqi leader had committed.

The timing of Saddam Hussein’s execution has enflamed sentiments amongst the Sunni population coming at the beginning of Eid al Adha. The fact that the trap door was released during Saddam’s second recitation of the Shahadah has also been seen as an insult by many Sunni. The Shahadah is an Islamic creed, recited daily by followers of the Islamic faith, and is considered to be one of the five pillars of Islam. At best it was bad etiquette that the lever was pulled as Saddam said, “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his messenger”. At worst it is an insult which will enflame many Sunnis. Already there have been a significant number of protests in Sunni areas of Iraq following the execution and in a number of other countries, most notably Jordan and Palestine. It was in Jordan where Saddam’s daughter broke her silence to condemn the hanging and the baying mob who hurled insults as her father was executed. In Palestine hundreds condemned the execution. Many Palestinians see Saddam as a saviour. He had funded the Palestinian cause for many years and would give money to families of suicide bombers.
Much of the criticism surrounds the filming of the execution and the Iraqi government has ordered an inquiry saying they will leave no stone unturned to find those responsible. It has to be said, however, that the manner in which Saddam met his death, together with insults and the impression of a lynch mob hanging, would not have been conveyed to the public had the illicit filming not taken place.
This was a point that the editor of Al Quds newspaper raised on Al Jazeera English during Inside Story. Abdel Bari Atwan said, “We need to thank the man who filmed the execution” for showing the truth. There has been a mute response from leaders throughout the international community. President Bush has yet to make any comment but a military spokesman, Major General Caldwell, said “If you’re asking if we’d have done things differently of course we would have”. Tony Blair, currently on holiday in Florida, has made no official comment but his deputy minister, John Prescott, has condemned the way in which Saddam was executed. The general discussion on most news stations hinges around the inability of the Iraqi government to behave in a disciplined manner.

The footage emerged just 24 hours after it was announced that Saddam had been executed. It also came after official footage had been released. Official footage came without sound.
Before the execution, continued violence took more lives in the war torn country. A bombing in a Baghdad market killed 7 and injured dozens more. In a roadside bomb at a petrol station 10 were killed and attacks on US troops also continued. The toll for US troops in December exceeded 100. Amidst this violence George Bush insisted “good progress” was being made in the country. After Saddam’s appeals failed, a letter emerged from the former dictator calling on Iraqis to unite. By Friday evening it had been announced by Saddam Hussein’s lawyers that he had been handed over to Iraqi authorities. However, the US State Department denied this had yet happened. As the execution neared there was debate as to whether the timing was appropriate with the religious holiday of Eid due to start on Saturday. A curfew was imposed as the execution neared. At 03:30 hours Baghdad time it was announced that Saddam would be hung before dawn. As new of the impending execution neared, threats emerged on the internet warning of “grave consequences” for the US. The Department of Homeland Security also issued alerts for authorities to be vigilant but stressed they had no specific threat of attack.
At 03:49 Baghdad time CNN said that some Arabic networks had reported that Saddam had already been executed. However the official line was that Saddam would meet his fate at 06:00 hours. As the former leader was hanged the violence in the capital escalated with at least 66 killed and more than 100 injured in three bomb blasts.

As Saddam was buried in his home town of Awja, near Tikrit, unofficial footage emerged of the execution. The footage, which appeared to have been shot on a mobile phone, swiftly spread around the internet. Arab TV news networks quickly picked up on the images and before long even western networks were showing portions of the footage [Reuters]. Due to Ofcom restrictions Sky News and the BBC were prevented from showing the entire 3 minutes of footage, though they had already made an editorial decision to show only a part. Fox News did make the entire clip avaible via its website, but from a third party source []. CNN also had the footage available via its website but they took the decision to cut the footage at the point the trap door opened. As Eid started there were celebrations and protests over the grainy film. The recriminations will continue for some time to come.

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