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Last Updated: Sunday, 31 December 2006, 19:56 GMT
Saddam hanging taunts evoke ugly past
By John Simpson
World affairs editor, BBC News, Baghdad

A few hours after Saddam Hussein's execution, the Iraqi government put out a videotape of what had happened.

There was no sound on the tape, and it ended at the point where the executioners put the rope around his neck.

Saddam being hanged

It all seemed weirdly calm and dignified.

Not so. One of the witnesses managed to get a mobile phone into the execution chamber, and recorded the entire event, from the time when Saddam is brought into the chamber, his hands and feet shackled, to the moment when his body is hanging lifeless at the end of the rope.

It is shocking, of course. But the most shocking thing about it is the sound.

Far from being a quiet and dignified business, the new video shows that several of the witnesses taunted Saddam during the last seconds of his life, chanted the name of one of his many enemies, and told him he was going to hell.

Ugly affair

Altogether, the execution as we now see it is shown to be an ugly, degrading business, which is more reminiscent of a public hanging in the 18th Century than a considered act of 21st Century official justice.

The most disturbing thing about the new video of Saddam's execution for crimes precisely like this, is that it is all much too reminiscent of what used to happen here

The key passage on the video-tape comes after the official version was cut off.

As Saddam stands there on the trapdoor, with the noose being tightened around his neck by one of the four executioners, their faces covered by balaclavas, the shouting starts up among the group of official witnesses.

At first you can hear a Shia version of an Islamic prayer being called out.

Saddam Hussein was, of course, a Sunni Muslim, and all this was unquestionably intended as a sectarian insult.

Then the same voice starts calling out the name of the leading Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Sadr, the formal leader of the Mehdi Army, was an open enemy of Saddam.

Saddam supporters at his burial site
Saddam supporters are livid at the execution
Saddam is not intimidated by any of this, and repeats Moqtada Sadr's name disdainfully, as if to say he doesn't count for very much.

Then his gruff, rasping voice can be heard saying to the onlookers "Is this manly behaviour?"

But someone calls out "You're going to hell."

One of the witnesses, concerned about all this, says "Keep quiet - he's just about to die."

Shocked

Saddam Hussein scarcely has an instant to collect his thoughts. He starts to mutter a prayer, but just as he speaks the name Muhammad, the chief hangman pulls the lever and the trapdoor opens.

With terrible, shocking force, Saddam's body plunges into the drop.

His death must have been virtually instantaneous.

The next image shows him hanging, clearly dead.

Even the onlookers sound shocked as they chant their prayers.

It is going to be increasingly difficult for the government of Nouri Maliki to convince Sunni Arabs here that Saddam's execution was not merely an act of retaliation.
Walking round in Baghdad this evening, as people hurried home in the black-out to celebrate their New Year's Eve in the security of their own homes, it seemed that everyone knew all about the new video.

The people I spoke to, who seemed to be Sunni Muslims, were shocked by it.

They also appeared to be distinctly nervous that the video would sharpen the already serious sectarian divide here.

Under Saddam Hussein, prisoners were regularly taunted and mistreated in their last hours. For many of them, death must have come as a relief.

But the most disturbing thing about the new video of Saddam's execution for crimes precisely like this, is that it is all much too reminiscent of what used to happen here.

It is going to be increasingly difficult for the government of Nouri Maliki to convince Sunni Arabs here that Saddam's execution was not merely an act of retaliation.




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