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Last Updated: Monday, 6 November 2006, 13:47 GMT
Analysis: Iraq's divisions reinforced
By Jeremy Bowen
Middle East editor, BBC News

The divisions in Iraq appear to have been reinforced by the verdict on Saddam Hussein and the legacy that matters comes not from the events of his life and death, but the decision by the United States to remove him from power by military invasion.

Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in hears the death sentence passed against him
Saddam Hussein hears the death sentence passed against him
The American journalist Bob Woodward, in his third book about the Bush administration at war, State of Denial, relates a story told by Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, who was the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States.

Prince Bandar recalls a conversation that Saddam Hussein had with King Fahd of Saudi Arabia after a group of extremists took over the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979.

The rebels had been caught and thrown into jail, and this was the Iraqi leader's advice: "In my mind, there is no question that you are going to kill all 500, that's a given.

"Listen to me carefully, Fahd. Every man who in this group who has a brother or father - kill them. If they have a cousin who you think is man enough to go for revenge, kill them.

"Those 500 people are a given. But you must spread the fear of God in everything that belongs to them, and that's the only way you can sleep at night."

That seems to have been the tactic that Saddam Hussein used at Dujail in 1982, when - after an attempt to assassinate him - 148 people were killed. It is the crime for which he has been sentenced to hang.

Perhaps Saddam Hussein will accept his fate on the gallows as an occupational hazard of being a despot. Or maybe he never intended his own rules to apply to himself.

Divisions reinforced

A few hours after Saddam Hussein was captured at the end of 2003, Paul Bremer, who was at the time Washington's viceroy in Iraq, was triumphant. "We got him," he announced, to whoops and cheers.

Shia Iraqis in Baghdad celebrate the guilty verdict against Saddam Hussein
Many Iraqis celebrated the death sentence

His words were even put up in lights on the control tower at Basra airport.

At the time, hopes were expressed that Saddam Hussein's arrest would deal a blow to the insurgency. It didn't.

Almost exactly three years on, the question is not whether his conviction and probable execution will result in less killing in Iraq. It is whether it will make it worse.

The complex, fragmented war that is being fought in Iraq has grown deep roots.

The trial - and the verdict - has reinforced the divisions in the country.

Shias and others who thought he was a monster have had their beliefs confirmed. For Sunnis who did well under the old regime, Saddam Hussein's fate is more than ever a symbol of their humiliation.

Consequences of war

US President George W Bush, who is confronted every day with the consequences of his disastrous decision to invade Iraq, presented the trial as an achievement for Iraqi democracy and constitutional government.

After the Americans' chastening experiences of the last three years, the verdict on Saddam Hussein does not do much to lighten the outlook.

Outside the Oval Office, a consensus is growing in Washington that the Americans have no good options in Iraq.

Perhaps the nagging feeling that it has come down to choosing between degrees of discomfort and disaster has even found its way to the president's desk.

When - more likely than if - the death sentence is carried out, the era of Saddam Hussein, as his rule was pompously described on foundation stones on buildings in Baghdad, will finally close.

In the Middle East - and in the wider world - the real legacy that matters comes not from the events of Saddam Hussein's life and death, but the decision to remove him from power.

The 2003 invasion injected a huge dose of instability into the region. Its consequences will be played out over the next generation.

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