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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 December 2006, 16:45 GMT
Hajj pilgrims react to hanging
By Aleem Maqbool
BBC News, Mecca

Iraqi Sunni Muslims pray in Baghdad
The execution came on one of Islam's holiest days

Saddam Hussein's hanging is one piece of news that spread to most of the estimated three million people at the Hajj in Mecca within a matter of hours, in spite of the spiritual bubble that most pilgrims have been living in.

There was strong criticism of the timing of the execution.

It comes on Eid-al-Adha, one of the holiest events in the Muslim calendar, and regarded as a day of celebration.

Here, it is also the first day that the pilgrims perform the stoning of the devil ritual, where they throw pebbles at a pillar representing Satan.

'Washington's devil'

Many did not accept that the decision to put Saddam to death on Eid had been made by the Iraqi authorities.

Qamar Mohideen, a pilgrim from Pakistan said: "The decision has been made by the real devil himself, sitting in Washington."

He said he had hated Saddam Hussein, but that his death would only have been acceptable if it had come about through the will of the Iraqi people, and he did not feel it had.

At the vast camp for pilgrims at Mina in the Saudi Arabian desert, Nasser Ali, a Shia Muslim from Iran told me that he thought that killing Saddam on such a holy day would cause more tensions between Sunnis and Shias.

"There will be a real war because of this. What should be such a happy day will lead to much more fighting." he said.

Safety concern

Many other pilgrims also said they worried that the execution of the former dictator, who was a Sunni, would lead to Shia reprisal attacks, even at the Hajj where Iraqis of both denominations camp beside each other.

Saddiq Shamlan, though, is the only Shia among a group of Sunnis who has come to the Hajj.

He says that he feels completely safe: "Yes, I think it is a good thing that Saddam is gone, but if the others disagree, that is ok, we can sit down and discuss it like adults."

Outside the Grand Mosque in Mecca, pilgrims still in a state of disbelief at the news sought confirmation of the execution from policemen.

Mohammed Al-Hasan was one of the Saudi officials I saw proudly providing the answers. "Yes, Saddam's gone, he's history," he told one of the pilgrims. "Thank God that is the end of that story."

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