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Last Updated: Monday, 8 January 2007, 00:22 GMT
Divisions deepened by Saddam's death
By John Simpson
World affairs editor, BBC News, Baghdad

A week after Saddam Hussein stood on the scaffold at Camp Justice in Baghdad and was taunted during his final moments on Earth by followers of the militant Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr, none of the emotions that were aroused have faded.

On the contrary, the revulsion which was felt in the West and among Sunni Muslims has grown even greater.

Sunni Arabs pray at Saddam Hussein's grave
Many Sunni Arabs are outraged by the timing of the execution
Yet so has the sense of triumph among Shias in Iraq and elsewhere.

In death as in life, Saddam continues to divide his enemies.

His execution has acted like an explosion along the seismic fault-line between the two leading forms of Islam.

Under Saddam, who was himself a Sunni and ruled through the Sunni minority, Iraq counted as a Sunni country even though the clear majority of the population was Shia.

When he invaded Iran in 1980, soon after the Shia Islamic revolution against the Shah, the Iran-Iraq war was seen by many people in the Muslim world as a Sunni-Shia one.

Sunni fears

Saddam's Iraq received huge amounts of cash and assistance from Sunni countries in the region, who were anxious for reasons of their own that Shi'ism should not be victorious.

By executing Iraq's Sunni dictator, the predominantly Shia government has persuaded countries across the Middle East and beyond that it is determined to act in a sectarian fashion

It wasn't, because neither side won the Iran-Iraq war. It ended after eight years as a terrible, destructive draw.

But when the US, with crucial support from Britain, decided to invade Iraq in 2003 and overthrew Saddam Hussein, Sunni control over Iraq was destroyed.

And the holding of properly democratic elections ensured that the majority took power - the Shia majority, that is.

Iraq was lost to the Sunni world, and henceforth became a Shia country with a Sunni minority.

Iranian 'colony'

Now, by executing Iraq's Sunni dictator, the predominantly Shia government has persuaded countries across the Middle East and beyond that it is determined to act in a sectarian fashion.

Huge numbers of Sunnis now believe that Iraq is little more than a colony of Iran, doing exactly what the mullahs there instruct it. And of course public opinion in Iran was overjoyed at the execution of the man who had killed so many Iranians during the 1980-88 war.

Shia Muslims at Friday prayers in Sadr City, Baghdad
Mr Maliki's decision pleased his own Shia community
In fact, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's decision to execute Saddam was all about internal Iraqi politics. Having been dismissed by growing numbers of Iraqis as weak and ineffectual, Mr Maliki acted with extraordinary decision by executing Saddam so soon after his final appeal was rejected.

But although he has delighted his followers, he has divided the Muslim world even more fiercely.

Even the date of the execution has been damaging.

One of the lesser divisions between Sunni and Shia Islam is the date their followers begin to celebrate the joyful festival of Eid al-Adha.

Mubarak anger

This year Shias regarded last Sunday as the start of Eid, so there was no problem for them about executing Saddam the previous day: Saturday 30 December. That was when the world's Sunnis began celebrating Eid.

I used to be sorry for Iraq that American and Britain had destroyed it, now I'm glad they have - Iraq deserves it
Man in Jordan

It could scarcely have been more offensive.

President Mubarak of Egypt says he warned President Bush of all this. President Bush apparently did nothing to intervene.

Now Mr Mubarak is baffled and angry. "Why did they have to hurry? Why hang him when people are reciting their holiday prayers?" he asked.

And he found the manner of the execution "revolting and barbaric", with the Shia guards chanting their leader's name at Saddam, and pulling the lever to the trap-door before he was able to finish the full Islamic profession of faith.

A man in the Jordanian city of Amman put it more simply today: "I used to be sorry for Iraq that American and Britain had destroyed it. Now I'm glad they have. Iraq deserves it."

As I say, Saddam is proving just as dangerous to his enemies now that he's been a week in his grave.




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