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Last Updated: Monday, 15 January 2007, 22:21 GMT
Questions raised by Iraq hangings
By Mike Wooldridge
BBC world affairs correspondent

Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti
Barzan's botched hanging has outraged Sunni Muslims
The Iraqi government again finds itself criticised by its closest Western allies - the United States and Britain - for carrying out "undignified" hangings.

The day which started with the pre-dawn executions of Saddam Hussein's half-brother and former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti and former head of the Iraqi Revolutionary Court, Awad Hamed al-Bandar, has not ended well.

The official announcement of the executions made much of the lengths the authorities had gone to in order to prevent any abuse of the condemned men this time after unofficial video shot on a mobile phone at Saddam Hussein's hanging had shown him being taunted on the gallows.

All those present at the latest executions had signed a document saying they would behave according to the rules.

There were apparently fewer witnesses on this occasion. They were searched more thoroughly, particularly for cameras or other recording devices.

And, said officials, there were no abuses, no slogans, no insults, no violations.

But then came the bombshell of these executions - the admission that the head of Barzan al-Tikriti had been ripped from his body as he was being hanged.

It was described by officials as a rare incident, something that can sometimes happen at hangings, an act of God.

It seemed that they were keen to pre-empt this gruesome detail of the executions emerging in any other way and being exploited for political ends.

But they must have anticipated the reaction. It came swiftly from the defence team, who suspected malpractice, and various figures in the Sunni community weighed in, too - questioning how there could have been such a mistake.

Counter-move

As Arabic language TV channels took the story into homes around the region, the Iraqi authorities called an unexpected news conference.

Journalists were shown official video of the hangings - apparently in a further move to counter any claims that the body of the former intelligence chief could have been mutilated after death.

The government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said: "We will not release the video but we want to show the truth. The Iraqi government acted in a neutral way."

One thing the authorities insisted on was that the rope used to hang Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti did not break.

But that simply left unanswered the question of how the hanging did go awry, leading to his head being severed.

The whole process of delivering justice to the victims of Saddam Hussein and his henchmen has been challenging and often criticised - the legacy of totalitarian government is invariably messy.

But there are so many controversies around the manner of Saddam Hussein's removal and the efforts to build a new society in Iraq based on the rule of law that Iraq's government can ill-afford yet another, particularly with these executions commanding so much attention around the world - and the rights and wrongs of the death penalty itself a global issue.


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A description of what the video showed





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