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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 December 2007, 20:28 GMT
Iraqis ignore Saddam anniversary
By Humphrey Hawkesley
BBC News, Baghdad

Saddam Hussein's execution
There has been little official comment on the anniversary
The first anniversary of the execution of Saddam Hussein is passing in Iraq with scant mention by the government or the press.

The Interior Ministry announced a curfew in Saddam's home village of Awja, where he is buried, and supporters are reported to be remembering him in his traditional stronghold of Tikrit and other places.

In the year since the hanging, Iraq has gone through a substantive political transformation.

Many former Sunni insurgents and Saddam Hussein supporters have now joined forces with the Americans to fight al-Qaeda insurgents with their more extreme Islamic ideology.

In an end-of-year briefing, the Iraqi government said that 75% of al-Qaeda networks have now been destroyed.

The head of the US military in Iraq, General David Petraeus, warned that al-Qaeda remained the biggest single challenge to the country.

General David Petraeus
General Petraeus has warned that al-Qaeda remains a threat

Those involved in Saddam Hussein's execution maintain that his death has helped reconciliation.

"Saddam's execution put an end to any hopes among his supporters that he might come back to power," said the Moneer Haddad, the final appeal court judge who took charge of the hanging and witnessed the execution.

But the copy of the death certificate that Mr Haddad keeps in his home is evidence that Iraq remains a country far from being at peace with itself.

Of the five signatures, three names are blacked out for fear of revenge killings.

'Lesson for others'

Iraq's National Security Adviser Mowafak Al-Rubaie, who was also in the execution chamber, keeps a bust of Saddam in his dining room as a stark reminder.

"It is for those tyrants and dictators who treat their people unjustly," he said, jabbing his finger at the bust.

Iraq's government is failing and Saddam's execution was part of that failure
Sheikh Ali Hatim Al Sulaiman
Tribal leader, Anbar province

"The Middle East has learned a lot (from Saddam's execution). It's given a lesson to rulers that they need to be extra careful in caring for their people and they have to open up their systems and regimes."

Huge monuments of Saddam Hussein memorabilia still dominate Baghdad, not least in the Green Zone, his former palace complex from where Iraq is now run by the new government and kept in place by the American military.

Some statues remain in place, like a massive hand, modelled on his own, that holds a sword stretched across a former military parade ground.

The other hand has been broken off and lies smashed on the ground amid uncleared rubbish and razor wire.

Divisions remain

It is not difficult, though, to find Iraqis vehemently opposed to Saddam Hussein's execution.

In order to get a job as welder in a state-owned oil company, Ali joined the Baath Party - the political machine that kept Saddam Hussein in power.

Rug with Saddam Hussein's portrait
This rug seller has not forgotten Saddam Hussein

He rose to become a mid-ranking officer in his local Abu Jaafar al Mansour branch in Baghdad. Now he has no job, is afraid to give his full name, and plans to leave the country.

"Saddam may have been a dictator," he says. "But in comparison to the current leaders of Iraq he's innocent. Saddam was a great Arab leader and we felt very sad that he was executed."

While many of Saddam's loyalists may have shunned the insurgency since his execution, they are far from supportive of the present Shia-led government.

One of the most crucial figures is Sheikh Ali Hatim Al Sulaiman. He leads the Dulaimy tribe in Anbar province that until recently was wracked with violence.

"Saddam was executed for political reasons," he said. "Iraq's government is failing and Saddam's execution was part of that failure."

The dictator may be dead, but Iraq remains divided and at war.



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