Tuesday, January 02, 2007

...the Saddam hanging backlash begins.

Front paged at ePluribus Media and My Left Wing. Recommended at Daily Kos

Well, that didn’t take long. Nor was it totally unforeseen. But there have been some very disturbing things reported today coming out of Iraq – things that stem from what some are calling the “rushed hanging of Saddam” or the “deplorable manner” in which he was executed.

I don’t want this to become a debate on whether Saddam should have died for his actions, or whether the trial was fair or not (as there were over 600 comments in a prior diary dealing with that). Rather, I want to focus on what has happened since the decision was made to execute Saddam, and the fact that the execution was done less than a week after the appeal was denied. Interestingly, the “deplorable manner” comment was made not by anyone in the Arab world, but rather by Britain's deputy prime minister John Prescott.

And, as expected, there were Sunni protests that, depending on the report, were either peaceful or forceful.

Interestingly, the small difference in wording between the Yahoo (AP) report and the CBS (as well as a NY Times report) makes a big difference. First, the Yahoo quote (all emphasis mine):

Sunnis Muslims, angered by the execution of Saddam Hussein and the way his hanging was carried out, took to the streets in mainly peaceful demonstrations in Sunni enclaves across the country.

A crowd of Sunni mourners in Samarra marched to a bomb-damaged Shiite shrine Monday and were allowed by guards and police to enter the holy place carrying a mock coffin and photos of the former dictator.

Now the CBS report:
After Hussein's burial Monday, rage over the hanging spilled into the streets in many parts of the Sunni Muslim heartland Monday, especially in Samarra where a mob of angry protesters broke the locks off the badly damaged Shiite Golden Dome mosque and marched through carrying a mock coffin and photo of the executed former leader.

And finally, the NY Times report (interestingly also an AP report):
Enraged crowds protested the hanging of Saddam Hussein across Iraq’s Sunni heartland on Monday, as a mob in Samarra broke the locks off a bomb-damaged Shiite shrine and marched through carrying a mock coffin and a photo of the executed dictator.

Well, what does Juan Cole have to say about this?
Folks, this is very bad news. The Askariyah Shrine (it isn't just a mosque) is associated with the Hidden Twelfth Imam, who is expected by Shiites to appear at the end of time to restore the world to justice. (For them, the Imam Mahdi is sort of like the second coming of Christ for Christians). The Muqtada al-Sadr movement is millenarian and believes he will reveal himself at any moment.

The centrality of the cult of the Twelfth Imam, a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad who is said to have vanished in 873 AD, helps explain why the bombing of the Golden Dome on February 21 of 2006 set off a frenzy of Shiite, Sadrist attacks on Sunni Arabs. Last February, stuck in a Phoenix hotel because of a missed flight and without an internet connection for my laptop, I blogged from my Treo that it was an apocalyptic day. Sadly, it was, kicking off a frenzy of sectarian violence that has grown each subsequent month.

For Sunni Arabs to parade a symbolic coffin of Saddam through the ruins of the Askariya shrine won't be exactly good for social peace in Iraq. Can't that site be properly guarded or something?

For the record, Professor Cole is referring to the CBS article. And yes, Saddam was a Grade A scumbag. But as I and a number of other commentators and diarists have noted, this isn’t about whether he deserved to die. It is the manner in which he was tried and executed that will reflect badly on the US, as well as those who have cheered his death as “revenge”, despite not having anything to seek revenge for.

High level members of the UK government had criticisms for the ones who filmed the hanging, for the death penalty itself, or for the lack of an official statement from Blair. Said Prescott:

"I think the manner was quite deplorable really," he said. "I don't think one can endorse in any way that, whatever your views about capital punishment.

"Frankly, to get the kind of recorded messages coming out is totally unacceptable, and I think whoever was involved and responsible for it should be ashamed of themselves."

There is now an investigation by the Iraqi government into the circumstances surrounding the video and its release. And, according to the BBC:
The Iraqi authorities fear the footage, released on the internet hours after the execution, could contribute to a dramatic rise in sectarian tensions between Iraq's Sunni and Shia communities.

Further, the first judge in Saddam’s trial added fuel to the fire by indicating that his execution was illegal under Iraqi law. Whether this is indeed the truth or not, it certainly doesn’t help matters. From the CBS article (linked above):
The first judge in the so-called Dujail trial, Rizgar Mohammed Amin, said Saddam's execution in the during the eid was illegal according to Iraqi law. Sunni Muslim festivities marking the holiday began on the same day that Saddam was hanged. Rizgar, a Kurd, was removed as chief judge in the case after Shiite complaints that he was too lenient. He was replaced in January 2006 by Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman.

"The implementation of Saddam's execution during Eid al-adha is illegal according to chapter 9 of the tribunal law. Article 27 states that nobody, even the president (Jalal Talabani), may change rulings by the tribunal and the implementation of the sentence should not happen until 30 days after publication that the appeals court has upheld the tribunal verdict.

The hanging during the Eid al-Adha period (also) contradicts Iraqi and Islamic custom. "Article 290 of the criminal code of 1971 (which was largely used in the Saddam trial) states that no verdict should implemented during the official holidays or religious festivals," he said.

Again, this is not to say that he is right or not, but it is to point out that there is someone that was (1) intimately involved in the case and (2) who was removed from the case for what could be called political reasons (i.e., Shiite complaints that he was too lenient).

But the wider repercussions (hat tip to Professor Cole) stem from this comment in a Washington Post article deal with the fact that it is now more and more Shiites who are losing confidence in the US. And considering that it was the “Sunni insurgents” that we were fighting initially, then are we going to be fighting EVERYONE?

Lefta, 42, was among the many Shiites who thanked the Americans for their freedom. He dreamed that his community, Iraq's majority, would exert the political influence the Sunnis had long denied it.


"The Americans are afraid the Shia will take over Iraq," he explained.


As President Bush seeks a new strategy for Iraq, many Shiites express deep mistrust of the United States and its intentions. In U.S. efforts to engage Iraq's disaffected Sunnis, they perceive betrayal. And in U.S. pressure to dismantle Shiite militias, they see an attempt to weaken their bulwark against Sunni insurgents.

And oh-by-the-way, 40 handcuffed, bullet ridden bodies were found in Baghdad yesterday not to mention the 22 deaths reported so far today.

Being that it is likely that Bush will want to escalate this occupation further, we still have not heard any real substance to what will be done with these additional troops, or whether there is will be any backlash to his plan (given that there is under 15% support for this in the Senate as well as in the general population).

However, the ugly has gotten uglier, and will get even worse unless a real change of course happens soon. Of course, this involves NOT escalating the occupation, engaging with Iran, Syria and others in the region, and coming up with something that will be geared towards an international humanitarian effort to stop this violence/civil war/genocide before it truly is too late.

And it is almost too late already.

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