Iraq After Saddam

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REUTERS

Al Iraqiya television shows masked executioners tightening the noose around former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's neck moments before his hanging in Baghdad December 30, 2006.

Bursts of celebratory gunfire went up as dawn broke in Baghdad, where news of Saddam Hussein's execution reached people as they awoke.  After the echoes of the shots faded, people went to their televisions and waited for the images to come.  Everyone was certain the Iraqi government would air some kind of footage from the execution.  Failure to do so would only open the door to years of conspiracy theories about how Hussein somehow slipped away and remained alive.  By midday, screens across Iraq carried Hussein's last moments.  There was Hussein atop the gallows, surrounded by men in leather jackets and black ski masks nudging him toward a door in the floor.  Fear was plainly all over the former dictator's face as the noose went around his neck in the last of the footage the government initially released.   

The Trial and Execution of Saddam Hussein


•Saddam Is Sentenced to Death, and Iraq Shrugs

•Verdict Closes a Grim Trial Full of Theatrics

•Saddam's Revenge

•Saddam Tries Another Trial Boycott

•Behind the Saddam Judge's Ouster

•Saddam's Trial: Behind the Scene

•Notebook: Keeping Saddam Company

•The Perils of Defending a Tyrant

•A Slain Saddam Trial Lawyer's Final Interview

•Inside Saddam's Defense Strategy

•Rights Groups Concerned Over Saddam Trial

•Notebook: Rushing To His Defense

•The Semiotics of Saddam

•Saddam's Capture

•'Ladies and Gentlemen — We Got Him!'

Photo Essay

• Captured At Last

Webguide

• The Final Days of Saddam Hussein

Archive

• Saddam Covers

To many outsiders, the execution—and its endless, almost breathless coverage—seemed to go beyond punishment or retribution and cross over into something closer to a lynching.  In Europe, political voices ranging from German leftists to the Pope expressed disgust at both the execution and the way it was carried out.  But Iraqis were unfazed by the spectacle, which seemed mild by comparison to scenes of street violence that play out everyday here.  For many Iraqis, the sight of Hussein as a dead man walking simply cast his shrinking persona deeper into a past that seems more distant all the time.

"I didn't expect to see such a big guy become so small," says Hayder Findi, a worker for a nongovernmental organization.   "Saddam wasted my life.  All my memories of him involve wars and military service.  All my dreams went with wind because of him."

Iraqis expressed a mix of opinions about Hussein's execution in the hours afterward as a clear, bright day settled over Baghdad. 

"He deserves it," said Mohammed Hussein, a grocer in Baghdad.   "I will remember him only for bringing war and destruction to the whole country."

Others saw injustice. 

"Saddam has done a lot for Iraq," says Bassam Sheikly, a stock broker.  "He gave us education and security. And I always remember him as the one who defeated the Persians.  I think he is a national hero."

Most questioned the timing of the execution, which struck many Iraqis as needlessly rushed.  But amid the differing thoughts and opinions about Hussein's end one sentiment was widely apparent: apathy.  People seemed to care very little about the passing of Hussein, who's been a ghost figure in Iraq for some time.  Iraqis by and large stopped watching Hussein's trial months ago as his fate became clear.  Even when Hussein was sentenced to death in early November, Iraqis shrugged at the news and remained focused on the many pressing problems facing anyone struggling to find a normal life amid so much daily violence.  Today's news hardly seemed to raise an eyebrow among people in Baghdad getting ready for the holiday feasts of Eid al-Adha, a four-day celebration in the Islamic world.

With no daytime curfew in effect, shoppers milled around stores in Karadah, a neighborhood in central Baghdad where the streets were mostly quiet.  But other parts of the city sounded with the unrelenting rhythm of Iraq's daily violence, which carried on as usual.  Two parked cars exploded in a mixed Sunni-Shi'ite area of northwestern Baghdad, killing 37 people and wounding 76 others.  Earlier in the day, another car bomb went off in Kufa, a Shi'ite town about 100 miles south of Baghdad.  That blast killed 31 people and wounded another 58.  Afterward a mob swarmed a man blamed for parking the car that exploded.  Moments later, he was dead too. 

"With this huge amount of daily killing in Iraq, executing Saddam will not bring sadness or happiness to any honest Iraqi," said Abu Ammar al-Aljaberi, a lawyer in Baghdad.  "We live in another kind of dictatorship now, one run by other killers."

—With reporting by Ali al-Shaheen and Asaad Alazawi/Baghdad