Saddam hanging spurs joy in Iran, Kuwait, ire among Saudis

By Haaretz Service and News Agencies


Tevet 10, 5767

News of the hanging of Saddam Hussein stirred rejoicing among arch-enemies Iran and Kuwait, but caused shock and seething anger among Palestinians and other supporters of the former Iraqi leader, with Saudis and many other Arabs outraged at his hanging on the holiest day of the Muslim year.

Kuwaitis and Iranians welcomed the death of the leader who led wars against each of their countries.

"This is the best Eid gift for humanity," said Saad bin Tafla al-Ajmi, former information minister of Kuwait, referring to Eid al-Adha, the most important holiday on the Islamic calendar, which began Saturday for Sunni Muslims.

Al-Ajmi heads a state committee that is searching for 605 people who
disappeared during Saddam's seven-month occupation of Kuwait that began in 1990. He said the families of the missing were "ecstatic."

"This is the fair punishment for the one who executed our sons without
trials," he said.

The drama of Saddam's violent end on Saturday was brought into living rooms across the Arab world with television pictures of masked hangmen tightening the noose around his neck. Separate film of Saddam's body in a white shroud also upset many viewers.

In Iran, which fought an eight-year war with Iraq that killed hundreds of
thousands of people on both sides after Saddam invaded in 1980, most people thought he got what he deserved.

"Death was the least punishment for Saddam," said Hasan Mohebi, a fruit vendor in Tehran. "He destroyed the lives of millions of people in this region."

For university student Sareh Naghavi, Saddam's death came too soon. "He should have been made to answer why he invaded Iran and Kuwait and why he
launched chemical attacks against Iranians and Iraqis," she said.

In Iraq, the reaction was muted in most areas of Baghdad. But in Sadr City, the city's largest Shiite enclave, people spilled into the streets to celebrate Saddam's hanging. They sang and danced. Passing cars honked.

"God will give him his punishment," said Laila Nagi Habib, 42, a Shiite and homemaker who lives outside Sadr City. "I hate him, but he can no longer feel my hate now that he is dead."

But many Palestinians, who had seen him as an Arab hero for his missile attacks on Israel during the 1991 Gulf War, voiced shock at the Saturday execution. "The Americans wanted to tell all Arab leaders who are their servants that they are like Saddam, nothing but a sheep slaughtered on Eid," said Abu Mohammad Salama at a Gaza mosque.

Hamas lawmaker Mushir al-Masri said Saddam's execution was a "proof of the criminal and terrorist American policy and its war against all forces of resistance in the world".

In the United States, many Iraqi Americans greeted the news of Saddam's execution with celebration. Other Americans, protesting against the war, strongly condemned the hanging.

Debate over timing of execution
Many Arabs said his hanging for crimes against humanity was provocatively timed to coincide with Eid al-Adha and would worsen violence in Iraq.

"This is the worst Eid ever witnessed by Muslims. I had goosebumps when I saw the footage," said Jordanian woman Rana Abdullah, 30, who works in the private sector.

Leading Sunni Muslim Arab power Saudi Arabia criticised Iraq's Shi'ite leaders for executing Saddam, also a Sunni, during the Eid al-Adha and said his trial had been politicized.

"There is a feeling of surprise and disapproval that the verdict has been applied during the holy months and the first days of Eid al-Adha," a presenter on the official al-Ikhbariya TV said after programming was broken to read a statement.

"Leaders of Islamic countries should show respect for this blessed occasion ... not demean it," said the statement, which was attributed to official news agency SPA's political analyst.

Hesham Kassem, an Egyptian newspaper publisher and human rights activist, said airing the images was controversial, but dded: "This man was one of the most brutal mass murderers in the history of mankind. He stands alongside Hitler and Stalin."

But in the impoverished Iraqi village where Saddam was born, residents vowed revenge. "We will all become a bomb," said one young man in Awja, 150 km (90 miles) north of Baghdad.

Libya, the only state to show solidarity with Saddam in his death, declared three days of mourning and cancelled public Eid celebrations. Flags on government buildings flew at half-mast.

While many Arab governments refrained from comment, a senior aide to Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa called the execution "a tragic end to a sad phase in Iraq's history".

"We hope that the Iraqi people would focus on the future to be able to pass this stage, stop the violence and achieve reconciliation," Hesham Youssef told Reuters in Cairo.

The government of Iraqi neighbor Jordan said it hoped the execution would not have "any negative repercussions".

Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper, said Arabs wondered who most deserved to face trial: "Saddam Hussein, who preserved the unity of Iraq, ... or those who engulfed the country in this bloody civil war?"

No street unrest was reported in Arab capitals, where Muslims were preoccupied with the Eid al-Adha holiday, but thousands of Indians, mostly Muslims, staged anti-U.S. protests.

Tajeddine El Husseini, a Moroccan international economic law professor, said Saddam's "symbolic sacrifice" on a religious day when Muslims slaughter animals would make things worse.

In Afghanistan, the first target before Iraq in the U.S.-declared post-9/11 offensive, a Taliban commander said Saddam's demise would galvanise Muslim opposition to the United States.

"His death will boost the morale of Muslims. The jihad in Iraq will be intensified and attacks on invader forces will increase," Mullah Obaidullah Akhund told Reuters by telephone.

In Shi'ite non-Arab Iran, Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid Reza Asefi said the hanging of the man who led Iraq into a costly war with the Islamic Republic in the 1980s was a victory for Iraqis.

But Yousef Molaee, an Iranian international law expert, also took the view that the dawn execution was a failure for justice.

"Saddam's crimes in the eight-year war against Iran, such as chemical bombardments, remained unanswered because of the hasty and unfair trial," state news agency IRNA quoted him as saying.