In the days leading up to the hanging of Saddam Hussein, U.S. officials "questioned the political wisdom" of the Iraqi government's apparent desire to kill the former dictator at the first legally sanctioned opportunity, according to a report in Tuesday's New York Times.
And it’s now evident that concerns that a quick hanging could offend Sunnis are proving prescient.
Arab commentators and Iraqi politicians alike are taking aim at what history may judge to be a too quick execution of justice.
Good luck selling the idea of cautious, responsible American counsel to Mahmud Othman, a Kurdish politician, who, in Tuesday’s Al Hayat accused the U.S. of not only encouraging, but rather engineering a swift conclusion to Saddam's life story.
Othman argued that the U.S. pushed to hasten the Iraqi leader's execution in an effort to avoid more details of past American collaboration with the dictator being revealed in subsequent investigations.
Othman, a powerful Kurdish member of the Iraqi National Assembly, told the pan-Arab daily that "hastening the execution of Saddam before ... investigating the source of the chemical weapons he used to suppress the Kurdish and Shiite uprising was an American plot ... [due to] the fear that their role would be revealed."
Egypt's pro-government daily Al Ahram also noted those suspicions, though they took a backseat to criticism that Saddam's execution had taken place on the opening day of the Eid holiday marking the feast of sacrifice.
In Tuesday’s edition of the paper, columnist Ahmad Bahjat summarized the Egyptian Foreign Ministry's position by writing that the execution had taken place "without any regard for the feelings of Muslims or the sacredness of the day," which Bahjat noted is an occasion for forgiveness.
"You can say whatever you want about Saddam Hussein," the columnist wrote. "You can say he was a tyrant ... and that no one was spared from his atrocities. ... Despite all that, his trial was a farce and his execution on the first day of the Eid a major mistake."
Such stirrings of implicit sympathy for Saddam in turn troubled the editor-in-chief of the reliably moderate Asharq Al Awsat. "Unfortunately," Tariq Alhomayed wrote, "what was disturbing about the timing of the execution ... was that it made a lot of people seem as if they are apologists [for] Saddam Hussein."
As if seconding the U.S. officials' concerns regarding sectarian unease, Alhomayed reported "a strong smell of sectarianism" wafting about the proceedings.
Still, Alhomayed made sure that no one could confuse his opinion of Saddam with his criticism of the execution. "Saddam Hussein was a tyrant who deserved to be hung, and to this we say 'yes!'"
Biggest critique reserved for Iraqi government
However, after referencing the gruesome and humiliating video of Saddam's execution that quickly found its way to the Web, Alhomayed saved his sharpest rebuke for the Iraqi government: "Unfortunately, the democratic government of Iraq became equal to al-Qaida by showing the scenes of the one being executed. It ruined the conviction against Saddam Hussein and spoiled their democracy. It even managed to give the former president an ending that portrayed him as a strong and staunch man."
MSNBC TV's Seth Colter Walls worked at Beirut's Daily Star newspaper during 2004. Prior to joining MSNBC, he was editor of Mideastwire.com , a Web-based service that translates key Arabic- and Persian-language stories from print, radio and television media in the Middle East.
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