TIKRIT, Iraq — Iraqi Shiites, oppressed by Saddam Hussein, welcomed the hanging of two of his aides on Monday though some also joined Sunni Arabs in expressing shock that his half-brother’s head was ripped off by the noose.
Saddam’s two co-defendants were hanged before dawn on Monday, the Iraqi government said, but they admitted that the head of his half-brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti was also torn from his body by the force of the rope during the execution.
In Saddam and Barzan’s home town of Tikrit, a Sunni Arab stronghold north of Baghdad, a black banner was raised on the main mosque named after Saddam saying: “The people of Tikrit mourn the two martyrs ... killed by sectarian hands.”
“There is no way a head would be ripped off the body during a hanging. I’m sure they mutilated the bodies after they hanged them,” said Ahmed Mustafa, a 30-year-old student in the northern city of Mosul, accusing Iraq’s Shiite-led government of “sucking the blood of the people”.
Clearly conscious of the uproar over sectarian taunts during the illicitly filmed hanging of the ousted Sunni Arab president two weeks ago, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh insisted there was “no violation of procedure”.
Reference works on judicial killing do assert that decapitation is a possibility during hanging. But the admission that Barzan suffered such a fate sparked suspicion and anger, especially in Tikrit.
“People are resentful for the way that Barzan has been executed, the tearing of his head from his body,” said Abdullah al-Jubara, deputy governor of Salahaddin province around Tikrit.
Firas Abdullah, 30, a civil servant, said the executions underlined how unfair the legal proceedings had been.
“The court is illegal, it’s a toy in the hands of the Americans and Iran,” he said, in a reference to perceived links between Iraq’s Shiite majority and neighboring Shiite Iran.
Some Shiites too, however, were troubled by the hanging.
“They deserved to be hanged. Justice has taken its course,” said Issam Abdullah, a 27-year-old teacher in Safwan in the overwhelmingly Shiite south of Iraq.
“But the state has to explain what happened during Barzan’s execution, especially the ripping off of his head,” he added.
Ali Abbas Ridha, 27, a Shiite in Mosul, said he feared the executions would provoke violence. “What they’ve done incites people to sectarianism even more. Whether they were executed or not, what’s the use of it?” he said.
Barzan and Saddam’s former chief judge, Awad Hamed al-Bander, were convicted with Saddam for crimes against humanity in the killing of 148 Shiites in the 1980s.
Celebrations in Sadr City
In Sadr City, the Baghdad stronghold of the Mahdi Army, a militia loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, there was celebration at the executions, though some said hanging was the least the two aides of Saddam deserved.
“They should have been put in a cage and handed over to the Iraqis,” said Sadr City resident Ali Jassim.
Another resident, Moussa Jabor, echoed that sentiment: “This is the least he should get. He should have been handed over to the people. Execution is a blessing for him.”
Some in Baghdad were more concerned by the violence and instability in Iraq, where sectarian attacks are threatening to pitch the country into civil war.
“It’s bad timing, the country will surge into anarchy,” said Mohammed, an ethnic Kurdish man living in Baghdad.
Illicitly filmed video footage of Saddam’s execution showing he was taunted by Shiite officials who chanted Sadr’s name has inflamed sectarian passions, and Sunni Arabs charged the whole process was more about revenge than justice.
Long oppressed under Saddam, Shiites and Kurds now dominate the political process in Iraq, while Saddam’s fellow Sunni Arabs, a numerical minority, have lost influence and fear even further marginalization at the hands of Shiites.
“We consider this a day of justice,” said Khadhem Mohammed, another Sadr City resident. “Justice has been done.”
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