World political and religious leaders were divided over whether former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s execution Saturday was a milestone toward peace or further conflict in the Middle East.
In Washington, President Bush said Saddam was executed “after receiving a fair trial — the kind of justice he denied the victims of his brutal regime.”
“Bringing Saddam Hussein to justice will not end the violence in Iraq, but it is an important milestone on Iraq’s course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain and defend itself, and be an ally in the war on terror,” Bush said in a statement.
In London, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said Saddam had “now been held to account for at least some of the appalling crimes he committed against the Iraqi people,” while at the same time condemning the death penalty.
“We have made our position very clear to the Iraqi authorities, but we respect their decision as that of a sovereign nation,” Beckett said in a statement. “Iraq continues to face huge challenges. But now it has a democratically elected government, which represents all communities and is committed to fostering reconciliation.”
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a key ally of the U.S. in the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam’s regime, was not planning to comment on the execution, a Downing Street spokeswoman said, because Beckett’s statement represented the British government’s position.
‘Opposing the death penalty’
Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, whose country currently holds the rotating European Union presidency, reiterated the bloc’s opposition to the death penalty.
“The European Union has a very consistent stand ... on opposing the death penalty and it should not have been applied in this case either, even though there is no doubt about Saddam Hussein’s guilt over serious violations against human rights,” Tuomioja said in Helsinki.
He also said that the court case against Saddam “gave cause for some serious objections,” but did not elaborate.
The Vatican’s spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, called the execution “tragic and reason for sadness.”
Speaking on Vatican Radio, Lombardi said Saddam’s death “will not help efforts aimed at justice and reconciliation” and “risks increasing violence.” He also reiterated the Vatican’s opposition to the death penalty.
The former Iraqi dictator was executed before dawn on Saturday morning in Baghdad. The hanging took place near the beginning of the festival of Eid al-Adha, one of the two most important holidays in Islam.
‘Execution can lead to further aggravation’
Russia said it regretted former the execution and was worried his death could trigger a new spiral of violence in Iraq.
“Regrettably, repeated calls by representatives of various nations and international organisations to the Iraqi authorities to refrain from capital punishment were not heard,” a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
“Saddam Hussein’s execution can lead to further aggravation of the military and political situation and the growth of ethnic and sectarian tensions.”
Russia imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in 1996.
‘No effect’ on Afghanistan
In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai appeared to criticize the timing of the execution, but said it was “the work of the Iraqi government” and would have “no effect” on Afghanistan.
“We wish to say that Eid is a day for happiness and reconciliation. It is not a day for revenge,” Karzai told reporters at the presidential palace after offering an Eid prayer at Kabul’s main mosque early Saturday.
In Australia, another U.S. ally in the Iraq war, Prime Minister John Howard said the execution was significant because Iraqis had given the brutal dictator a fair trial.
“I believe there is something quite heroic about a country that is going through the pain and the suffering that Iraq is going through, yet still extends due process to somebody who was a tyrant and brutal suppressor and murderer of his people,” Howard told reporters.
“That is the mark of a country that is trying against fearful odds to embrace democracy,” he said.
In Sydney, scores of Iraqi-Australians—many of them refugees who fled Saddam’s brutality—celebrated throughout the day in the main street of suburban Auburn.
Many danced and cheered: “Saddam Hussein is dead; Saddam Hussein has gone to hell,” media reported.
Concerns in India
Indian officials worried the execution could trigger more sectarian violence.
“We had already expressed the hope that the execution would not be carried out. We are disappointed that it has been,” External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in a statement.
“We hope that this unfortunate event will not affect the process of reconciliation, restoration of peace and normalcy in Iraq,” he added.
Former Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh, who was forced from office in 2005 over his alleged involvement in the U.N. oil-for-food scandal in Iraq, said the execution would lead to increased tension in the Middle East.
“It will have a very adverse impact on the region for decades to come,” he told CNN-IBN news channel.
‘He did not get justice’
In Pakistan, an Islamic ally in the U.S.-led war on terror, a leader of a coalition of six religious parties said Saddam had not received justice.
“We have no sympathy with Saddam Hussein, but we will also say that he did not get justice,” Liaquat Baluch, a leader of the Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, also known as the United Action Forum, told The Associated Press by phone.
“The execution of Saddam Hussein will further destabilize Iraq. There will be more sectarian violence in Iraq, and we believe that the execution of Saddam Hussein is part of the American plan to disintegrate Iraq,” he added.
Former Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pinsuwan, a Muslim, said he expected the execution would increase tension in the war on terror because of Saddam’s many followers.
Rare common ground
Saddam Hussein’s execution found the United States and Iran sharing rare common ground, with both countries saying the hanging of the former dictator was in the best interest of Iraq, its people and the region.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he hoped Saddam’s hanging would bring stability to Iraq, though he told Iraqi President Jalal Talabani by telephone the execution prevented the exposure of atrocities the former dictator committed during his rule, state-run television reported.
Kuwaitis and Iranians welcomed the death of the leader who led wars against each of their countries.
Former information minister of Kuwait, Saad bin Tafla al-Ajmi, said, “This is the best Eid gift for humanity,” referring to Eid al-Adha, which began Saturday for Sunni Muslims.
“This is the fair punishment for the one who executed our sons without trials,” said al-Ajmi, who heads a state committee that has been searching for 605 people who went missing in Saddam’s seven month occupation of Kuwait that began in 1990. He said the families of the missing were “ecstatic.”
Kuwait’s social affairs and labor minister, Sheik Sabah Al Khaled Al Sabah, said Saddam’s execution was “a matter for Iraqis.” His comments, carried by the state-owned Kuwait News Agency, are Kuwait’s only official remark on the hanging.
Iranian state TV hailed the hanging of Saddam who waged war with Iran from 1980-88. “With the execution of Saddam, the life dossier of one of the world’s most criminal dictators was closed,” state-run television reported Saturday.
In parts of Tehran, Iran’s capital, residents handed out sweets to passers-by in celebration for Saddam’s death.
“Death was the least punishment for Saddam,” said Hasan Mohebi, a fruit seller who was offering produce at half price to mark the occasion. “He destroyed the lives of millions of people in this region.”
Defenders mourn death
Saddam’s defenders and members of his deposed regime mourned his execution and said he would be revered for his serving his country and the Arab world.
“For Iraqis, he will be very well remembered,” said Najeeb al-Nauimi, a Qatari member of the deposed leader’s legal team. “Like a martyr, he died for the sake of his country.”
Mohammed al-Douri, who was Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations in the run-up to the U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq, declared, “The Arab nation has lost a hero. So have all of those who are against Iran and Israel and for Arab unity.”
‘Probably, it was a Saddam double’
Nasser al-Abdali, who heads the Kuwaiti Society for Advancing Democracy, also suggested that any surge in violence would be brief, predicting that Saddam’s followers “will ultimately succumb because democratic process has already started.”
Al-Abdali noted that Kuwaitis were congratulating one another on Saddam’s end, but there were no public signs of celebration. “Their concern now is a stable Iraq that doesn’t slip into civil war.”
In a region where conspiracy theories are rife there was even someone who doubted that Saddam was actually dead. “Probably, it was a Saddam double who was executed—not actually him,” said Mohammed Karimi, a taxi driver in Tehran.