Some U.S. soldiers patrolling Baghdad’s dangerous streets Wednesday cheered news of the execution order for Saddam Hussein, but others worried his trip to the gallows could spark a surge of insurgent attacks.
Iraq’s highest court rejected the former dictator’s appeal Tuesday, upholding his death sentence for the 1982 killings of 148 Shiite Muslims from a town where assassins tried to kill him.
“It’s great news,” said Army Sgt. Danny Barrett, 25, of Denair, Calif., a soldier in Headquarters Company, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment. “It’s good for Iraq.”
The appeals court said Saddam must hang within 30 days — something Pfc. Michael Petersen said he was not looking forward to.
“I think personally that things might get heated up around here then,” said Petersen, a 22-year-old native of Pensacola, Fla., in the battalion’s Company A. “There’s still a lot of people who support him.”
Another A Company soldier, Sgt. Stuart Fowler of Badger, Calif., hopes the execution weakens the insurgency by Saddam’s fellow Sunni Arabs.
“As long as he’s alive, there’s still some power and people still rise up,” said Fowler, 30. “Once the execution goes through, I think it will be a relief for a lot of Iraqis.”
An unsuccessful sweep
Based in Fort Lewis, Wash., the soldiers went house-to-house in a largely Shiite section of eastern Baghdad for the fourth consecutive day Wednesday, searching for insurgent leaders and weapons.
A pack of children trailed behind, begging for money and candy as soldiers trudged down muddy, unpaved roads past donkey carts, and entered houses where families keep chickens out front. At one point, a pair of quacking ducks waddled across a bustling road.
The troops completed their sweep without making arrests or finding any major weapons. But on the way back to the U.S. outpost where they are staying, a roadside bomb exploded underneath a Stryker armored vehicle, wounding two soldiers — neither critically.
Two hours later, a series of explosions from rockets shook the outpost and soldiers were confined to their quarters after at least two people on the ground were injured.
First Lt. Tom Gaines, commander of Company A’s 1st Platoon, said he and other officers talked about whether Saddam’s execution could make things more dangerous for the unit, but concluded there was little to fear since their area is populated mainly by Shiites, who were oppressed by Saddam’s regime.
“It will have some overreaching effects in other parts of the country but probably not here,” Gaines said.
The execution was on the mind of Staff Sgt. Jon Matthews as he moved between homes Wednesday.
“I was interested to come out here and see what the people would say,” said the 26-year-old from Dallas. “But it’s been pretty calm. People seem pleased about it actually.”
Justice system needed 'to kill Saddam'
Wearing a purple head scarf and surrounded by grandchildren in her living room, Saadia Majed said Iraq’s central government was finally showing the country a measure of strength.
“We need the justice system to kill Saddam,” she said.
But Majed, a Shiite, said authorities should wait at least three years to hang the former dictator to avoid further inflaming the sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunnis that has killed hundreds and pushed Iraq into civil warfare.
“Executing him now is dangerous,” she said through an interpreter. “The situation is very bad. Things need to be calmer.”
At another house, a 53-year-old retired officer in Saddam’s army who is Sunni but married to a Shiite said Iraq was safer under Saddam, when there was no sectarian violence or threat of mass kidnappings.
“At that time, good people weren’t killed. Saddam only killed his enemies,” said Kalleed, who gave only his first name for fear he would be targeted by Shiite militiamen. “Now everyone is dying, good and bad.”
American soldiers acknowledged many aspects of Iraqi life have gotten worse since the U.S. led-invasion.
“When (Saddam) was here a lot of people were better off, especially with the basics like water and sewage,” said Spc. Will Tucker, 22, of Fort Worth, Texas. “We are working on improvement programs, but they are taking awhile.”