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Execution sparks Arab support for Saddam

The execution of Saddam Hussein has sparked a wave of support for the former Iraqi leader around the Arab world, with some proclaiming him a martyr and comparing him to heroes of Arab nationalism — raising resentment against the United States and Iraq's Shiite-led government.
Members of the Tunisian Workers General
Members of the Tunisian Workers General Union set up a poster of Saddam Hussein before a meeting paying homage to the former Iraqi dictator in Tunis on Friday.Fethi Belaid / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

The execution of Saddam Hussein has sparked a wave of support for the former Iraqi leader around the Arab world, with some proclaiming him a martyr and comparing him to heroes of Arab nationalism — raising resentment against the United States and Iraq's Shiite-led government.

A new video of Saddam's corpse, with a gaping neck wound, was posted on the Internet early Tuesday, carrying the potential to fan the flames higher.

The video, which appeared to have been taken with a camera phone, pans up the shrouded body of the former leader from the feet. It apparently was taken shortly after Saddam was hanged and placed on a gurney.

As the panning shot reaches the head region, the white shroud is pulled back and reveals Saddam's head and neck.

His head is unnaturally twisted at a 90 degree angle to his right. It shows a gaping bloody wound, circular in shape, about an inch below his jaw line.

There is blood on the shroud where it covered his head.

Praise overshadowing atrocities
Praise for Saddam has only grown since his Dec. 30 hanging, eclipsing what had been a greater acknowledgement in recent years of the atrocities committed by his regime.

On Monday, one Egyptian paper, the independent Al-Karama, splashed Saddam's photo over a full page Monday, with an Iraqi flag behind him, declaring him an "Arab martyr."

"He lived as hero, died as a man," another Egyptian opposition newspaper, Al-Osboa, proclaimed in a headline, showing a photo of Saddam at the gallows.

The praise has angered Iraq's government and Kuwait, which Saddam invaded in 1990. On Monday, Kuwaiti lawmakers slammed Arab countries that described the former Iraqi leader as a hero and demanded the government reconsider ties and financial aid to them.

Anger over the execution could fuel support for Iraq's Sunni Muslim insurgency. It could also complicate the United States' efforts to rally Arab nations' help in reconciling between Iraq's warring Sunni and Shiite communities and ease the country's bloodshed.

The gallows scene
In large part, it was the unruly scene at the gallows that catapulted Saddam to hero's status. In video footage smuggled out of the execution room, Saddam's Shiite executioners are seen taunting and cursing him, while the former leader — his head unbowed — retorts, "Is this manly?"

For many, the scene came to symbolize dignified Arab resistance in the face of humiliation at the hands of a Shiite government seen by some in the region as illegitimate, backed by the U.S. military presence and closely allied to mainly Shiite Iran.

Some in the media compared Saddam to another hero of Arab nationalism against Western domination: Omar al-Mokhtar, the leader of resistance against Italy's military occupation of Libya, who was executed by hanging in 1931. Egypt's nationalist weekly newspaper Al-Arabi published a cartoon Sunday showing an open book with pictures of Saddam and al-Mokhtar on facing pages.

The reaction was in contrast to the shock that followed Saddam's capture by U.S. troops in December 2003. At the time, Saddam was humiliated, shown bearded and bedraggled in photos as he was pulled out of a hole by U.S. troops.

The images sparked a debate across the region over his dictatorship. Many pointed out his weakness in the face of U.S. forces, and over the years that followed, Arab media dealt more frankly with the mass killings carried out by Saddam's regime. Languishing in U.S. custody, Saddam faded in relevance, and coverage of his trial waned in Arab media.

But after the execution, even some Arab critics of Saddam said his new heroic status was more significant now than his record of crimes and atrocities.

"Five sublime minutes at the hanging rope created the myth," columnist Abdel-Halim Qandil wrote in Al-Karama. "The story of Saddam the bloody dictator was over, replaced by Saddam's image similar to Omar al-Mokhtar."

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a U.S. ally, suggested the execution could worsen the situation in Iraq.

"It was disgraceful and very painful," Mubarak said of the execution in an interview with Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot Thursday. "They (the Iraqi government) have made him into a martyr, while the problems within Iraq remain."

On Saturday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki denounced government for criticizing the execution, accusing them of meddling in Iraqi affairs.

But the execution deepened opposition in the Arab world — where the majority of the population are Sunni Muslims — against al-Maliki's Shiite-led government. Many also blamed the United States, which handed Saddam over for execution, even though U.S. officials said they tried to convince al-Maliki to postpone the hanging and later criticized the way it was carried out.

On Friday, hundreds in the Egyptian capital demonstrated after prayers at al-Azhar Mosque, chanting against the United States and allied Arab governments, expressing support for the Iraqi insurgency.

In Jordan, columnist Ibrahim Jaber Ibrahim lashed out at the Iraqi prime minister, deriding him as "Emperor al-Maliki, standing on a precious Persian carpet" — a reference to the Iraqi Shiites' close ties to Iran.

Talal Salman, publisher of the Lebanese daily As-safir, warned that the al-Maliki government's "vindictiveness, political blindness and shortsightedness ... are establishing divisions that will spare no one, whether in Iraq or in the territories around it, including all the Arabs."

‘A single thing worth praising’?
Still, some insisted Saddam's crimes should not be ignored.

"One can't but be surprised at shameful Arab weeping (for Saddam) ... glorifying him and considering him a hero and martyr," wrote Palestinian writer Khaled al-Horoub in the United Arab Emirates daily Al-Itihad on Monday.

He warned that other Arab dictators will manage "to hide (their) crimes behind volatile speeches that stir up people's feelings but destroy their present and future."

Sami Moubayed wrote in the daily Oman Times, that he "tried hard" to sympathize with Saddam while watching the execution. "But I could not find a single thing worth praising about Saddam."

"However, the fact that he was executed under the watchful eye of the United States, at a time when Iraq is occupied, makes him a national hero to the Arabs," he wrote.