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Saddam is Sentenced to Death By Hanging For Past Brutalities

By John F. Burns
and Kirk Semple


Three and a half years after American troops captured Baghdad and ended the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi court set up to judge the brutalities of his 24 years in power sentenced him to death by hanging on Sunday after finding him guilty of crimes against humanity.

An automatic appeal of the death sentence will delay it, but some Iraqi judicial officials privately held out the possibility that Saddam could go to the gallows in a matter of months, perhaps before next spring.

For Iraq’s embattled Shiite prime minister, Nouri Kamal al-Maliki, the death sentence was a welcome relief from bad news and appeared to be an opportunity to score gains with his own fractured constituency. Al-Maliki appeared on television himself after the verdict to proclaim that Saddam got what he deserved. The case that brought death sentences for Saddam and two other defendants, including one of his half-brothers, focused on the repression of a small Shiite town north of Baghdad after an alleged assassination attempt against Saddam in 1982. Against the sweep of war and terror that were the hallmarks of Saddam’s rule, the case was a narrow one, involving the execution of 148 men and youths from the town of Dujail, and what the court found to have been a “widespread and systematic” persecution of the town’s inhabitants in the years that followed.

But the contrasting reaction to the verdicts, in the heavily fortified courthouse in Baghdad and across Iraq, were a testament to the bitter divisions sown by the toppling of Saddam in April 2003, and to the country’s spiraling descent since then into a near-anarchy of insurgency and sectarian killing. From Saddam and his unreconciled supporters among Iraq’s Sunni minority, there was an explosion of anger and resentment.

Among the newly empowered Shiite majority, there was an eruption of joy, and volleys of celebratory gunfire from pistols and automatic weapons. As the chief judge read out the death sentence, a defiant but exhausted-looking Saddam shouted, “Long live the people! Long live the nation! Down with the occupiers! Down with the spies!” Thrusting his right forefinger into the air, then raising a heavily-thumbed Quran with his left hand, he repeatedly chanted the traditional Muslim invocation, “God is Great!” As two court bailiffs moved to hold his arms down, he called one “stupid” and demanded “don’t twist my arm.”