Baghdad, Nov. 5: Saddam Hussein was sentenced to hang for crimes against humanity today, two days before President George W. Bush faces tough congressional elections.
“God is great!” Saddam shouted, trembling and defiant, at the end of the first trial examining the alleged crimes of his regime that has been dogged by doubts about legitimacy.
“Long live the people. Long live the Arab nation. Down with the agents. Down with the occupier,” he yelled in the face of punishment for methodically executing 148 people in Dujail, a small Shiite town.
Saddam, his half brother Barzan Ibrahim who was his intelligence chief and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, the head of Iraq’s former Revolutionary Court, were sentenced to death.
Iraq’s former Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan was convicted of premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison. Three other defendants were sentenced to 15 years in prison for torture and premeditated murder and another acquitted for lack of evidence.
The nine-month trial has been one of the most highly publicised since the Nuremberg tribunals for members of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime and its slaughter of 6 million Jews.
The White House called the verdict a good day for Iraqis and evidence of an independent judiciary in Iraq. “It’s a good day for the Iraqi people,” spokesman Tony Snow said.
While that day of judgment may have to be deferred till another day, Bush would be hoping it proves a good day for his Republican Party that is going into congressional elections in which the President is under fire for his handling of the Iraq war.
As a result, the Republicans are in danger of losing control of one or both Houses of the US Congress to the Democrats.
If Bush had hoped the verdict would immediately snatch the nation’s attention, television networks appeared more interested in the pastor who resigned after it came to light that he was gay.
Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s Prime Minister, declared the verdict as history’s judgment on a whole era. “It is a verdict on a whole dark era that was unmatched in Iraq’s history,” he said.
Some feared the verdict could intensify Iraq’s sectarian violence as it was being seen from opposite viewpoints by the majority Shias, who suffered during Saddam’s rule, and Sunnis, the sect the former dictator belongs to.
Clashes immediately broke out in north Baghdad’s heavily Sunni Azamiyah district. Elsewhere in the capital, celebratory gunfire rang out. “This government will be responsible for the consequences, with the deaths of hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands, whose blood will be shed,” Salih al-Mutlaq, a Sunni political leader, said.
In the streets of Dujail, a Tigris river town of 84,000, people celebrated and burned pictures of their former tormentor as the verdict was read.
A cautious India said such verdicts require a legal process that should not appear to be “victors’ justice” and should be acceptable to the Iraqis and the international community.
Written with agency reports