The World From Berlin: Was Saddam's Execution a Message to Shiites?

The clandestine video of Saddam's execution has become a bestseller among Shiites in Baghdad. German papers wonder if the public spectacle was a deliberate inflammation of Shiite sentiment.

Inflaming sentiments? A boy burns a bank note from the time of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in Baghdad"s Sadr City.

Inflaming sentiments? A boy burns a bank note from the time of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in Baghdad"s Sadr City.

A DVD of Saddam Hussein's hanging has become a bestseller in Baghdad's Shiite suburb of Sadr City, according to German news agencies. The shaky mobile-phone video shows execution guards trading insults with Saddam and praising the radical Shiite preacher Muqtada al-Sadr -- whose father, many believe, was murdered by Saddam. Cheers can be heard after the ex-dictator hangs.

An official video released to Iraqi national TV shows a hangman tightening a noose around Saddam's neck, but the mobile-phone video goes on to show his death.

The international community has been outraged -- especially at Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose government not only let a (banned) mobile phone slip into the execution chamber, but also hurried up the hanging. Saddam's half-brother Barzan Ibrahim and a former chief justice of the Revolutionary Court, Awad al-Bandar, were condemned to death along with Saddam last November for the murder of 148 Shiites in 1982, but their executions were delayed until after the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha, which for Shiites ends this Wednesday afternoon. The Associated Press reported they would hang this Thursday.

German newspapers see the whole affair as a gruesome circus that either threatens western values or drives another wedge between Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites. Some even suspect Maliki of using Saddam's execution as a sop to his Shiite supporters.

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Under pressure from Shiite Prime Minister Maliki, the death sentence was carried out on the day Sunnis celebrated the first day of Eid, which is considered a holy day of forgiveness. Shiites celebrate the start of Eid one day later. Now there's a danger that the onetime despot will be romanticized by Sunni Arabs as a martyr in the struggle against Shiite Islam. (...)

"The Sunnis will remember Saddam's last exchange of words with one of his hangmen, who revealed himself as a follower of radical Shiite preacher Muqtada al-Sadr. Sadr commands the militia most feared by Sunnis in Iraq. He's also the most important supporter of al-Maliki's regime. (...)

"Talks are already in process between Baghdad and Washington to replace al-Maliki with another, more energetic Shiite politician. It's possible that the over-hasty execution of Saddam was an attempt by Maliki to win back popularity among his Shiite constituency."

The left-wing Tageszeitung asks ironically:

"What do the minimum civilized standards of the free world mean? The answer is, more or less, that nobody should bring a mobile phone to an execution.

"(These civilized standards) determine how television footage should be edited. Official videos end before the trapdoor opens. (...) Pictures of the body are okay -- including while it is still hanging on the gallows. (...) But the moment of death: That's taboo and has to remain taboo!

"(We need to ask) whether it can ever be squared with our system of values to show a human being in the face of death to the public -- or if we are, in the process, getting closer and closer to the terrorist mentality which we actually want to fight."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"It would have been a miracle if Saddam's execution had not raised new problems for the Baghdad government, the overstrained US army, or for the violence-plagued Iraqi people. But now a mobile-phone video has turned up, and the pictures and sound both show, first, just how degraded Saddam's death was, and second how depraved a society has to be to turn the execution of a condemned thug into a cheap and coarse spectacle. (...)

"The video also shows that neither the Baghdad government nor the American occupiers are in a position to control an execution. (...) Saddam Hussein's death won't heal old wounds any more than it will satisfy a lust for revenge -- the pictures are more likely to achieve the opposite effect. And a government that can't even prohibit recordings of an execution will never be able to control its country."

- Michael Scott Moore, 12:30 CET

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