The death penalty against Saddam Hussein has survived an appeal in Iraq's highest court and a judge has ordered that the former dictator to be executed within 30 days. The verdict and the trial have met with criticism around the world, but in Iraq hundreds of people have applied for the job of hangman.
"From tomorrow, any day could be the day of implementation," the chief judge said on Tuesday. Saddam was convicted in early November for his role in the execution of 148 Shiite Muslims from the small northern town of Dujail, after a 1982 assassination attempt.
Saddam's half brother and intelligence chief, Barzan al-Tikriti, will also hang, and so will a former senior revolutionary court judge involved in the executions. There is no official job of "hangman" in Iraq, and an adviser to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki says the government has not officially advertised for the job. The executioner, moreover, will remain anonymous because Saddam's execution could inflame tensions in a country where people die every day in sectarian violence.
But hundreds of Iraqis have inquired about the hangman's job. The adviser, Bassam al-Husseiny, told the US network ABC News that he received about eight to 10 phone calls a day -- and 20 to 30 e-mails -- by Iraqis who wanted to execute Saddam. The candidates came from all three of the country's major religions and from all walks of life, he said -- from high-level government officials to "the tea boy."
A White House spokesman in Washington called the ruling a milestone in Iraq's efforts "to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law."
The "difficult process of reconciliation"
But Human Rights Watch called on Iraqi officials not to fulfill the sentence against Saddam. Richard Dicker, director of the rights group's International Justice Program, said the death penalty was essentially inhumane, and added that the trial against Saddam was not only flawed but also influenced by politics. "Imposing the death penalty, which is indefensible in any case, is especially wrong after the unfair proceedings of the Dujail trial," he told the Associated Press.
Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema told an Italian news agency on Tuesday, "As Italians and as Europeans we are against the death penalty," and said the execution could have a negative effect on the "difficult process of reconciliation" in Iraq.
Tuesday was a bloody day in Iraq's capital, Baghdad: Bombings killed at least 54 Iraqis and the bodies of 49 apparent victims of sectarian reprisal killings were discovered by police.