In an era of video-capable mobile phones and YouTube, it's inevitable that amateur videos of any major world event should begin circulating on the Internet -- especially if they show something which official footage lacks.
Clandestine footage of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's execution, then, was bound to be a hot Internet property. A video of his hanging apparently shot with a mobile phone has been in demand on the Web since the weekend -- and now the Iraqi government, worried that the video could stoke sectarian violence, wants to know where the footage came from.
The shaky images show Saddam being led to the gallows. People present at the execution can be heard taunting the former leader, shouting "Go to hell!" and chanting "Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada," in a reference to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a religious militia leader who is a major power behind Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki had pushed for Saddam to be hanged before the end of 2006.
"Is this what you call manhood?" Saddam is reported to answer.
Baghdad released its own official video which was broadcast on Iraqi television Saturday, but it had no sound and it stopped short of showing Saddam's death. The clandestine video shows the gallows door opening and Saddam's body swinging on the rope.
"That should not have happened"
The Iraqi government has objected to the new footage. "There were a few guards who shouted slogans that were inappropriate and that's now the subject of a government investigation," an adviser to Maliki, Sami al-Askari, told Reuters. He said the government would look into how the guards in the execution chamber had smuggled in a mobile phone.
"They have damaged the image of the Sadrists," Askari said. "That should not have happened. Before we went into the room we had an agreement that no one should bring a mobile phone."
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott criticized the release of the video in remarks to the BBC. "Frankly, to get this kind of recorded message coming out is totally unacceptable," he said. "I think whoever is involved and responsible for it should be ashamed of themselves."
US authorities held Saddam in custody until the execution to prevent him being humiliated publicly or his corpse being mutilated.
An illegal execution?
According to Reuters, the US had wanted the Iraqis to delay Saddam's execution under after the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha. A government official involved in the talks told Reuters, on condition of anonymity, that US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad had urged Maliki to wait another two weeks, until after Eid al-Adha, and had insisted on a variety of documents including approval from Iraq's Kurdish president.
"The Americans wanted to delay the execution by 15 days because they weren't keen on having him executed straight away," the official said. "But ... the prime minister's office provided all the documents they asked for and the Americans changed their minds when they saw the prime minister was very insistent."
The first judge in the trial of Saddam, Rizgar Mohammed Amin, said Saddam's execution during Eid al-Adha was illegal according to Iraqi law.
"The implementation of Saddam's execution during Eid al-Adha is illegal according to chapter 9 of the tribunal law," he said. "Article 27 states that nobody, even the president, may change rulings by the tribunal and the implementation of the sentence should not happen until 30 days after publication that the appeals court has upheld the tribunal verdict."
He added that the timing of the execution also contradicts Iraqi and Islamic custom. "Article 290 of the criminal code of 1971 (which was largely used in the Saddam trial) states that no verdict should be implemented during the official holidays or religious festivals," he said.
Government and US forces are on alert for renewed sectarian violence in reaction to Saddam's execution. He was hanged before dawn Saturday after being sentenced to death for his role in the killings of 148 Shiite Muslims from Dujail. Iraq's highest court rejected Saddam's appeal last week and ordered him executed within 30 days.