Curfew to remain for now in wake of Saddam verdict

A court official said appeals process was likely to take three to four weeks once formal paperwork was submitted.

Saddam trial 88 (photo credit: )
Saddam trial 88
(photo credit: )
Baghdad and two restive Sunni provinces were locked under 24-hour curfew Monday in the wake of Saddam Hussein's death sentence for crimes against humanity, and officials said the clampdown would continue indefinitely. Scattered celebrations of the sentencing of the former dictator continued in predominantly Shiite parts of the country, where there was no curfew. Baghdad, which has a mixed Shi'ite-Sunni population was quiet, however, with offices and the international airport closed and few cars or pedestrians on the streets. An Interior Ministry spokesman credited the round-the-clock restrictions with curbing violence around the announcement of the verdict on Sunday, despite raucous street celebrations among Shiites and defiant counter demonstrations by Saddam supporters in his hometown of Tikrit. "We need to keep on guard over any kind of response from Saddam supporters," Brig. Abdel-Karim Khalaf said. The emergency measures would likely be lifted by Tuesday morning, he said. In mainly Shi'ite Hillah, 95 kilometers (60 miles) south of Baghdad, around 500 people marched in the streets on Monday morning, carrying placards and shouting slogans denouncing the former dictator, who is accused of killing tens of thousands of Shiites following a 1991 uprising. "Yes, yes for the verdict, which we have long been waiting for," chanted the crowd, largely made up of students and government workers. Underscoring the widening divide between Shiite and Sunni, about 250 pro-Saddam demonstrators took to the streets in the Sunni city of Baqouba, 60 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Baghdad. They were dispersed by Iraqi soldiers for breaking the curfew over the province. There were no reports of deaths or injuries. Another 400 protesters marched through Samarra, 95 kilometers (60 miles) north of Baghdad, denouncing the verdict against Saddam and demanding the ouster of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who had called for the former president's execution. Iraq's relentless sectarian violence continued despite the extraordinary security measures, which also brought additional patrols and checkpoints in the capital. The bodies of 50 murder victims were discovered over Sunday, the bulk of them in Baghdad, police 1st. Lt. Thaer Mahmoud said. The US military on Monday announced the deaths of two Marines and one soldier in fighting in Iraq's Anbar province, and two more soldiers in a helicopter crash in Salahuddin province north of Baghdad - bringing the number of US troops killed in Iraq this month to 18. The curfew was temporarily lifted in Tikrit to give allow residents to shop and run errands. Angry crowds had gathered in the city on Sunday, holding aloft Saddam portraits, firing guns and chanting slogans vowing to avenge his execution. Saddam was sentenced by the Iraqi High Tribunal for ordering the execution of nearly 150 Shiites from the city of Dujail following a 1982 attempt on his life. The ex-president was found hiding with an unfired pistol in a hole in the ground near his home village north of Baghdad in December 2003, eight months after he fled the capital ahead of advancing American troops. Barzan Ibrahim, Saddam's half brother and intelligence chief during the Dujail killings, was sentenced to join him on the gallows, as was Awad Hamed al-Bandar, head of Iraq's Revolutionary Court, which issued the death sentences against the Dujail residents. Former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan was convicted of premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison, while three other defendants were given up to 15 years in prison for torture and premeditated murder. A local Baath Party official Mohammed Azawi Ali, was acquitted for lack of evidence. The death sentences automatically go to a nine-judge appeals panel, which has unlimited time to review the case. If the verdicts and sentences are upheld, the executions must be carried out within 30 days. A court official told The Associated Press that the appeals process was likely to take three to four weeks once the formal paperwork was submitted. If the verdicts are upheld, those sentenced to death would be hanged despite Saddam's second, ongoing trial for allegedly murdering thousands of Iraq's Kurdish minority. The chief prosecutor in Saddam's separate trial for his crackdown against Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s - the so-called Anfal case - will continue while the appeals court considers the death sentence rendered Sunday. US President George W. Bush called the verdict "a milestone in the Iraqi people's efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law." "It's a major achievement for Iraq's young democracy and its constitutional government," the president said. "Today, the victims of this regime have received a measure of the justice which many thought would never come," he added. But symbolic of the split between the United States and many of its traditional allies over the Iraq war, many European nations voiced opposition to the death sentences in the case, including France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden. A leading Italian opposition figure called on the continent to press for Saddam's sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment.