Sunni anger over Saddam hanging spills into streets

Protesters break lock off Shi'ite Golden Dome mosque and march through, carrying photo of executed leader.

saddam protest 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
saddam protest 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Rage over the hanging of Saddam Hussein spilled into the streets in many parts of the Sunni Muslim heartland Monday, especially in Samarra where a mob of angry protesters broke the locks off the badly damaged Shi'ite Golden Dome mosque and marched through carrying a mock coffin and photo of the executed former leader. Sunni extremists had blown apart the glistening dome on the Shi'ite holy place 10 months earlier, setting in motion the sectarian slaughter that now grips the troubled land. The Samarra protest was particularly significant because it signaled a widening expression of defiance among Sunnis, the minority Muslim sect in Iraq that had enjoyed special status and power under Saddam and had oppressed the now-ascendant Shi'ite majority for centuries. Until Saddam was executed, excluding a few days of protests after his death sentence was handed down November 5, the broader Sunni population had sought a low profile in the sectarian conflict that had seen thousands of them killed or driven from their homes by Shi'ite militia forces since the Samarra bombing Feb. 22. Sunni insurgents and foreign fighters of al-Qaida in Iraq had been conducting a bloody insurgency with attacks on U.S. forces and brutal bombings against Shi'ite civilians since the summer of 2003, shortly after Saddam was ousted in the American-led invasion. While many Sunnis were known to be sympathetic to the insurgency, its active membership had not reached broadly into the Sunni population. The angry Sunni protests that now are building in the country could presage deeper involvement by what until now had been a largely quiescent group. The Sunnis were not only angered by Saddam's hurried execution, just four days after an appeals court upheld his conviction and sentence, but were increasingly incensed by the unruly and undignified manner in which the hanging was carried out. A clandestine video of the hanging showed Saddam was taunted by some present at the execution with chants of "Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada" in the last moments of his life. The chants were a reference to anti-American Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who runs one of the deadliest religious militias in Iraq and is a major power behind the government of Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who had pushed for Saddam to be hanged before the year was out. The first judge in the so-called Dujail trial, Rizgar Mohammed Amin, said Saddam's execution in the during the eid was illegal according to Iraqi law. Sunni Muslim festivities marking the holiday began on the same day that Saddam was hanged. Rizgar, a Kurd, was removed as chief judge in the case after Shi'ite complaints that he was too lenient. He was replaced in January 2006 by Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman. "The implementation of Saddam's execution during Id al-adha is illegal according to chapter 9 of the tribunal law. Article 27 states that nobody, even the president (Jalal Talabani), 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. "The hanging during the Id al-Adha period (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 implemented during the official holidays or religious festivals," he said. In northern Baghdad, hundreds of Sunnis conducted a demonstration to mourn Saddam in a predominantly Sunni neighborhood. "The Baath party and Baathists still exist in Iraq, and nobody can marginalize it," said Samir al-Obaidi, 48, who attended a Saddam memorial in the Azamiyah neighborhood. In Dor, 125 kilometers (77 miles) north of Baghdad, hundreds more took to the streets to inaugurate a giant mosaic of Saddam. Children carried toy guns and men fired into the air. Mourners at a mosque in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit slaughtered sheep as a sacrifice for their former leader. The mosque's walls were lined with condolence cards from tribes in southern Iraq and Jordan who were unable to travel to the memorial.