Features

End of a ruthless era

"End of a ruthless era" Continued...

Issue: "Endings & beginnings," Jan. 13, 2007

In Detroit, grief mixed with gladness as many in the crowd spoke of horrors they endured under Saddam's oppressive hands. Yahia Al-Aboudi, 60, told the Detroit Free Press that members of the dictator's regime hanged him from a ceiling and beat him. Abdulanir Jumaa, 42, said the scars on his arm and legs were inflicted during an 11-year imprisonment in the Abu Ghraib jail in Baghdad. Ali Al-Nassiri, 50, remembered two brothers killed by Saddam's regime. Dave Alwatan, 32, said Saddam's forces also tortured and killed members of his family: "Peace . . . now there will be peace for my family."

But not all who suffered in Iraq supported the execution. Joseph Kassab, who fled Iraq in his early 20s and now heads the Chaldean Federation of America, said his group, which serves many Catholics, opposed Saddam's execution because it opposes all taking of human life. The group's position is consistent with the Vatican, which issued a statement denouncing the execution as "tragic."

Christians disagree on whether the death penalty should have been applied to Saddam, notes Middle East expert Walid Phares, but they should acknowledge the Iraqi government's authority to carry out justice. "Saddam Hussein is not an ordinary person. He conducted mass murder and horrific crimes. The victims were in the tens of thousands, maybe close to a million over 30 years. He represents a criminal ideology and behavior comparable to Nazism. Hence, when the overwhelming majority of Iraqis decided, through voting, forming a government and a judiciary, to consider him a war criminal, a death sentence is a logical outcome."

But the "blink of an eye" execution may challenge government unity. Kurds in the government called for a delay so that Saddam could be tried on the larger war crimes Saddam committed in the north, where as many as 100,000 Kurds were killed under his regime and thousands were gassed to death during the Iran-Iraq war. Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister and head of the ruling Shiite coalition, pressed for the quick execution, voiding a constitutional procedure that required a three-man presidency council-composed of a Kurd, a Sunni, and a Shiite-to all vote for the hanging.

"I would have wished that he had been tried for many other crimes," Phares said, "and that these crimes would have been shown to the world in a clearer manner. The U.S. public would have better understood why it was legitimate to end the regime of Saddam after all these massacres."

Also potentially lost in Saddam's death is the trail to his missing fortune, estimated at $29 billion. After a brief period of cooperation when first captured, Saddam refused to help investigators. They now want to interview two of Saddam's three daughters living in Jordan.

Iraqis like Ralph Ayer in Detroit also wonder about the fate of those who disappeared at Baathist hands: "They would take people off to jail and you would never see them again." Ayer, who attends a large Chaldean Catholic church, says he believes Saddam's punishment was just. Life under Saddam's rule, he said, was "miserable." He fled the misery after Baathist officials confiscated his family's business and home. Now an American citizen, and after years of hard work, he bought a hotel and a grocery store with his brother. He is married with one son, five daughters, and three grandchildren.

Ayer's children were among the family who gathered to watch live news coverage on the night of Saddam's execution. As he went to bed, Ayar says he couldn't stop thinking about the family member who was missing: "I was hoping I would see my father in my dreams."

The life of a dictator

1937: Saddam Hussein is born.

1957: Joins the Baath Party.

1959: Flees to Egypt after attempting to assassinate Iraq's ruler.

1963: Returns when Baath Party takes power but is imprisoned after Baath Party is ousted.

1967: Escapes prison and begins underground internal security group.

1968: Helps Baath Party regain power.

1979: Seizes power himself, purging Baathists.

1980: Invades Iran.

1986: Launches Anfal campaign against Kurds.

1990: Invades Kuwait.

1991: U.S.-led forces launch Gulf War, evicting Iraq from Kuwait.

2003: U.S.-led forces invade Iraq; Saddam captured.

2006: Convicted and hanged for the 1982 Dujail killings.

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