Saddam Hussein's death sentence was celebrated by some on Sunday as justice
deserved or even divine, but denounced by others as a political ploy two days
before critical US midterm congressional elections.
Worldwide, the range of
reactions - including a European outcry over capital punishment and doubts
about the fairness of the tribunal that ordered Saddam to hang - reflected
new geopolitical fault lines drawn after America's decision to invade Iraq in
2003 and depose its dictator.
Taxi driver Khatab Ahmed rejoices as death penalty is told to
former leader Saddam Hussein, in Kirkuk, 290 kilometers (180 miles) north
of Baghdad, Nov. 5, 2006. Iraq's High Tribunal on Sunday found Saddam
Hussein guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to hang, as
the visibly shaken former leader shouted 'God is great!' Ahmed's brother
and uncle were arrested by Saddam's security forces in the 1980s and
disappeared forever and his two cousins died in a 1991 Kurdish uprising.
The European Union welcomed the verdict but said Saddam should not be put to
death. At the Vatican, Cardinal Renato Martino, Pope Benedict XVI's top prelate
for justice issues, called the sentence a throwback to "eye for an eye"
"This is not the way to present the new Iraq to the world, which is different
from Saddam, who was behind hundreds of thousands of deaths as well as death
penalty sentences," said Hands Off Cain, an Italian organization working to rid
the world of capital punishment.
Islamic leaders warned that executing Saddam could inflame those who revile
the US, undermining President Bush's policy in the Middle East and inspiring
"The hanging of Saddam Hussein will turn to hell for the Americans," said
Vitaya Wisethrat, a respected Muslim cleric in Thailand, which has its own
Islamic insurgency in the country's south.
"The Saddam case is not a Muslim problem but the problem of America and its
domestic politics," he said. "Maybe Bush will use this case to tell the voters
that Saddam is dead and that the Americans are safe. But actually the American
people will be in more danger with the death of Saddam."
Praising the Iraqi judiciary for its independence, the White House denied
arranging for the verdict to be announced just two days before pivotal elections
in which Democrats are fighting for control of Congress.
"The idea is preposterous," said Tony Snow, Bush's spokesman.
Yet there was a touch of contempt as well, reminiscent of the international
response when the United States failed to find the weapons of mass destruction
Bush insisted had made Saddam such a threat.
Intervening militarily was "a grave error," said Spanish Prime Minister Jose
Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose country withdrew its troops from Iraq, contending
that conditions there have worsened since the U.S.-led invasion.
Although some voiced doubts that Saddam would actually be hanged, the
International Federation for Human Rights denounced the death sentence, warning
that it "will generate more violence and deepen the cycle of killing for revenge
in Iraq." The Council of Europe called it "futile and wrong" to execute Saddam.
Louise Arbour, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, urged Iraq to
ensure a fair appeals process and to refrain from executing Saddam even if the
sentence is upheld.
In Pakistan, an opposition religious coalition claimed American forces have
caused more deaths in Iraq in the past 3 1/2 years than Saddam did during his
23-year rule, and insisted Bush should stand trial for war crimes.
"Who will punish the Americans and their lackeys who have killed many more
people than Saddam Hussein?" asked Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, a senior lawmaker from
the Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal coalition, which is critical of Pakistan's military
cooperation with the United States.
In the Arab world, some Muslims saw the sentence as divine retribution, but
others decried it as a farce.
"Saddam is being judged by traitors, Americans and Iranians, and those who
came on the backs of American tanks," said Mahmoud al-Saifi of the Arab
Iran, which fought an eight-year war against Saddam's Iraq and is a bitter
opponent of the United States, praised the death sentence and said it hoped that
Saddam - denounced by one lawmaker as "a vampire" - still would be
tried for other crimes.
Key US allies - including Britain and Australia - welcomed Sunday's
verdict, which had been widely expected.
"Appalling crimes were committed by Saddam Hussein's regime. It is right that
those accused of such crimes against the Iraqi people should face Iraqi
justice," British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said in a statement.
Amnesty International questioned the fairness of the trial, and international
legal experts said Saddam should be kept alive long enough to answer for other
"The longer we can keep Saddam alive, the longer the tribunal can have to
explore some of the other crimes involving hundreds of thousands of Iraqis,"
said Sonya Sceats, an international law expert at the Chatham House foreign
affairs think tank in London.
"The problem really is that this tribunal has not shown itself to be fair and
impartial ¡ª not only by international standards, but by Iraqi standards," she
Chandra Muzaffar, president of the Malaysian-based International Movement for
a Just World, also voiced concerns that Saddam's trial "violated many
established norms of international jurisprudence."
Even so, "Saddam was undoubtedly a brutal dictator, and even though I
wouldn't subscribe to the death penalty, he deserves to be punished severely for
the enormity of his crimes," he added.
Konstantin Kosachyov, the Kremlin-allied head of the international affairs
committee in Russia's State Duma, or lower house of parliament, said the
sentence would deepen divisions in Iraq.
But Kosachyov expressed doubts that Saddam would actually be executed.
The verdict, he said, was mostly symbolic - "retribution that modern
Iraq is taking against Saddam's regime."