LONDON - World political and religious leaders were divided over
whether former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's execution Saturday was a
milestone toward peace or further conflict in the Middle East.
In Washington, U.S. President George W. Bush said Saddam was executed "after
receiving a fair trial _ the kind of justice he denied the victims of his brutal
"Bringing Saddam Hussein to justice will not end the violence in Iraq, but it
is an important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy that can
govern, sustain and defend itself, and be an ally in the war on terror," Bush
said in a statement.
In London, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said Saddam had "now been held
to account for at least some of the appalling crimes he committed against the
Iraqi people," while at the same time condemning the death penalty.
"We have made our position very clear to the Iraqi authorities, but we
respect their decision as that of a sovereign nation," Beckett said in a
statement. "Iraq continues to face huge challenges. But now it has a
democratically elected government, which represents all communities and is
committed to fostering reconciliation."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a key ally of the US in the 2003 invasion
that toppled Saddam's regime, was not planning to comment on the execution, a
Downing Street spokeswoman said, because Beckett's statement represented the
British government's position.
Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, whose country currently holds the
rotating European Union presidency, reiterated the bloc's opposition to the
"The European Union has a very consistent stand ... on opposing the death
penalty and it should not have been applied in this case either, even though
there is no doubt about Saddam Hussein's guilt over serious violations against
human rights," Tuomioja said in Helsinki.
He also said that the court case against Saddam "gave cause for some serious
objections," but did not elaborate.
The Vatican's spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, called the execution
"tragic and reason for sadness."
Speaking on Vatican Radio, Lombardi said Saddam's death "will not help
efforts aimed at justice and reconciliation" and "risks increasing violence." He
also reiterated the Vatican's opposition to the death penalty.
The former Iraqi dictator was executed before dawn on Saturday morning in
Baghdad. The hanging took place near the beginning of the festival of Eid
al-Adha, one of the two most important holidays in Islam.
In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai appeared to criticize the timing of
the execution, but said it was "the work of the Iraqi government" and would have
"no effect" on Afghanistan.
"We wish to say that Eid is a day for happiness and reconciliation. It is not
a day for revenge," Karzai told reporters at the presidential palace after
offering an Eid prayer at Kabul's main mosque early Saturday.
In Australia, another U.S. ally in the Iraq war, Prime Minister John Howard
said the execution was significant because Iraqis had given the brutal dictator
a fair trial.
"I believe there is something quite heroic about a country that is going
through the pain and the suffering that Iraq is going through, yet still extends
due process to somebody who was a tyrant and brutal suppressor and murderer of
his people," Howard told reporters.
"That is the mark of a country that is trying against fearful odds to embrace
democracy," he said.
In Sydney, scores of Iraqi-Australians - many of them refugees who fled
Saddam's brutality - celebrated throughout the day in the main street of
Many danced and cheered: "Saddam Hussein is dead; Saddam Hussein has gone to
hell," media reported.
Indian officials worried the execution could trigger more sectarian violence.
"We had already expressed the hope that the execution would not be carried
out. We are disappointed that it has been," External Affairs Minister Pranab
Mukherjee said in a statement.
"We hope that this unfortunate event will not affect the process of
reconciliation, restoration of peace and normalcy in Iraq," he added.
Former Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh, who was forced from office in
2005 over his alleged involvement in the U.N. oil-for-food scandal in Iraq, said
the execution would lead to increased tension in the Middle East.
"It will have a very adverse impact on the region for decades to come," he
told CNN-IBN news channel.
In Pakistan, an Islamic ally in the US-led war on terror, a leader of a
coalition of six religious parties said Saddam had not received justice.
"We have no sympathy with Saddam Hussein, but we will also say that he did
not get justice," Liaquat Baluch, a leader of the Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, also
known as the United Action Forum, told The Associated Press by phone.
"The execution of Saddam Hussein will further destabilize Iraq. There will be
more sectarian violence in Iraq, and we believe that the execution of Saddam
Hussein is part of the American plan to disintegrate Iraq," he added.
Former Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pinsuwan, a Muslim, said he expected the
execution would increase tension in the war on terror because of Saddam's many