MECCA, Saudi Arabia - Arab
pilgrims in Mecca expressed outrage on Saturday that Iraqi authorities had
chosen to execute former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein on a major religious
holiday, saying it was an insult to Muslims.
A general view of the haj pilgrimage
is seen in Mena, outside Mecca, December 30, 2006. More than two million
Muslim pilgrims began the symbolic stoning of the devil on Saturday,
putting to the test new safety measures at a stage of the haj that has
seen tragedy in the past. [Reuters]
Sunni Arabs at the haj were shocked at Saddam's hanging which followed his
conviction for crimes against humanity against Iraqi Shi'ites.
"His execution on the day of Eid ... is an insult to all Muslims," said
Jordanian pilgrim Nidal Mohammad Salah. "What happened is not good because as a
head of state, he should not be executed."
The Eid al-Adha, or Feast of the Sacrifice, marks biblical patriarch
Abraham's willingness to kill his son for God. Muslim countries often pardon
criminals to mark the feast, and prisoners are rarely executed at that time.
The death could harden hatred for Shi'ite Muslims in Saudi Arabia, a bastion
of Sunni Islam whose Islamic orthodoxy -- known as Wahhabism -- regards Shi'ites
as virtual heretics.
"This timing was chosen to turn our joy during Eid to sadness. I don't say
this for grief over Saddam ... but we must ready ourselves for a new enemy from
the East," a user on an Islamist Web site said, referring to Shi'ites in Iran.
Saddam, a Sunni, was admired by many Arabs for standing up to the United
States. Haj authorities fear his death could stoke tensions between Sunni and
Eid falls during the 5-day haj, when more than 2 million Muslims from around
the world follow ancient rites at the Islamic Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi
"I don't want to believe it. Saddam cannot die. Is this the good news we get
on our Eid?" said Saudi Nawaf al-Harbi.
But many Shi'ites regard Saddam's death as a gift from God.
"Congratulations, this is like two Eids! I hope God will not have mercy on
him," Iraqi Nadir Abdullah said amid a group of jubilant pilgrims.
Security was already heightened for this haj season because of sectarian
strife between Sunnis and Shi'ites in Iraq and elsewhere in the region.
Haj pilgrims dress in simple white garments that can disguise differences of
sect and nationality. Many come from outside the Middle East and on Saturday
most were preoccupied with the next stage of the rites, the symbolic stoning of
the devil at the Jamarat Bridge.
But many felt Saddam's execution would only worsen sectarian violence in
"This is unbelievable. Things will not improve in Iraq now that Saddam is
dead," said a Syrian pilgrim, Abu Mostafa. "There will be more violence and more
Arab anger toward the West."
For Iraqi Kurds like Aladdin Suleiman Mohammad, the execution was a "fair
decision" regardless of timing, though it dashed hopes of justice for crimes
Saddam's second trial on charges of war crimes against Iraqi Kurds in what is
known as the "Anfal" or "Spoils of War" campaign, had been due to resume next
But many Arabs said if anyone should be put on trial it was the Shi'ite-led
Iraqi government that backed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, which overthrew
"They are American collaborators, those in Iraq. They should be executed, not
Saddam Hussein." said Mohammad Mousa, on haj from Lebanon. "Saddam Hussein is
the most honorable of all of them. He is the most honorable Arab. They will go
to hell, he will go to heaven."