Iraq orders probe of Saddam execution

Updated: 2007-01-03 06:44

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraq's prime minister ordered an investigation Tuesday into Saddam Hussein's execution to try to uncover who taunted Saddam in the last minutes of his life, and who leaked inflammatory footage taken by camera phone of the hanging.

An Iraqi cries on the grave of the country's former president Saddam Hussein in Ouja, 115 kilometers (70 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2007. [AP]

The unofficial video, on which at least one person is heard shouting "To hell!" at the deposed president and Saddam is heard exchanging insults with his executioners, dealt a blow to Iraq's efforts to prove it was a neutral enforcer of the law. Instead, the emotional, politicized spectacle raised tensions between the Shiite majority and Sunni Arabs who ran the country until their benefactor, Saddam, was ousted in the US-led invasion of 2003.

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A prosecutor who saw the hanging said some of the taunting came from guards outside the execution chamber, not the masked ones who put the noose around Saddam's neck.

The Iraqi government did not say what, if any, punishment would await anyone uncovered in its probe of guards and 14 selected witnesses who attended the execution at a Baghdad prison before dawn Saturday. Some were high-ranking officials or people affiliated with radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a political ally of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who had wanted to speed up the timing of the execution after an appeals court upheld the death sentence.

The grainy video appeared on the Internet late Saturday. Al-Jazeera television also showed the footage at that time, saying it was exclusive.

The footage contained audio of people taunting Saddam with chants of "Muqtada," a reference to al-Sadr. Also on the video, Saddam accuses his tormentors of being unmanly in scenes that stop just short of pandemonium.

The video was inflammatory not only because the chanting was clearly audible, but also for showing the ghastly spectacle of Saddam plummeting through the gallows trapdoor and dangling in death, his vacant eyes open and his snapped neck almost at a right angle to the line of his shoulders.

In contrast, the official video showed masked executioners placing a heavy noose around Saddam's neck, without a soundtrack. Another official video shows Saddam wrapped in a burial shroud after his death, though his head and neck are exposed as proof of his identity.

Munqith al-Faroon, an Iraqi prosecutor who helped convict and sentence Saddam to death for the killings of 148 people in the town of Dujail in 1982, said he was a witness to the hanging. He said two top officials had their mobile phones with them even though the government-approved witnesses had been searched before boarding US helicopter that carried them from the Green Zone to the site of the execution, their cell phones placed in a box for safekeeping.

Al-Faroon did not name the officials who had their phones and said he did not know whether the Iraqi government had approved the mobile phone video.

"It might be for money. Maybe he decided from the start to film it and to sell it to the satellite TV channels," al-Faroon said in an interview with TV2, a Danish television network. "I do not think that an investigation is necessary if they only filmed it for money. The execution was not a secret. The filming was not against the law."

Still, the prime minister "ordered the formation of an investigative committee in the Interior Ministry to identify who chanted slogans inside the execution chamber and who filmed the execution and sent it to the media," said Sami al-Askari, a political adviser to the Iraqi leader.

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