Execution of Saddam’s aides stirs more criticism

BAGHDAD (AFP) — Hundreds of Sunni Arabs paid their respects Tuesday to former aides of Saddam Hussein convicted of crimes against humanity and buried near the former Iraqi leader’s own grave after a gruesome hanging.

The controversy stirred up by Saddam’s botched execution was fuelled further when the hanging of Barzan Ibrahim Al Tikriti and Awad Ahmad Bandar went awry, with Tikriti’s head ripped from his body as he plunged from the Baghdad gallows. But mourners were much more peaceful than when Saddam was laid to rest on December 31.

Sheikh Ali Al Nada of the Bayjat clan, to which Saddam and his half-brother Tikriti belonged, received condolences in a tent along with cousins of the deceased in Awja, on the outskirts of Tikrit, 180 kilometres north of Baghdad.

But there was no commemorative shooting in the air and offices and shops remained open amid a mood of sorrowful tranquility in the Iraqi city.

Iraqi Vice President Tareq Al Hashemi told British television Monday that he had been caught off-guard by the executions, which the multi-confessional Presidency Council had asked be delayed. “We have not been consulted and I was caught by surprise because the Presidency Council had made an appeal to postpone this execution,” Hashemi told Channel 4 News during a visit to Britain.

Tikriti, the former head of the feared Mukhabarat intelligence agency, and Bandar, chief of the disbanded Revolutionary Court, were convicted in November along with Saddam of the murders of 148 Shiite villagers after an assassination attempt against Saddam in 1982. Tikriti and Bandar were buried late Monday in the grounds that surround Saddam’s own grave, set among flowers and Iraqi flags in the floor of a light pink marble hall built during his regime for public condolences.

The government showed a video of Monday’s hanging to select journalists to allay possible charges that the condemned men had been mistreated in any way, with Barzan’s body seen falling in an orange blur after the trap door swung open.

Officials did not plan to release the images publicly however, hoping to avert the kind of outcry that accompanied bootleg images of Saddam’s hanging that circulated on the Internet.

As in the case of Saddam, the world was shocked more by how the sentences were carried out than by the fact that two feared members of the former regime had been put to death.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who works within an administration that backs capital punishment and Iraq’s sovereign right to choose its own form of punishment, said she was disappointed by the manner in which the executions took place.

Speaking in the Egyptian city of Luxor, Rice told a press conference: “We were disappointed there was not greater dignity given to the accused under these circumstances.” Describing the executions, senior Iraqi official Basam Ridha said the two men were “trembling with fear when they were taken to the gallows”, in contrast to what many considered dignity shown by Saddam in his final moments.

“Barzan’s body fell through the rope while his head flew off a few feet away,” Ridha told AFP.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour reiterated her stance against capital punishment and added: “In this particular case, not only is the penalty irremediable, it may also make it more difficult to have a complete judicial accounting of other, equally horrendous, crimes committed in Iraq.” Human rights group Amnesty International slammed the hangings as well, with spokesman Malcom Smart saying that “reports that Barzan Ibrahim Al Tikriti had his head severed during the hanging only emphasise the brutality of this already cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment”.

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