World opinion divided on verdict in Iraq

Some celebrate quietly

others question U.S. role, death sentence for Hussein

November 07, 2006|By Megan K. Stack | Megan K. Stack,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Saddam Hussein's conviction provoked deeply mixed emotions around the world yesterday, raising painful questions about the death penalty, the U.S.-led project in Iraq and the quest to heal historical atrocities.

From the sidewalks of Arab cities to the government halls of some European countries, critics dismissed Hussein's death sentence as the flawed conclusion to an inherently illegitimate trial. But among the outcry crept a quiet celebration of punishment assigned to a leader whose notorious brutality made him a symbol around the world of despotism and repression.

Many international observers warned that the prospect of executing a former president could further stir sectarian hatred and further inflame the bloodshed in Iraq. They also raised eyebrows at the timing, noting that Hussein was sentenced to death as the United States heads into today's key midterm elections.

The White House "needs to justify the deaths of 3,000 American soldiers and prove that the losses were not suffered in vain," said Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, deputy speaker of Russia's lower house of Russian parliament, Itar-Tass reported.

"Bush wanted to prove that he has achieved at least something in Iraq," Zhirinovsky told Russia's NTV. "They will postpone everything once the Tuesday election is over. They will postpone it until the U.S. presidential election."

Some of the most poignant regrets came from the Arab world, where many people continue to live under the harsh dictatorships exemplified by Hussein's rule, but where outrage over the U.S. presence in Iraq runs bitter and fierce.

Arabs lamented the trial as a slap at the dignity of the entire region. "He was the president of an Arab country, and this was a political trial carried out under American occupation," said Lebanese restaurant worker Jamal Ajoub, 42.

Lawmakers in Amman, Jordan, condemned the verdict as illegitimate, calling the tribunal "a historic farce." Even activists who do battle against their own repressive governments were quick to condemn the verdict as an American-engineered piece of propaganda.

"The whole proceeding was illegitimate," said Magda Adli of the Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence in Cairo, Egypt.

"Everyone knows that the crimes and the genocides committed by the occupation during the past four years against Iraqis are equivalent to four times the crimes they claim were committed by Saddam," she said.

Throughout much of Europe, the reaction was marked by a widespread, deeply entrenched opposition to the death penalty - but also by the sense that a courtroom review of Hussein's crimes was a badly needed catharsis.

"We are against the death penalty, whether it's Saddam or anybody else," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in a London news conference. But the witness accounts of Hussein's pitiless rule, he quickly added, "does give us a very clear reminder of the total and barbaric brutality of that regime."

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel said: "It was right and it was important to reappraise Saddam Hussein's crimes by a court." But Merkel also stressed her opposition to capital punishment.

A statement from the European Union presidency also reminded the world that the EU does not support the death penalty in any circumstance.

In Iran, where bitterness abounds against both the U.S. government and Hussein, the government-run Tehran Times printed a laundry list of the Iraqi leader's crimes, and accused the United States of dragging its feet to slow down the trial.

Megan K. Stack writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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