`New Iraq' declared, but deaths continue

After Hussein execution, sectarian killing goes on

78 die across nation

Hussein's death among many yesterday

December 31, 2006|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske | Molly Hennessy-Fiske,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Baghdad -- It was a moment many Iraqis dreamed of during the Saddam Hussein era, broadcast on national television yesterday afternoon: guards in black ski masks looping a rope around the former president's neck.

By afternoon, smudgy footage had been released of his slightly bruised body, head bowed, wrapped in a white sheet.

Later, on the Internet, a jerky video that appeared to have been captured on a cell phone showed the dictator swinging from the bulky noose.

"Thank God a bloody chapter was ended," national security adviser Mowaffak Rubaie announced on U.S.-funded Al-Hurra television. "This is a new Iraq."

But outside the Green Zone and the bubble of optimism surrounding the Iraqi government, killings of a different sort spoiled any hopes of even momentary peace yesterday.

On the streets of Iraq, the hallmarks of Hussein's regime - fear, deprivation and violence - prevailed.

Across the country yesterday, police said, explosions killed at least 78 people, including 38 who died in a double car bombing in Baghdad's mainly Shiite Hurriya neighborhood.

In Baghdad, 16 bodies were recovered in the 24-hour period ending yesterday.

Dumped bodies, often showing signs of torture, have been the hallmark of Shiite death squads.

Much of the day's violence appeared unrelated to the execution, more a function of sectarian clashes that are fully expected to persist despite the former dictator's death.

In a small concrete room in the heavily fortified Green Zone, Hussein was defiant even in his last moments, shouting slogans from his Baath Party as his prosecutor read his death warrant, said Mayriam Rayis, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's legal adviser.

The doctor who attended his execution advised Hussein to ask for forgiveness, but Rayis said he refused.

Later, his body was taken to al-Maliki's office in the Green Zone. After a brief viewing of his body by select witnesses, the room was closed until late yesterday, when the body was loaded on a helicopter and flown to Tikrit, Hussein's hometown, for an overnight burial, Rayis said.

Hussein's eldest daughter, who lives in exile in Jordan and is wanted in Iraq, had said she wanted to bury her father in Yemen, where she could visit his grave site, defense lawyer Bushra Khalil said, and the Yemeni president had agreed to accept the body.

But Hussein's Al Majid tribe asked to bury the body in Awja, the village where Hussein buried his sons Uday and Qusai Hussein after they died in a gunbattle with U.S. forces in 2003.

Iraqi leaders decided to turn the body over to Tikrit provincial and tribal leaders last night rather than allow it to leave the country, Rayis said, noting possible political problems.

An al-Maliki adviser had said the government wanted Hussein's grave site kept secret to prevent it from becoming an insurgent shrine, but Rayis said the administration is not worried about pilgrims flocking to Tikrit.

"His tribe asked for this, and we decided it was the humanitarian thing to do," she said.

Rayis said Hussein's body was released with the understanding that tribal leaders will be "as discreet as they can be," and not hold a large public funeral.

Iraqi security forces traveled with the body at the family's request, Rayis said, to ensure that it was not desecrated.

"He was treated with the utmost respect," Rayis said of the body, "which he never provided for anyone else."

Hussein's execution brought to an end not only his bloody reign but also his yearlong trial, during which several judges and lawyers died. Raed Juhi, an investigative judge and spokesman for the Iraqi High Tribunal that tried Hussein, said the deaths were the price Iraq paid for democracy.

"When the Americans built and constructed their democracy, there was a lot of bloodshed, starting from George Washington," Juhi said. "Building a nation, it is always possible that it will require sacrifices."

The sacrifice yesterday was supposed to be Saddam Hussein's, but on the streets, it looked more like the Iraqi people's.

A sectarian brand of justice prevailed.

It surfaced just hours after Hussein's execution, when a man named Mustafa Mohammed Ali whipped out a remote control in a crowded market in the southern city of Kufa, preparing to detonate a car bomb planted nearby.

At first, the crowd tried to stop him.

"When he was caught by the people, the remote control fell down from his hand; he pressed the button by his leg, and the explosion happened," said one of the witnesses, Majid Hamad, 22, a laborer.

About 34 people were killed, said Munther Ethari, provincial health manager.

Among the dismembered body parts and victims' belongings that littered the scene, the angry mob of survivors found Ali alive.

Their justice was swift, Hamad said.

"The people killed him with knives; they trampled on his body until the Iraqi police came and took his corpse," he said.

Even after police arrived, witnesses said, the officers did not stop the crowd from stabbing and beating Ali.

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