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Saddam Execution

DW staff / AFP (sp)December 31, 2006

As European nations criticized the execution of Saddam Hussein out of opposition to the death penalty, Sunday newspapers across the continent were pessimistic as to whether the hanging would solve any of Iraq's problems.

Saddam Hussein's execution was the focus of newspapers across the worldImage: AP

Newspapers in Europe, which on Sunday caught up with broadcasters and the Internet in focusing on former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's execution for crimes against humanity, were largely in agreement that the hanging would do little to change things on the ground in Iraq.

The Sunday Telegraph in London said it would be "naive to think that his (Saddam Hussein's) execution will end the growing sectarian violence that has gripped Iraq since the US-led invasion toppled Saddam in March 2003."

But it conceded that the hanging "might sow a necessary seed of separation between" loyalists of the secular Baath party that had ruled Iraq for three decades and the Islamist extremists.

Saddam am Strick
Iraqi state television broadcast graphic images of the executionImage: AP

"The execution has definitively robbed the former group of a symbolic figurehead and any hope of a recognizable Baathist revival," the right-leaning newspaper said in an editorial. The dictator's death "may yet open up a tiny chink of hope," it concluded.

The left-leaning Independent on Sunday said Saddam's execution defied moves worldwide in recent decades to scrap the death penalty and "can too easily be portrayed throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds as victor's justice."

"This is not the beginning of a new Iraq"

The Italian press also agreed that the execution had "divided the world" and would not "end the nightmare of the Iraqis."

The business daily Il Sole 24 ore said "this is not the beginning of a new Iraq," while Il Messagero concluded that dialogue was urgently needed in Iraq but "the necessary conditions to do not exist, and that death of Saddam will not help this."

Only the Turin-based daily La Stampa saw Saddam's death as "possibly a turning point for a country finally united by the disappearance of the person chiefly responsible for its ruin."

Irak Jubel nach Hinrichtung Saddam Hussein in Basra
Many Iraqis were jubilant at news of the execution, but violence continued unabatedImage: AP

Spain's respected daily El Pais said that in executing Saddam the Iraqi government "lamentably succumbed to an easy temptation."

The government "may or may not gain greater public backing but the Arab country is no better off today, nor is its future more promising with the elimination of the man from Tikrit," Sadam's hometown.

"With the precipitate and quasi-clandestine hanging of the tyrant, Baghdad has not just lost an opportunity to show magnanimity that Iraq desperately needs if it is to have the least chink of home. It has also lost the chance to carry on judging Saddam for his crimes against humanity and expose to Iraqis the truth behind his appalling reign in all its gore."

"Now what?"

The German weekly Bild am Sonntag was similarly pessimistic, saying this was not a time for "joy or relief ...because Saddam's death does not solve any of the problems that the military campaign against him created."

The French Sunday paper Le Journal du Dimanche asked on its front page "And now what?"

"The condemnation of Saddam Hussein does not change anything on the ground," it added.

On Saturday, most European nations, though condemning the former dictator's crimes and his reign of terror, stridently criticized his execution, calling capital punishment cruel and barbaric.

Grab Saddam
Iraqis grieve beside the grave of the former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in Ouja, 130 kilometers north of BaghdadImage: AP

European Union reaction focused on opposition to the use of capital punishment as a matter of principle. Article two of the EU's charter of basic human rights says no one "must be condemned to death or executed."

France, a staunch opponent of the Iraq invasion, reiterated its opposition to capital punishment and "calls like all its European partners for the universal abolition of the death penalty," the foreign ministry said.

Germany also reaffirmed its opposition to capital punishment while acknowledging that "thousands of innocents were killed and tortured" under the Saddam regime.

"The German government, like the rest of the European Union, rejects capital punishment as a matter of principle in all circumstances," a foreign ministry statement said.

Britain, the main US ally in Iraq, said Saddam had been "held to account" but reiterated its opposition to the death penalty.

A "missed opportunity" for Iraq

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said he was concerned over tensions fanned in Iraq by the execution.

"From the first hours (following Saddam's hanging) we've seen that the consequences have been an increase in tensions and violence, as you could have predicted," Prodi was quoted by ANSA news agency as saying. "I hope it won't continue," he added.

Prodi on Friday issued a final plea against Saddam's execution, saying "no fault can determine one man to be the bearer of death to another."

A statement by Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of

Europe, Europe's top human rights body, described the trial as a "missed opportunity in a country which does not have many opportunities.

"It was an opportunity for Iraq to join the civilized world. The former Iraqi dictator was a ruthless criminal who deserved to be punished, but it was wrong to kill him," Davis said.

What Iraqis need is "justice, reconciliation and peace, not hangings and revenge."