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Saddam Hussein's Execution

December 30, 2006

DW's Peter Philipp says that the execution of Saddam Hussein makes it impossible to continue with the process of dealing with and coming to terms with his reign of terror in Iraq.


It would be misplaced to feel sympathy for a man who himself didn't know the meaning of the word and who spent a part of his life brutally crushing those who stood in his way and who was responsible for the suffering and death of thousands of people.

The execution of Saddam Hussein in the early hours of the Muslim sacrificial festival Id el Adha must have come as a release for former victims of his nearly 30-year reign of terror who didn't find peace even after the ousting of Saddam. The hanging will also likely end any remaining illusions and hopes that Saddam's supporters may have had that history could be rewritten and that lost power could be restored.

It seems that the swift execution of Saddam's death sentence was meant primarily to serve these two groups. The new Iraqi leadership considers it appropriate to draw a line under the Saddam era as quickly as possible. So much so that the execution appeared over-hasty und didn't necessarily correspond with legal fundaments. Rather, the speedy hanging appeared to have been carried out to demonstrate the Iraqi government's own power which was called into question by the Americans themselves in recent weeks.

Maliki's government will have to live with this burden of doubt. Whether it damages the government will very much depend on how the country reacts to the execution.

Fernschreiber Autorenfoto, Peter Philipp

We certainly can't expect an immediate calm in the country and it remains to be seen whether that will happen in the long term. But there's enough reason to believe it won't happen. The differences between the various groups who bomb themselves through daily life in Iraq are too huge and Saddam had already become too marginal for his death to suddenly change things.

A missed historic chance

But the quick elimination of Saddam means Iraq has missed a historic chance to thoroughly deal with and come to grips with his reign of terror.

Despite all the problems, the legal process was the right way: Saddam Hussein was to be held guilty for the crimes of his regime. He was convicted for the murder of 148 Shiites, but what about the 100,000 dead and those persecuted in the Anfal campaign? What about the murdered Kurds of Halabja, the murdered Shiites of the Kuwait war? What about the hundreds of thousands of victims of the wars that Saddam started, particularly against Iran but also against Kuwait?

Without the main suspect, these questions will likely remain unanswered. Saddam's end is not necessarily a hopeful new beginning for Iraq.

Middle East expert Peter Philipp is Deutsche Welle's chief correspondent