On December 31st, my colleague and friend Nir Rosen posted on Iraq Slogger what I think are the first English language translations of the banter around Saddam Hussein’s hanging.
The manner of Saddam’s death — the secret recording by cell phone, the sectarian insults, the struggles at the end, and Saddam’s own poise as a head-of-state thug with poise caught in and part of America’s missteps in the Middle East — will become the subject of many episodes of theatre, written and performed, in the future.
Although I know that this subject has already broken into the mainstream, I wanted to highlight Nir’s first account:
The Americans often equated Saddam with the Sunni resistance to the occupation. By killing Saddam they were killing what they believed was the symbol of the Sunni resistance, expecting them to realize their cause was hopeless. Sunnis could perceive the execution, and its timing, as a message to them: “We are killing you.” But Saddam’s death might now liberate the Sunni resistance from association with Saddam and the Baathists. They can now more plausibly claim that they are fighting for national liberation and not out of support for the former regime as their American and Iraqi government opponents have so often claimed. A lack of a hood (victims normally do not have a choice to wear a hood) a scarf to prevent rope burn for the soon to be distributed photo, a hallmark of US “We Got Him” psyops tactics. Even the US plane that flew him to his final resting spot seems to indicate US management.
The unofficial video of the execution, filmed on the mobile cell phone of one of the officials present is sure to further inflame sectarianism, because it is clearly a Shia execution. Men are heard talking, one of them is called Ali. As the executioners argue over how to best position the rope on his neck Saddam calls out to god, saying, “ya Allah.” Referring to Shias, one official says “those who pray for Muhamad and the family of Muhamad have won!” Others triumphantly respond in the Shia chant: “Our God prays for Muhamad and the family of Muhamad.” Others then add the part chanted by supporters of Muqtada al Sadr: “And speed his (the Mahdi’s) return! And damn his enemies! And make his son victorious! Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada!”
Saddam then smiles and says something mocking about Muqtada. “Muqtada! It is this…” but the rest is blocked by the voices of officials saying “ila jahanam,” or “go to Hell.” Saddam looks down and says “Is this your manhood…?” As the rope is put around Saddam’s neck somebody shouts “long live Muhamad Baqir al Sadr!” referring to an important Shia cleric who founded the Dawa Party and was also Muqtada’s relative. Baqir al Sadr was executed by Saddam in 1980. He is venerated by all three major Shia movements in Iraq, the Dawa, the Sadrists and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Others insult Saddam. One man asks them to stop: “I beg you, I beg you, the man is being executed!” Saddam then says the Shahada, or testimony, that there is no god but Allah and Muhamad is his prophet. When he tries to say it again the trap door opens and he falls through to be hung. One man then shouts that “the tyranny has ended!” and others call out triumphal Shia chants. Somebody wants to remove the rope from his neck but is told to wait eight minutes.
The Sunni Islamo-nationalist website Islam Memo claimed that the Safavids (Persians, meaning Shias) burned Saddam’s Quran after they killed him. They also said that Saddam exchanged insults with the witnesses to his execution and cursed one of them, saying “God damn you, Persian midget.” The same website also claimed that Ayatolla Ali Sistani blessed Saddam’s execution and that the Iraqi government refused to provide Saddam with a Sunni cleric to pray for him before the execution. Finally, they asserted that Saddam said “Palestine is Arab” and then recited the Muslim Shahada, testifying that there is no god but Allah and Muhamad is his prophet, and then he was executed. The website claimed that following his death Saddam’s body was abused.
Although the Shia dominated Iraqi media claimed Saddam was terrified prior to his execution and fought with his hangmen, Saddam’s on screen visage was one of aplomb, for he was conscious of the image he was displaying and wanted to go down as the grand historic leader he believed himself to be.
— Steve Clemons
P.S. — I am at a rural retreat site in the Pacific — and my hard disk just crashed — yes, on my cherished Apple G4 Powerbook. I will be back as much as I can but essentially on the road through January 10th and computer-challenged until I get to see one of those Apple geniuses.
— Steve Clemons