11/05/2006, 00.00
IRAQ
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Saddam Hussein to hang for crimes against humanity

For Iraq's current Prime Minister the sentence ends the dark period of the tyranny.  Others call it the outcome of US manipulation. Iraqi President Talabani refuses to sign the death sentence since he personally opposes the death penalty.

Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was found guilty by a special tribunal Sunday of crimes against humanity for the torture and execution of 148 Shiites from the small town of Dujail and sentenced to death by hanging. Starting tomorrow an appeal can be launched.

On hearing the sentence read out, the defendant shouted: "Long live Iraq! Long live the Iraqi people! Down with the traitors! [. . .] I curse you!"

Saddam's conviction is based on his order to execute 148 men and boys in Dujail, some 70 kilometres from Baghdad. Hussein's presidential convoy was passing through the town when it was shot at. In response, top Iraqi officials ordered the round-up of hundreds of people, and the town's buildings were razed and its orchards destroyed. Ten of the people executed were boys ranging in ages from 11 to 17 at the time of the incident. The government held them in jail until they were 18 then hanged them.

Awad Hamed al-Bander, the former head of Hussein's Revolutionary Guard, and Barzan Ibrahim, Hussein's younger half-brother and former security chief, were sentenced to death. Former Iraqi vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan was sentenced to life in prison.

Three other defendants, who were relatively low-ranking local members of Hussein's Baa'th Party, were sentenced to prison terms of 15 years. One defendant was acquitted for insufficient evidence.

Fearing that today's verdict could unleash a new outburst of sectarian bloodshed between Shiite Muslims and Sunni Arabs, Iraqi officials yesterday imposed a full curfew on the capital and four provinces, confining people to their homes.

Gunfire rang out over Baghdad' largely Shia Sadr City neighbourhood as jubilant residents expressed their happiness with the trial's outcome by racing to rooftops, front yards and windows to fire into the air. National television showed smiling Iraqis dancing in the streets of cities around the country.

In Hussein's home town of Tikrit, people reportedly also took to the street, many crying and screaming and firing guns into the air, but in anger. "With the soul and blood we sacrifice for you, Saddam!" some protesters screamed.

Elsewhere in Iraq reactions varied. Some believe that Saddam Hussein's execution will have a cathartic effect that will bring Iraqis together. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said: "The verdict placed on the heads of the former regime does not represent a verdict for any one person. It is a verdict on a whole dark era that was unmatched in Iraq's history". He added that Saddam's execution could not compare with "one drop of the blood" of the martyrs who died opposing his tyranny.

Others dismissed the tribunal as illegal and aimed at serving US political interests. "Pronouncing the verdict is illegal and this entire hearing is illegal," Lebanese lawyer Bushra Khalil said. "We know that this is a political court. It was set up for political reasons to serve American interests, and therefore we cannot expect it to issue a legal verdict".

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said the trial against Saddam Hussein was "fair" and independent, but refused to comment on the death sentence handed down because it might be seen as "an interference with the court".

If the execution order is upheld after the appeal period, Mr Talabani would be called on to sign it, but he will most likely delegate the task to another Iraqi official because he has come out against the death penalty.

Hussein is currently on trial in a second case, charged with genocide and crimes against humanity for the killings of as many as 100,000 Kurds, many with poison gas, in the co-called Anfal ("The Spoils") campaign in 1987 and 1988.

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