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Court Sentences Saddam to Death by Hanging

Saddam Hussein yells at the court as he receives his death sentence.
David Furst
AFP/Getty Images
Saddam Hussein yells at the court as he receives his death sentence.

Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and two of his most senior former aides have been sentenced to death by hanging. Saddam was on trial for crimes against humanity in the massacre of 148 Shiites after a failed assassination attempt against him in 1982.

The news of the verdict set off protests and celebrations, showing just how deeply divided Iraqis have become since Saddam was ousted from power more than three years ago.

When Chief Judge Raouf Abdel Rahman read the words "hanged until dead," Saddam cried out, "Long live the people, long live the nation, down with the invaders, God is great, God is great."

The trial was broadcast on Iraqi state television on a 20-minute delay, but word quickly spread. When the announcement reached Iraqi homes and streets, the reaction was immediate. In some neighborhoods, celebratory gunfire broke out.

In Baghdad the Shiites defied a curfew and danced in the streets of Kadhmiya and Sadr City, home to millions of Shiites oppressed during Saddam's rule. It was a victory for Shiites everywhere, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who could not hide his satisfaction at the outcome of the trial.

"Here is the day where the dictator, after being captured in his miserable hole and trying him, faces the penalty he deserves," Maliki said.

Maliki said the death sentence fell not just on Saddam, but on his entire rule. He said it represented justice for everyone who suffered under Saddam.

"It might give some solace and wipe the tears of the widows and orphans who were prohibited from even having funerals, and were ordered to bury their loved ones in secret, and suppress their woes and emotions," Maliki said.

Maliki warned Iraqis still loyal to Saddam that his era was over. He said the sentence was a lesson to all criminals and terrorists they will be punished in court one day.

The verdict angered Sunni supporters in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit. They staged a protest and carried posters of Saddam, swearing to die for him. In Baghdad, clashes erupted in the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiya, where Sunni gunmen fought Iraqi army and U.S. forces. Sunni lawmaker Salih al-Mutlaq claimed that the verdict was politically motivated, and told Arab television it would only push Iraq's ethnic communities further apart.

"The responsibility of the lives of hundreds, no thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of Iraqis will be on the political ruling class of this country," Mutlaq said.

The court also handed down death sentences to Saddam's half brother Barzan al Tikriti, and Awad al Bandar, the former head of the revolutionary court. Former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan was sentenced to life imprisonment. Three other defendants received 15-year sentences, and the lowest-ranked official of the eight was acquitted.

There's an automatic appeal for the death sentences and life term. It's not certain how long that will take.

Most Iraqis, though, considered the decision final.

And if anyone had forgotten Saddam's crimes, state television showed footage of the mass graves and blindfolded people about to be executed.

In a broadcast from Sadr City, people danced in the street and chanted "Give him to us, we'll execute him."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jamie Tarabay
After reporting from Iraq for two years as NPR's Baghdad Bureau Chief, Jamie Tarabay is now embarking on a two year project reporting on America's Muslims. The coverage will take in the country's approx 6 million Muslims, of different ethnic, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, and the issues facing their daily lives as Americans.
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