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Why the botched execution matters

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By now it's clear to everyone not living in a cave that the Saddam execution was a botched, amateurish debacle. I wrote last week that I'm neither opposed to the death penalty nor its application to Saddam, but the way it was carried out was highly representative of the ham-handed and dangerous failures of both the Bush administration and the nascent Iraqi government. The fact that something so important was screwed up so badly, and on such a massive scale, is chilling.

I initially suspected that the execution would have little effect on the overall situation in Iraq, certainly not improving things but also not doing much to inflame people who hardly need, at this point, more motivation to hate each other. But I committed a blunder that is, for me, exceptionally rare: I assumed that somehow this, a historic and potentially inflammatory event, would be handled with even a minimal amount of decorum and professionalism by the Bush administration and the Iraqi government. Instead, the Bush administration turned over Saddam to the Iraqi government prematurely . . . to a band of thugs-as-executioners . . . who wore not uniforms but leather jackets and ski masks . . . who shouted Shia chants, including invocations of Moqtada al-Sadr . . . all of which was illicitly videotaped and then emailed around Iraq and throughout the world . . . on, no less, one of the holiest days of the Sunni religious calendar.

Virtually everything that could have been screwed up, was. And now, against virtually all odds, Saddam managed to look good by dying and the Iraqi and U.S. governments are scrambling to do damage control in the face of massive Sunni demonstrations, international condemnation, and the general disgust of pretty much everyone who knows anything about Iraq.

Not surprisingly, Nir Rosen has the best wrapup and explanation that I've seen, including this description of the final moments, which are tremendously inflammatory:

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 [note from AJ: Ali is generally a Shia name]. 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!"
I'm not overly concerned with Saddam's dignity -- though it does disgust me when a legitimate punishment turns into vengeance -- but by any measure, this is the opposite of the closure that the execution was supposed to bring. Now there's an "investigation" in progress by the Iraqi government, the U.S. is claiming to have tried to delay the handover, and none of it will do nothing to mitigate the entire disgraceful episode.

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