Iraqis demand Saddam's execution as trial resumes
HUNDREDS of Iraqis gathered in central Baghdad yesterday calling for the execution of Saddam Hussein, two days before his trial for crimes against humanity is due to resume.
The demonstration was organised by followers of Moqtada al-Sadr, a young Shi'ite cleric whose father and two brothers are believed to have been killed on Saddam's orders in 1999.
Sadr, who has a popular following among poor, urban Shi'ite Muslims, is rallying support ahead of elections on December 15.
The angry crowd held banners calling for Saddam to be executed. "Two of my cousins were killed by Saddam in 1982," said Majid Hashim, 45, one of the protesters. His relatives were killed for being members of the Shi'ite Dawa Party.
Salem Abdul-Kahar, a lawyer taking part in the protest, said Saddam's trial had been delayed for too long already, adding that the quicker Iraqi legal authorities got on with it, the sooner the former leader could be convicted and put to death.
Saddam and seven co-defendants are charged with murder, torture and forced imprisonment in connection with the deaths of 148 Shi'ite men from the town of Dujail, near Baghdad, following a failed attempt on the former president's life in 1982.
The trial began on October 19 but was immediately postponed for 40 days to give the defence more time to prepare.
Proceedings are due to resume tomorrow but could be put off again amid fears of rising sectarian tension ahead of the elections.
In the first signs of trouble to come, four people have been shot since Friday while trying to put up campaign posters for the elections. Two of the incidents took place in Mosul, 225 miles north-west of Baghdad, while two more were reported in the capital.
In north-western Baghdad on Friday, more than 200 members of the Batta tribe gathered at a mosque carrying banners and chanting slogans to demand the resignation of the defence minister in the slaying of Khadim Sarhid al-Hemaiyem.
One of the sheik's brothers said gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms and vehicles broke into the family home, killing al-Hemaiyem, three of his sons and his son-in-law. A spokesman for the interior ministry denied that government forces were involved.
Another one of al-Hemaiyem's sons was killed by men in uniform last month, family members said.
"We want the Arab League and the Sunni scholars to investigate," said Abdullah Jawad Khadim al-Battawi, a relative.
Saddam could face the death sentence for crimes against humanity. But one of the men who carried out his summary executions still believes in Saddam's form of justice imposed in a country where he was a cult figure. Recalling his time as a hangman at Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad in the 1980s, Abu Hussein said a new batch of political prisoners was brought in without charge every week.
Deserters from Iraq's war with Iran faced the firing squad. Prisoners who had insulted Saddam were hanged because it was crueller, said Abu Hussein, who declined to give his full name.
"A firing squad is more compassionate because people usually died immediately. But hanging is cruel because it can take time to die. If they didn't die, we started over again," he said.
Prisoners in red uniforms and with black hoods over their heads were asked if they had a last request as the noose was tightened.
"They would usually say 'there is no God but God'," said Abu Hussein.
Death always came after weeks of torture.
"Sometimes we would hang them upside down and beat their feet with clubs. Or we would electrocute them," he said. "One of the worst things was putting 10 people in a one-square-metre room for weeks. They had a brief break every day and were allowed the toilet every three days," he said.
Three executions were carried out each Monday and Thursday. One day Saddam's feared son Uday showed up and asked about eight political prisoners standing nearby. He ordered their immediate execution, said Abu Hussein.
A father of three, he said watching men writhe in agony as they died sometimes made him cry. But nobody could afford to defy orders. "We would have been killed on the spot. One time this executioner was one hour late in hanging someone and he was himself hanged. What could we do? All of this had a toll on us," he said.
He sometimes broke the rules and allowed prisoners to inform their families of their whereabouts in the prison, which held thousands, before their execution.
But the mention of Saddam turns him into a hard man prepared to torture and kill.
"I know they will set Saddam free. He is a strong man with a brain like a computer," he said.
Many of his fellow executioners fled Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion, fearful that prisoners or their families would seek revenge for their suffering at Abu Ghraib, now a US-run facility also marred by prisoner abuse.
Abu Hussein, a Sunni, works at Iraq's interior ministry dominated by Shi'ites, long oppressed under Saddam.
He says nobody knows his past but he isn't taking any chances. Wearing a bullet-proof vest and armed with two guns, he longs for the old Iraq.
"Only Saddam can save us. It felt terrible but I am willing to hang and torture again. Saddam taught us about force. He is a strong personality," he said.
Two car bombs killed 10 civilians yesterday in a blast at a petrol station in central Iraq and another one targeting a two-car convoy carrying foreigners through central Baghdad.
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