Mon, Jan 01, 2007 - Page 9 News List

Saddam's fate divides opinion within Baghdad

As Iraqi residents digested news of the execution, for many it seemed far less significant than the violence that has become part of everyday life

By Ghaith Abdul Ahad  /  THE GUARDIAN , BAGHDAD

Haji Ali, a burly Iraqi Shiite businessman, pushed his thick white moustache against the window of the plane as it spiralled towards Baghdad airport and peered down at former president Saddam Hussein's palace sitting like a Disney toy in the middle of a green lake.

"For who did you build all these places?" he said, as though addressing the former leader.

"Now the Americans have taken your places and tomorrow you will be killed. What did all these palaces benefit you?" he said.

Shawkat, a thin, bearded taxi driver, was more reflective of the mood in the city as residents digested the news that the execution of the man who ruled them for two decades was imminent.

"So what if they kill him? Will his execution stop the civil war in the streets? People are getting killed by dozens, looters are manning checkpoints, you leave your house and you're not safe. They can kill him 10 times but it won't bring safety to the streets because there is no state of law," he said.

The sound of heavy machine gun fire echoed through the street as he spoke, and outside his vehicle two US soldiers ran for cover behind their armored vehicles as others fired. For many Iraqis the execution of Saddam seems far less significant than the terrifying violence that has become part of everyday life.

Among those who were talking about the hanging on Friday, opinion was sharply and predictably divided along sectarian lines. In Karrada, a prosperous Shiite neighborhood, the streets were busy with shoppers and people preparing for the Muslim festival Id al-Adha. Vendors laid their merchandise on the pavements and families strolled the streets looking at clothes and toys.

Haif'a, a school teacher in her thirties standing with her daughter, offered a typically Shiite point of view.

"It makes me happy to see him executed, he should have been killed three years ago, his people are still fighting because they believe he will come back," she said.

A few streets away in a small tea room, Abu Karar served sweet black tea in front of a wall covered with posters of Shiite clerics and martyrs.

"It's a day of justice for the Iraqis," he said, pouring some tea before continuing.

"It's a day of justice for the Shiites who for decades were killed and tortured by Saddam the dog. He should be burned alive. He killed four of my cousins and I want to see him die a hundred times in front of my eyes," he said.

Another man dressed in a dark grey dishdasha and an old military jacket, who sat drinking tea, said: "Let them execute him and relieve us, maybe then we can have peace."

Outside the tea room, a convoy of six SUVs with no plates packed with masked men toting guns, drove though the streets, sirens blaring as they shouted at people to give way -- a familiar scene in a city sliding into a full-blown civil war.

"This is what we have these days," said the man with the grey dishdasha, gesturing towards the convoy.

"When Saddam was here you knew who his people were and you avoided them, now you never know who is who," the man said.

For Ahmad al-Ubaidy, a young man who spends his days guarding his Sunni neighborhood as part of a vigilante group, Saddam's execution was just part of a sectarian campaign against the Sunnis.

"When Saddam was the leader he didn't help the Sunnis, he only benefited his clan and people, he made all Iraqis starve," he said.

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