WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – U.S. President George W. Bush said on Thursday that Saddam Hussein’s execution should have been carried out in a “more dignified way,” but the Iraqi leader had received justice, which his victims had not. “We expect there to be a full investigation of what took place,” Bush said at a White House news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in his first public comments on an illicit video that showed Shi’ite officials taunting Saddam on the gallows.
Controversy over last week’s execution has coincided with Bush’s final efforts to hammer out a revised strategy for the unpopular Iraq war, which has killed more than 3,000 American military personnel and tens of thousands of Iraqis.
Bush promised to unveil his new Iraq policy next week.
While expressing no regrets that Saddam had been put to death after an Iraqi court convicted him of crimes against humanity, Bush welcomed Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s pledge to investigate the way the execution was conducted.
The mobile phone video of observers yelling “Go to hell” and chanting the name of a radical Shi’ite cleric before Saddam falls through the trap-door has drawn international criticism and further inflamed sectarian passions in Iraq. “I wish, obviously, that the proceedings had been — gone in a more dignified way. But nevertheless, he was given justice,” Bush said. “The thousands of people he killed were not.”
White House officials said earlier that Bush had not seen the execution video but had been briefed. The U.S. military insisted it had no role in the hanging and would have handled it differently.
Merkel made no mention of Saddam’s execution after White House talks, in keeping with the softer approach she has taken compared to her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, an outspoken critic of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. But she and Bush discussed the situation in Iraq. “Although Germany is not militarily present in Iraq, we have every interest in seeing Iraq taking a turn for a more peaceful development, where people no longer need to be in fear for their lives,” she said. “Politically, we shall do everything we can in order to give support to such a positive development.”
Bush said he was still in consultations but would be ready next week to “outline a strategy that will help the Iraqis achieve the objective of a country that can govern, sustain and defend itself.”
Bush is considering a short-term increase in U.S. troops mostly to Baghdad, where sectarian violence and insurgent attacks have made a mockery of U.S.-led security efforts. He did not say whether he would announce plans to send more troops, but White House spokesman Tony Snow acknowledged that the president saw the need for “sufficient force” in Baghdad.
Democrats, who won control of Congress from Bush’s Republicans in November’s elections largely propelled by public disapproval of the war, took command of both houses on Thursday promising to challenge Bush’s war policies.