BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Two of Saddam Hussein’s aides were hanged before dawn on Monday, the Iraqi government said.
But despite its efforts to avoid the uproar that marred the execution of the former president two weeks ago, news that the noose ripped the head from Saddam’s cancer-stricken half-brother as he plunged from the gallows appalled international critics of the process and fueled fury among Saddam’s fellow Sunni Arabs.
On the defensive after Shi’ite sectarian taunts were heard in illicit film of Saddam’s execution, a spokesman for the Shi’ite-led government insisted there was “no violation of procedure” during the executions of his half-brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti and former judge Awad Hamed al-Bander.
But defense lawyers and politicians from the once dominant Sunni Arab minority expressed anger at the fate of Barzan, Saddam’s once feared intelligence chief, and there was also skepticism and condemnation of Iraq’s Shi’ite-dominated leadership across the mostly Sunni-ruled Arab world.
Government officials showed journalists film of the two men standing side by side in orange jumpsuits on the scaffold, looking fearful before they were hooded and the nooses placed around their necks. There was no disturbance in the execution chamber — apparently the same one where Saddam died on December 30.
Bander muttered the prayer: “There is no god but God.”
Barzan, 55, a vocal presence during the year-long trial for crimes against humanity, appeared to tremble quietly. As the bodies plunged through the traps, Barzan’s hooded head flew off and came to rest beside his body in a pool of blood below the empty noose under the gallows. Bander swung dead on his rope.
Officials said they would not release the film publicly.
Government adviser Bassam al-Husseini said the damage to the body was “an act of God.” During his trial for crimes against humanity over the killings of 148 Shi’ites from Dujail, a witness said Barzan’s agents put people in a meat grinder.
Hangmen gauge the length of rope needed to snap the neck of the condemned but not to create enough force to sever the head.
Saleem al-Jibouri, a senior Sunni Arab lawmaker, said Barzan may have been weakened by the cancer he was suffering.
Barzan’s son-in-law hurled a sectarian insult at the government on pan-Arab Al Jazeera television: “As for ripping off his head, this is the grudge of the Safavids,” he said — a historical term referring to Shi’ite ties to non-Arab Iran.
“They have only came to Iraq for revenge,” Azzam Salih Abdullah said from Yemen. “May God curse this democracy.”
The hangings took place at 3 a.m. (0000 GMT) at the same former secret police base where Saddam was hanged on December 30, an adviser to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said. Officials tried to impose a media blackout for some hours but word leaked out.
The U.S. ambassador to Iraq said the executions were an entirely Iraqi affair with little U.S. involvement. Asked about the hangings, Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters: “It was an Iraqi process. It was an Iraqi decision, an Iraqi execution.”
After Saddam was hanged, the United Nations urged Iraq to reconsider death sentences and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, an opponent of capital punishment, said last week he thought there should be a delay in executing the other two condemned men. Talabani left the country on Sunday to visit Syria.
The video showing Saddam being taunted, angered Sunni Arabs, embarrassed the government and the U.S. administration and raised sectarian tensions in a nation on the brink of civil war.
Shi’ites again celebrated in the streets of Baghdad’s Sadr City slum, a bastion of the cleric and militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr. His name was heard being chanted at Saddam on the gallows. An unnamed guard faces legal proceedings following a government inquiry into the circumstances of Saddam’s execution.
After Barzan’s hanging, Moussa Jabor in Sadr City said: “This is the least he should get. He should have been handed over to the people. Execution is a blessing for him.”
Barzan was a feared figure in Iraq at the head of the intelligence service in the 1980s, at a time when the Shi’ite majority was harshly oppressed, some like those from Dujail due to suspected links to Shi’ite Iran, then at war with Iraq.
Bander presided over the Revolutionary Court which sentenced 148 Shi’ite men and youths to death after an assassination attempt on Saddam in the town in 1982. With Saddam, they were convicted on November 5 and their appeals rejected on December 26.
Both are to be buried in the village of Awja, near the northern city of Tikrit, where Saddam was born and where he was buried two weeks ago, the provincial governor told Reuters.
Muslim tradition dictates he be interred within a day.
They would lie close to Saddam’s sons Uday and Qusay, who were killed by U.S. troops in 2003, not in the building that has become Saddam’s mausoleum, visited by thousands of mourners.