LONDON (AP) – World political and religious leaders were divided over whether former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s execution Saturday was a milestone toward peace or further conflict in the Middle East.
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said Saddam had “now been held to account for at least some of the appalling crimes he committed against the Iraqi people,” while at the same time condemning the death penalty.
“We have made our position very clear to the Iraqi authorities, but we respect their decision as that of a sovereign nation,” Beckett said.
Prime Minister Tony Blair, a key ally of the U.S. in the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam’s regime, was not planning to comment on the execution, a Downing Street spokeswoman said, because Beckett’s statement represented the British government’s position.
The former Iraqi dictator was executed shortly before the start of the festival of Eid al-Adha, one of the two most important holidays in Islam.
The government of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi announced a three-day official mourning period and canceled all Eid celebrations. On Friday, Gadhafi made an indirect appeal for Saddam’s life, telling Al-Jazeera television that Saddam’s trial was illegal and that he should be retried by an international court.
Kuwaitis and Iranians welcomed the death of the leader who led wars against each of their countries.
“This is the best Eid gift for humanity,” said Saad bin Tafla al-Ajmi, former information minister of Kuwait, which was invaded by Iraq in 1990, setting off the Gulf War.
Iranian state TV hailed the hanging of Saddam who waged war with Iran from 1980-88. “With the execution of Saddam, the life dossier of one of the world’s most criminal dictators was closed,” state-run television reported Saturday.
President Bush said Saddam was executed “after receiving a fair trial — the kind of justice he denied the victims of his brutal regime.”
“Bringing Saddam Hussein to justice will not end the violence in Iraq, but it is an important milestone on Iraq’s course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain and defend itself, and be an ally in the war on terror,” Bush said in a statement.
Finnish Foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja, whose country currently holds the rotating European Union presidency, reiterated the bloc’s opposition to the death penalty.
“The European Union has a very consistent stand … on opposing the death penalty and it should not have been applied in this case either, even though there is no doubt about Saddam Hussein’s guilt over serious violations against human rights,” Tuomioja said in Helsinki.
He also said that the court case against Saddam “gave cause for some serious objections,” but did not elaborate.
The Vatican’s spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, called the execution “tragic and reason for sadness.”
Speaking on Vatican Radio, Lombardi said Saddam’s death “will not help efforts aimed at justice and reconciliation” and “risks increasing violence.” He also reiterated the Vatican’s opposition to the death penalty.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai appeared to criticize the timing of the execution, but said it was “the work of the Iraqi government” and would have “no effect” on Afghanistan.
“We wish to say that Eid is a day for happiness and reconciliation. It is not a day for revenge,” Karzai told reporters at the presidential palace after offering an Eid prayer at Kabul’s main mosque early Saturday.
In Australia, another U.S. ally in the Iraq war, Prime Minister John Howard said the execution was significant because Iraqis had given the brutal dictator a fair trial.
“I believe there is something quite heroic about a country that is going through the pain and the suffering that Iraq is going through, yet still extends due process to somebody who was a tyrant and brutal suppressor and murderer of his people,” Howard told reporters.
“That is the mark of a country that is trying against fearful odds to embrace democracy,” he said.
Indian officials worried the execution could trigger more sectarian violence.
“We had already expressed the hope that the execution would not be carried out. We are disappointed that it has been,” External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in a statement.
“We hope that this unfortunate event will not affect the process of reconciliation, restoration of peace and normalcy in Iraq,” he added.
Former Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh, who was forced from office in 2005 over his alleged involvement in the U.N. oil-for-food scandal in Iraq, said the execution would lead to increased tension in the Middle East.
In Pakistan, an Islamic ally in the U.S.-led war on terror, a leader of a coalition of six religious parties said Saddam had not received justice.
“We have no sympathy with Saddam Hussein, but we will also say that he did not get justice,” Liaquat Baluch, a leader of the Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, also known as the United Action Forum, said by phone.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issued a brief statement in response to the execution saying his country would continue to support Iraq in its reconstruction efforts.