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Arab Response Mixed After Saddam's Execution

The execution of Saddam Hussein is drawing a mixed reaction in the Arab world, where many people believe the former Iraqi leader committed many crimes, but question the fairness of his trial. The timing of his execution has also drawn criticism, coming on the first day of one of the most important Muslim holidays. VOA Correspondent Challiss McDonough has more from our Middle East bureau in Cairo.

Arab reaction to Saddam's execution has been mixed and muted, as many people awoke to the news on a holiday morning they planned to spend at home with their families. Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Saddam was not particularly well-loved in the Arab world. But analysts say his appeal has risen during his two years of imprisonment, as people around the region watched his trials on television. Some now view him as the victim - even those who believe he is guilty of crimes against humanity.

Architect Maged Ibrahim said it would have been impossible to hold a fair trial in a country occupied by foreign troops.

He says, "Saddam has done a lot of bad things and should be held accountable for them. Maybe there are lots of things that are not really known and would be learned later." He adds, "It is possible that he could deserve execution, but not at the hands of Americans or the current [Iraqi] government, which is an agent of the Americans."

That is an opinion shared by many Arab political analysts.

"Politically speaking, I thought Saddam Hussein has committed a lot of crimes and I am not against executing him," said Professor Hassan Nafaa, who heads the political science department at Cairo University. "But he should be tried fairly, and I think the trial was not fair at all. There are a lot of doubts about the legality of the trial."

Nafaa and other analysts had urged that Saddam be tried by an international tribunal, on charges including those stemming from the Iran-Iraq war and the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

"I think an international tribunal would have been more fair. But I said from the beginning that the United States would have been against an international trial," he said. "Saddam Hussein at some time was cooperating with the United States. The United States gave him all the chemical weapons that he used against the Kurdish people."

Nafaa said the killings in Dujail that Saddam was executed for were not the greatest of the former Iraqi leader's crimes. He and other analysts say it is unfortunate that Saddam's death came without the truth of those crimes being heard in court.

Many in the region were surprised or taken aback at the timing of the execution, which for Sunni Muslims fell on the first morning of one of Islam's most sacred holidays, Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice. The holiday is observed by Shi'ite Muslims two days later.

On the first day of Eid al-Adha, Muslims ceremonially sacrifice an animal to commemorate the willingness of the Prophet Ibrahim - also known as Abraham - to sacrifice his son as God demanded.

Taxi driver Said Abdel-Azim said he watched both of Saddam's trials and cried when he woke up to the news of his execution.

He says, "This timing is a humiliation to all Muslims around the world. To slaughter him like a sheep or a cow that we slaughter [on this day], this is a humiliation to Muslims and to leaders too."

Some analysts and political commentators say executing Saddam on Eid al-Adha will lend symbolic weight to those who see Saddam as a martyr or sacrificial lamb. Saddam's own final message, published on the Internet, spoke of his impending death in those terms.

Hassan Nafaa of Cairo University thinks the timing of the execution will lead to more unrest.

"I was caught by surprise," he said. "I thought he would not be executed in a holiday, a religious holiday. And I think this will not help reconciliation in Iraq.... I hope this will not trigger more violence in Iraq because calm is needed, peace is needed in Iraq. I hope the Iraqi people will find a way for reconciliation, but I am not quite sure that will help, at all, the reconciliation. So I expect a lot of more violence in Iraq."

Although there has been little official reaction to Saddam's hanging in the Middle East, the government of Iran praised the execution and called the former Iraqi leader an architect of horrid crimes against humanity. Still, many Iranians continue to believe that Saddam should have stood trial in connection to the Iran-Iraq war.

Libya has announced a three-day mourning period for Saddam.