Report: U.S. Tried To Delay Saddam Hanging

Iraqis grieve beside the grave of the former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in Ouja, 80 miles north of Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2006. Saddam was buried shortly before dawn Sunday inside a compound for religious ceremonies in the center of Ouja, the town of his birth.
AP Photo/Bassim Daham
In the hours before Saddam Hussein was led to the gallows by men in ski masks, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq reportedly tried, but failed, to delay the execution, reports CBS News correspondent Randall Pinkston.

A Reuters report, quoting Iraqi officials familiar with the discussions, says ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad insisted that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki provide certain documents, including a signature from Iraq's president.

Iraq's national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie confirmed to CBS News that the U.S. "brought to the attention of the government of Iraq to be careful with ... documentation" and that Iraq provided the required paperwork including "a consent document from President Jalal Talabani."

The U.S. had leverage. From the moment of his capture, to his trial and sentencing, Saddam was in U.S. military custody, reports Pinkston. After the flurry of negotiations, Saddam wasn't handed over until a few hours before his execution.

After Hussein's burial Monday, rage over the hanging spilled into the streets in many parts of the Sunni Muslim hartland Monday, especially in Samarra where a mob of angry protesters broke the locks off the badly damaged Shiite Golden Dome mosque and marched through carrying a mock coffin and photo of the executed former leader.

Sunni extremists had blown apart the glistening dome on the Shiite holy place 10 months earlier, setting in motion the sectarian slaughter that now grips the troubled land.

The Samarra protest was particularly significant because it signaled a widening expression of defiance among Sunnis, the minority Muslim sect in Iraq that had enjoyed special status and power under Saddam and had oppressed the now-ascendant Shiite majority for centuries.

But what exactly is the difference between Sunnis and Shia? Nihad Awad, Executive Director of CAIR, says, "The difference between the two is not necessarily a religious one. It is administrative, it is a political one. And in fact, it is less of a difference than between Catholics and Protestants."

Until Saddam was executed, excluding a few days of protests after his death sentence was handed down Nov. 5, the broader Sunni population had sought a low profile in the sectarian conflict that had seen thousands of them killed or driven from their homes by Shiite militia forces since the Samarra bombing Feb. 22.

"Saddam Hussein's execution is not likely to bring the hoped-for reconciliation although it brought closure to some of his victims," said CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst Pamela Falk, "and the continued sectarian violence will be key to the Administration's reevaluation of Iraq policy, expected later this week."

Sunni insurgents and foreign fighters of al-Qaida in Iraq had been conducting a bloody insurgency with attacks on U.S. forces and brutal bombings against Shiite civilians since the summer of 2003, shortly after Saddam was ousted in the American-led invasion.

While many Sunnis were known to be sympathetic to the insurgency, its active membership had not reached broadly into the Sunni population. The angry Sunni protests that now are building in the country could presage deeper involvement by what until now had been a largely quiescent group.

The Sunnis were not only angered by Saddam's hurried execution, just four days after an appeals court upheld his conviction and sentence, but were increasingly incensed by the unruly and undignified manner in which the hanging was carried out.

A clandestine video of the hanging showed Saddam was taunted by some present at the execution with chants of "Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada" in the last moments of his life. The chants were a reference to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who runs one of the deadliest religious militias in Iraq and is a major power behind the government of al-Maliki, who had pushed for Saddam to be hanged before the year was out.

Saddam was put to death on the eve of the Shiite celebration of the Eid al-Ahda, the major Muslim festival marking the end of the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and a remembrance Abraham's willingness to sacrifice of his son, now symbolized by the slaughtering of sheep.

The first judge in the so-called Dujail trial, Rizgar Mohammed Amin, said Saddam's execution in the during the eid was illegal according to Iraqi law. Sunni Muslim festivities marking the holiday began on the same day that Saddam was hanged. Rizgar, a Kurd, was removed as chief judge in the case after Shiite complaints that he was too lenient. He was replaced in January 2006 by Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman.

"The implementation of Saddam's execution during Eid al-adha is illegal according to chapter 9 of the tribunal law. Article 27 states that nobody, even the president (Jalal Talabani), may change rulings by the tribunal and the implementation of the sentence should not happen until 30 days after publication that the appeals court has upheld the tribunal verdict.

The hanging during the Eid al-Adha period (also) contradicts Iraqi and Islamic custom. "Article 290 of the criminal code of 1971 (which was largely used in the Saddam trial) states that no verdict should implemented during the official holidays or religious festivals," he said.

In northern Baghdad, hundreds of Sunnis conducted a demonstration to mourn Saddam in a predominantly Sunni neighborhood.

"The Baath party and Baathists still exist in Iraq, and nobody can marginalize it," said Samir al-Obaidi, 48, who attended a Saddam memorial in the Azamiyah neighborhood.