[JURIST] News of the guilty verdict and death sentence [JURIST report] handed down for Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive] Sunday has elicited mixed reactions in Iraq and abroad. About 1000 protestors marched [VOI report] in Saddam's home town of Tikrit, and gunmen clashed with police in parts of Baghdad. In the Shiite-dominated south, however, Iraqis celebrated [VOI report] by coming out on the streets, firing guns into the air, and distributing sweets to passers-by. In a televised address to the nation [transcript, in Arabic], Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki declared:
This sentence is not a sentence on one man, but a sentence against all the dark period of his rule…The execution of Saddam and his aides does not compare with one drop of the blood shed by Sayyid Sadr, Hakim or any of the martyrs…The execution could partially appease the victims and stop tears of the widows and the orphans who were banned from holding wakes and ordered to bury their loved ones secretly. The Iraqi martyrs have now the right to smile. [AFP English translation]
Internationally, the verdict was praised by American and British leaders. White House spokesman Tony Snow said
[BBC report] it was "absolute proof that you've got an independent judiciary in Iraq". US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad declared
Today is an important milestone for Iraq as the country takes another major step forward in the building of a free society based on the rule of law. The verdicts issued by the Iraqi High Tribunal against Saddam Hussein and the other seven defendants demonstrate the commitment of the Iraqi people to hold them accountable.
The judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys in this case all showed courage in the face of intimidation. Their determination to pursue justice is a signal that the rule of law will prevail in Iraq despite the difficult situation that the country now faces.
UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said
I welcome that Saddam Hussein and the other defendants have faced justice and have been held to account for their crimes. Appalling crimes were committed by Saddam Hussein's regime. It is right that those accused of such crimes against the Iraqi people should face Iraqi justice. Today's verdicts and sentences by the Iraqi Higher Tribunal come at the end of a trial during which evidence has been offered and challenged in the full glare of media scrutiny.
Neighboring Iranians and Kuwaitis whose countries were attacked by Saddam while he was in power were relieved at the news. AP has more
Not all reactions, however, were positive. An Amnesty International [official website] spokesman denounced the verdict and the case as a whole as an opportunity lost:
[t]his trial should have been a major contribution towards establishing justice and the rule of law in Iraq, and in ensuring truth and accountability for the massive human rights violations perpetrated by Saddam Hussein’s rule. In practice, it has been a shabby affair, marred by serious flaws that call into question the capacity of the tribunal . . . to administer justice fairly, in conformity with international standards.
France, a steadfast opponent of the Iraq war, expressed fears that the verdict would spur even more violence across war-weary Iraq. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero noted [BBC report] that death penalties are "not provided for in any legal system in the EU or, of course, in our country". UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour meanwhile called for a Iraqi government to declare a moratorium on executions [press release], and respect the accused's right of appeal.
4:15 PM ET – In a statement [transcript] Sunday afternoon, US President Bush hailed the verdict and process that led to it:
Saddam Hussein's trial is a milestone in the Iraqi people's efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law — it's a major achievement for Iraq's young democracy and its constitutional government.
During Saddam Hussein's trial, the court received evidence from 130 witnesses. The man who once struck fear in the hearts of Iraqis had to listen to free Iraqis recount the acts of torture and murder that he ordered against their families and against them. Today, the victims of this regime have received a measure of the justice which many thought would never come.
Saddam Hussein will have an automatic right to appeal his sentence; he will continue to receive the due process and the legal rights that he denied the Iraqi people. Iraq has a lot of work ahead as it builds its society that delivers equal justice and protects all its citizens. Yet history will record today's judgment as an important achievement on the path to a free and just and unified society.
Meanwhile, however, leading Iraqi Sunni politician Saleh al-Motlak of the National Dialogue Front told
[VOI report] the independent VOI news agency that the trial of Hussein had been a "farce" that "deformed the face of Iraq in front of the world," adding in a veiled reference to Shiite "death squads":
This government should also be put to trial. If Saddam was being tried for executing 148 people who confessed to conspiring against Iraq, then the current government executes 200 Iraqis a day who are all innocent… The court is hammering a nail in the coffin of national reconciliation, stability, security in Iraq and the government itself. I think the government will fall shortly….No more reconciliation.