Shiites Cheer, Sunnis Protest Conviction
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Iraqi Shiites broke into wild celebration on Sunday after Saddam Hussein was sentenced to hang, but his fellow Sunnis paraded through the former dictator’s hometown chanting, ``We will avenge you Saddam.″
In Sadr City, the Shiite stronghold of northeast Baghdad, youths took to the streets dancing and singing, despite a curfew declared for the capital and two neighboring provinces.
``Execute Saddam,″ they chanted. Many carried posters bearing the image of Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical anti-American cleric whose Mahdi Army militia effectively runs the district.
Breathing heavily as he ran along the streets, 35-year-old Abu Sinan said, ``This is an unprecedented feeling of happiness ... nothing matches it, no festival nor marriage nor birth matches it. The verdict says Saddam must pay the price for murdering tens of thousands of Iraqis.″
Saddam and his seven co-defendants were on trial for a wave of revenge killings carried out in the city of Dujail following a 1982 assassination attempt on the former dictator. As the verdict was read on Sunday, people in Dujail celebrated in the streets and burned pictures of their former tormentor.
Saddam was sentenced to death by Iraq’s High Tribunal for crimes against humanity, along with his half brother and former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, head of the former Revolutionary Court. Three other defendants received lesser sentences and one was acquitted.
Similar celebrations were reported in other Shiite districts of the capital and other cities, although the size of crowds seemed to have been reduced due to the open-ended curfew declared Saturday. Iraqi security forces and U.S. troops mounted additional patrols.
Clashes broke out in north Baghdad’s heavily Sunni Azamiyah district where police were battling men with machine guns. At least seven mortar shells slammed to the ground around the Abu Hanifa mosque, the holiest Sunni shrine in the capital.
In Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown, 1,000 people defied the curfew and carried pictures of the city’s favorite son through the streets.
Some declared the court a product of the U.S. ``occupation forces″ and decried the verdict.
``By our souls, by our blood we sacrifice for you Saddam″ and ``Saddam your name shakes America.″
Celebratory gunfire also rang out in Kurdish neighborhoods across the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, where Khatab Ahmed sat on a mattress in his living room to watch trial coverage with his wife and six children.
``Thank God I lived to see the day when the criminals received their punishment,″ the 40-year-old taxi driver exclaimed on hearing of Saddam’s death sentence.
His brother and uncle were arrested by Saddam’s security forces in the 1980s and disappeared forever. Two cousins died in a 1991 Kurdish uprising.
The trial proceedings were shown on Iraqi and pan-Arab satellite television channels with a 20-minute delay. Ahead of the verdicts, several channels aired documentaries about Saddam’s crackdowns on Kurds and Shiites. They also aired videotape of mass graves being uncovered after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Al-Masai television, run by the prominent Shiite Dawa party, played solemn music as it scrolled through snapshots of Iraqis who went missing under Saddam’s 23-year rule.
Another Shiite channel, al-Furat, aired archive footage of Saddam from the 1980s proclaiming, ``Everyone stands against the revolution, whether they are 100 or 2,000 or 10,000, I will chop their heads off and this doesn’t shake a hair of me at all.″