Video of Saddam’s execution can make martyr of ousted Iraqi dictator

Iraq's prime minister ordered an investigation Tuesday into Saddam Hussein's execution to try to uncover who taunted the former dictator in the last minutes of his life, and who leaked inflammatory footage taken by camera phone of the hanging.

The unofficial video, on which at least one person is heard shouting "To hell!" at the deposed president and Saddam is heard exchanging insults with his executioners, dealt a blow to Iraq's efforts to prove it was a neutral enforcer of the law. Instead, the emotional, politicized spectacle raised tensions between the Shiite majority and Sunni Arabs who ran the country until their benefactor, Saddam, was ousted in the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.

A prosecutor who saw the hanging said some of the taunting came from guards outside the execution chamber, not the masked ones who put the noose around Saddam's neck, the AP writes.

The Iraqi government did not say what, if any, punishment would await anyone uncovered in its probe of guards and 14 selected witnesses who attended the execution at a Baghdad prison before dawn Saturday. Some were high-ranking officials or people affiliated with radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a political ally of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who had wanted to speed up the timing of the execution after an appeals court upheld the death sentence.

The grainy video appeared on the Internet late Saturday. Al-Jazeera television also showed the footage at that time, saying it was exclusive. The footage contained audio of people taunting Saddam with chants of "Muqtada," a reference to al-Sadr. Also on the video, Saddam accuses his tormentors of being unmanly in scenes that stop just short of pandemonium.

The European Union's current leader, Germany, on Friday stressed the EU's opposition to the death penalty before Iraq's planned execution of two of Saddam Hussein's co-defendants.

The Iraqi government has insisted that it will go ahead with the executions, despite calls from the United Nations that it refrain.

German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger said the EU opposed the death penalty "under any circumstances."

"In the concrete context of the case of the two men whose execution has been announced, we would of course like these executions to be stayed," Jaeger told a regular news conference.

A German government statement, in the name of the EU presidency, said Iraq needed to punish crimes committed under Saddam's regime while bringing together the country's feuding Sunni and Shiite communities. It called on the Iraqi government to "adhere to the requirements of a fair process."

Barzan Ibrahim, Saddam's half-brother and former intelligence chief, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, former head of Iraq's Revolutionary Court, were sentenced to death for the killing of 148 Shiites.

An unauthorized video of Saddam's execution, showing him being taunted on the gallows and his body dangling at the end of a rope, has ignited protests by Saddam's fellow Sunni Arabs in several Iraqi cities and threatens to make a martyr out of the ousted dictator.

A spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated a statement she issued after Saddam's execution, noting that Germany opposed the death penalty, while emphasizing that her sympathy lay with his victims.

Government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said there was no "in-depth discussion" of the issue in talks between Merkel and U.S. President George W. Bush when they met in Washington on Thursday.

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