Protests are continuing in the Sunni heartland in Iraq following the execution of Saddam Hussein. The former Iraqi president was hanged at dawn on Saturday by a team of Shiite men wearing ski masks. The execution took place at a base known as Camp Justice. Saddam Hussein was buried on Sunday in his native village of Awja, near Tikrit. He ruled Iraq from 1979 until the U.S. invasion in 2003. He was sentenced to death over the killings of 148 Shiites from the town of Dujail in the 1980s. He was executed before he was ever put on trial for other atrocities.
Fears are growing that the execution will intensify sectarian violence in Iraq. Video recorded on a cellphone showed that the Shiite guards taunted Hussein in his final moments. The masked hangmen chanted the name of Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr. As the rope was put around Hussein’s neck, somebody shouted, “Long live Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr!” The execution occurred on the first day that Sunnis celebrated the religious festival Eid. For Shiites the holiday didn’t begin until Sunday. Saddam Hussein’s last words were: “Down with the traitors, the Americans, the spies and the Persians.” Hussein’s defense team criticized the rush to execute the former president.
Attorney Issam Ghazzawi: “It is one of the sad days in the Arab world and Muslim world because an occupier executed a president of an Arab and Muslim country unfairly and without a trial. You saw something, but it is not a trial.”
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International condemned the execution. Human Rights Watch says the execution marks a significant step away from respect for human rights and the rule of law in Iraq. The Vatican also criticized the hanging.
Vatican spokesperson Father Federico Lombardi: “The killing of the guilty is not the way to rebuild justice and reconcile society. There is, rather, the risk that putting the guilty to death might fuel the spirit of vengeance and sow the seeds of new violence.”
Australian Prime Minister John Howard defended the execution.
John Howard: “The real significance is that this man has been given a proper trial, due process was followed. It was an appeal that’s been dismissed, and he has been dealt with in accordance with the law of Iraq.”
In Jordan, protests have occurred over the past three days. Hussein’s eldest daughter, Raghad, joined hundreds of people in a demonstration in Amman.
Jordanian opposition figure Laith Shubeilat: “The Arab world is really mad. He is the only Arab leader who said no to the Americans. He’s a unique leader. He’s a leader who considered the riches of Iraq as the riches of all the Arab nation. He distributed help and aid to all the Arab people, and he stood with all the leaders who now turned their back to him. He is considered to be the leader of this nation, the Arab nation, and our leaders unfortunately are way, way, way on the other side.”
On Monday, the Iraqi government banned the private TV station Al Sharqiya after one of its newscasters wore black clothes on air as a sign of mourning following the death of Hussein.
In other news from Iraq, the U.S. death toll has topped 3,000. One hundred thirteen U.S. soldiers died in December, making it the deadliest month in two years for the U.S. and the third deadliest month of the war.
Demonstrations are being held in scores of cities around the country to mark the 3,000th death. In San Francisco, 10 peace protesters were arrested in Nancy Pelosi’s home district on Monday as they attempted to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. In New York, Grandmothers Against the War gathered at Rockefeller Center to read the names of soldiers killed in the war.
The Iraqi government reports that political violence reached a record high in December. The Interior Ministry said at least 1,930 Iraqis died last month. The actual death toll is believed to be much higher.
In Washington, President Bush is reported to be preparing to reveal his new Iraq strategy within days. He is expected to send tens of thousands of more soldiers to Iraq.
A new poll by the Military Times has found that barely a third of servicemembers now approve of the president’s handling of the war.
In Gaza, officials are searching for a Peruvian photographer kidnapped on Monday. Jaime Razuri was seized by gunmen after he returned from an assignment. He works for Agence France-Presse.
The Federal Communications Commission has unanimously approved the merger of telecom giants AT&T and BellSouth. It marks the largest telecommunications merger in U.S. history. The Democratic commissioners on the FCC agreed to back the merger after AT&T made a pledge to adhere to net neutrality. Net neutrality is the concept that everyone, everywhere, should have free, universal and nondiscriminatory access to the Internet.
In environmental news, a 41-square-mile ice shelf that had jutted into the Arctic Ocean for 3,000 years has broken away. Scientists say the ice shelf drifted away because of sharply warmer temperatures in the Arctic region. Meanwhile, no snowfall was recorded in Central Park in New York last month. It marks the first December without snow in the park since 1877.
President Bush, his father, President George H.W. Bush, and Henry Kissinger will be eulogizing former President Gerald Ford today at his funeral at the National Cathedral. On Saturday, Ford’s former chief of staff, Dick Cheney, paid tribute to him.
Dick Cheney: “We do know this: America was spared the worst, and this was the doing of an American president. For all the grief that never came, for all the wounds that were never inflicted, the people of the United States will forever stand in debt to the good man and faithful servant we mourn tonight.”
In an interview not published until after his death, President Ford criticized the war in Iraq as well as Cheney. Ford said, “He was an excellent chief of staff. First class. But I think Cheney has become much more pugnacious.” Ford said he agreed with former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s assertion that Cheney developed a “fever” about the threat of terrorism and Iraq.
In Louisiana, the newly elected mayor of the town of Westlake has been shot dead just days before he was set to become the town’s first black mayor. Gerald Washington was found dead on Saturday after being shot in the chest with a single bullet. He was scheduled to take office today.
Many new laws were enacted across the country on January 1. The minimum wage has increased in seven states — Arizona, California, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, in political news, Democrat Eliot Spitzer was sworn in as the new governor of New York.
In other news from New York, the mother of Sean Bell has begun a 24-hour-a-day, 50-day vigil outside the 103rd Precinct station in Queens. Bell was shot dead on his wedding day in November when police fired 50 shots at a car carrying him and his two friends. The three men were all unarmed. His mother, Valerie Bell, said she is holding the vigil in order to call attention to the lack of any indictments in the death of her son.
The chairman of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Robert Boehm, has died at the age of 92. He served on the organization’s board since the legal group was founded in 1966.
And in Augusta, Georgia, thousands gathered on Saturday to pay tribute to the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, who died last week at the age of 73. The Rev. Al Sharpton oversaw the proceedings.
Rev. Al Sharpton: “Today is the end of a long journey and the beginning of a new journey. We come to thank God for James Brown.”
Pop star Michael Jackson made a rare public appearance.
Michael Jackson: “James Brown is my greatest inspiration. Ever since I was a small child, no more than six years old, my mother would wake me no matter what time it was when I was sleeping, no matter what I was doing, to watch the television to see the master at work. And when I saw him move, I was mesmerized. I have never seen a performer perform like James Brown. And right then and there, I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, because of James Brown.”