Saddam Hussein and two of his senior aides were sentenced to death yesterday by hanging after the Iraqi High Tribunal found them guilty of crimes against humanity over the execution of 148 Shiite villagers in Dujail during a crackdown on the town after a failed assassination attempt on Saddam's life in 1982.
The verdict was celebrated by some as justice deserved or even divine, but denounced by others as a political ploy before critical US midterm congressional elections.
Worldwide, the range of reactions -- including a European outcry over capital punishment and doubts about the fairness of the tribunal proceedings -- reflected the new geopolitical fault lines that have been drawn as a result of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and depose its dictator.
Bush hails Saddam's death sentence
US President George W. Bush hailed Sunday's verdict of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein as "a milestone" for Iraq.
"The trial is a milestone in the Iraqi people's efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law," Bush said yesterday in a brief statement in Waco, Texas.
"It's a major achievement for Iraq's young democracy and its constitutional government," he said.
White House spokesman Tony Snow yesterday welcomed the verdict and denied any US role in the trial.
Iraqis conducted the trial and the Iraqi judges are the ones who spent all the time poring over the evidence, Snow said, adding that "it's important to give them credit for running their own government."
"The (Iraqi) judiciary is operating independently and we need to give them credit for doing their job and doing it in the way they saw fit and proper," Snow said.
Snow also denied any US role in the timing of the verdict. The idea that "somehow we've been scheming and plotting with the Iraqis" is "preposterous," Snow said.
The US is to hold key mid-term elections in two days and the Bush administration has been accused of announcing it ahead of the elections to boost the weakened position of the Republicans.
The US invaded Iraq and toppled the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003 on the premise that the regime had weapons of mass destruction and had ties with al Qaeda, the network accused by the US of launching the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.
However, no evidence has ever been found that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or had any ties with al Qaeda. Bush has since claimed that Saddam is a sworn enemy of the US and the world is better off without him in power.
UN human rights chief urges moratorium on Saddam death penalty
UN human rights chief Louise Arbour yesterday called for Iraq to refrain from executing its former president Saddam Hussein and ensure that he receives a fair appeals process.
"A credible appeals process is an essential part of fair-trial guarantees," Arbour, the UN's high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement.
"This is particularly important in this instance, in which the death penalty has been imposed," she said.
"Guaranteeing the right of a fair trial of persons accused of major human rights violations is key to consolidating and strengthening the very important process of ensuring justice and countering impunity that Iraq has embarked upon.
"Those convicted today should have every opportunity to exhaust their appellate remedies in a fair way, and whatever the outcome of an appeal, I hope the government will observe a moratorium on executions."
Meanwhile, Switzerland yesterday also criticized the verdict.
"Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein deserves a harsh punishment for his serious crimes," said a statement by the Swiss Foreign Ministry.
But the death penalty, which is outlawed in the Swiss constitution, is not an acceptable form of punishment, the statement added.
Switzerland is an active campaigner for the abolition of the death penalty worldwide.
EU presidency against death penalty in Saddam verdict
The Finnish presidency of the EU yesterday called for Iraq not to use the death penalty against former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, a statement said.
The presidency reiterated the EU's longstanding opposition to the death penalty. The EU opposes capital punishment in all cases and under all circumstances and believes it should not be carried out in this case either.
Over the years, the EU has repeatedly condemned the systematic, widespread and extremely grave violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law committed by the regime of Saddam Hussein, the statement said.
Establishing the truth and ensuring accountability for the crimes committed during the past regime will assist in furthering national reconciliation and dialogue in Iraq in the future. The nature of the crimes as well as the necessity of national reconciliation mean that all trials have to be conducted with due respect to all the requirements of a fair process, the statement added.
Moscow warns against outside influence in Saddam verdict
The internal affairs of a country should not be intervened by anyone outside, the Russian Foreign Ministry said yesterday in an official comment warning against outside influence in the Saddam trial.
"Moscow thinks that a trial of any citizen of any country, no matter what official position he or she might have had, is an internal affair that must not be influenced by external opinions," ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said.
The ministry believes that "any decision, especially the one made in such a sensitive case as the trial of the former Iraqi leader, must be immune to the current political situation and be based on law," he said.
"The present-day situation in Iraq is not easy, so it is of paramount importance to avoid steps that would deepen the split in Iraqi society and complicate the search for national accord through a broad dialogue involving all political, ethnic and religious forces," Kamynin said.
"The judgment has triggered contradictory feelings in Iraq and a number of Arab countries and caused fears that the instability (in Iraq) might escalate," he added.
France hopes Saddam's sentence will not worsen tensions in Iraq
France hoped the death sentence delivered to Iraqi former President Saddam Hussein would not "bring about new tensions" in Iraq, French Foreign Minister Douste-Blazy said yesterday.
"France acknowledges, in terms of the trial of Saddam Hussein, the sentence delivered by the Iraqi justice system. This decision belongs to the Iraqi people.
"In the current violent situation in Iraq, I hope this decision will not bring about new tensions and that the Iraqi people, whatever community they belong to, show restraint," he said.
Spanish PM: Saddam should answer for his actions
Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein should answer for his actions, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said yesterday.
"Like any other political leader, Saddam Hussein should answer for his actions," he said.
But Zapatero reiterated the EU's opposition to the capital punishment sentence. Also, Zapatero said he recognized that the situation in Iraq was worsening, and the number of deaths was increasing.
He stressed that the US-led Iraqi war was a "grave error" and called for a change of strategy in Iraq in order to end the difficulties in the war-torn country.
Zapatero withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq after his 2004 election victory.
Iraqi president says Saddam's trial 'fair'
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who is now visiting France, refused to comment on the death sentence handed down to Saddam, insisting the trial was "fair."
"He (Talabani) would not comment (on the sentence) because any comment would be regarded as interference in the court’s affairs," according to Iraqi presidential spokesman and chief of staff, Kamaran Qaradaghi.
However, "the president thinks the court is independent and the trial was fair, conforming to the law," Qaradaghi said.
"The accused has one month to make an appeal. He (Talabani) will not make any comments (on the sentence) which will be regarded as interference" in the justice process, said Qaradaghi.
After the appeal period, Talabani would be called upon to sign the official sentencing document if the execution order is upheld.
Talabani has never signed a death sentence because he had previously supported an international call against the death penalty, Qaradaghi said, adding: "A deputy is usually authorized to sign on his behalf.
"He says he cannot change his position."
Meanwhile, Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said yesterday that Saddam "is facing the punishment he deserves."
"This sentence is not a sentence on one man, but a sentence against the dark period of his rule," Maliki said in a national televised speech.
The prime minister said the former leader had committed the most horrible crimes, but highlighted that "executing Saddam will not bring loved ones, like senior cleric Sadr, back to life", referring to Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr who was killed during Saddam's rule in 1999.
(Xinhua News Agency November 6, 2006)