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An execution that will do nothing to quell the violence on Iraq's streets
The trial was a travesty of justice. To hang Saddam now is also to leave his second trial unfinished
Saddam Hussein awaited his imminent end last night, sentenced to hang for crimes against humanity. His last hours were punctuated by the necessary rituals: the signature on the death warrant from Iraq's Prime Minister; the leave-taking from his closest relatives; the handover of his last will and testament, the release of a valedictory letter to Iraqis, and, at the last, his transfer from US into Iraqi custody, so that his own people could do the deed.
That the US and British invasion of Iraq would entail the death of Saddam Hussein had a grim inevitability. So far as Washington was concerned, the purpose of their whole enterprise was "regime change". The question was never whether Saddam would die, but when, how and by whose hand. The toppling of his statue in central Baghdad - transparently orchestrated by the American occupiers - was a grisly precursor of what was to come. As indeed, we now see, was the ambivalence with which Iraq hailed his downfall.
It was all of a piece of this headstrong autocrat that he resisted to the last. As the planning for the US invasion reached its height, he rejected all offers of exile, preferring to stay in Iraq. He was captured alive in the most demeaning of circumstances, and further humiliated by his US captors in clips that were beamed around the world. He stood trial, by turns insisting belligerently on his right to a proper defence and refusing to recognise the authority of the court. Would that those who had suffered from his rule had been dignified with a fraction of the respect that he was accorded by the court.
From the outset, though, there was no doubt about either the verdict or the sentence. And in the end, he faced death as a disgraced leader and common criminal. He lacked the courage to die as the warrior he had set himself up to be.