Saddam Hussein was executed this morning (6:00 a.m. Baghdad time), on Eid al-Adha. The timing of his execution was a mistake. I don’t expect a surge in violence in Iraq because pretty much all the remaining Ba’athists there have professed a conversion to radical Islam, and there have been no serious efforts by jihadist factions to condemn the execution. Saddam does have a following among ex-pat Ba’athists in Jordan and Syria, but they don’t have the infrastructure to carry out retaliatory attacks.
However, the timing of Saddam’s execution has a deleterious effect that is more difficult to measure empirically. Eid al-Adha is one of Islam’s two most important holidays, and today throughout the Muslim world the holiday is being overshadowed by Saddam’s execution. A source in the Muslim community reports that in Saudi Arabia, some Muslims simultaneously watched the Eid salat on one television channel and Saddam’s execution on another. One woman in Saudi Arabia commented that she found this “unsettling,” and not because she has any warm feelings for Saddam. Rather, for many Middle Easterners, Saddam’s execution seemingly intrudes on what should be a time of celebration for them: it is an intrusion because the Iraq war is extremely unpopular throughout the Middle East, and the televised execution is a stark reminder that the war is still raging. (Reuters also reports on Middle Eastern consternation about the timing of the execution.) The same Muslim source speculates that for other Middle Easterners, the execution may be a painful reminder that they have little recourse against the dictatorial regimes that rule them without the United States. The negative symbolism is heightened by linking the execution to Eid.
One final negative about the timing of the execution is that it may contribute to sectarian divisions in Iraq. Some Sunnis are upset about the execution because Saddam is a Sunni, and they feel that the new Iraq is dominated by Shias. On the other hand, an Iraqi-American source who is in contact with a great deal of people in Iraq tells me that some Shias believe they are “doubly blessed” on Eid al-Adha because of Saddam’s execution. So these sectarian divisions are emphasized by the execution’s timing.
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