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Prescott attacks 'deplorable' Saddam execution scene

The manner of Saddam Hussein's execution was "deplorable" and could not be endorsed, the deputy prime minister, John Prescott, said yesterday, breaking the British government's silence over the insults and sectarian chants heard as the former Iraqi leader went to the gallows.


Palestinians carry a mock coffin for late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein during a rally against his execution in Bureij Refugee Camp, central Gaza Strip ,Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2007. -AP

Mr Prescott - in charge of the government while Tony Blair is on holiday - admitted that his condemnation of the manner of the hanging would prove controversial. He was speaking on BBC radio after a grainy video of the execution, apparently filmed on a mobile phone, revealed verbal exchanges between Saddam, witnesses and guards, including people chanting the name of the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and telling Saddam to "go to hell".

The Iraqi government had previously released soundless film suggesting the execution had been dignified and had not involved any humiliation or sectarian insults. It has since launched an inquiry into how the hanging came to be unofficially filmed by someone among the 20-or-so people present, turning it into a gruesome spectacle that has inflamed sectarian anger.

Mr Prescott said: "I think the manner was quite deplorable really. I don't think one can endorse in any way that, whatever your views about capital punishment." He added: "Frankly, to get the kind of recorded messages coming out is totally unacceptable and I think whoever is involved and responsible for it should be ashamed of themselves."

Challenged that the Iraqi government was responsible, he replied: "If they are responsible, I pass my comment and that's where I stand." He said he did not know if the British government had formally protested to the Iraqi government over the hanging.

Mr Blair has said nothing about the death of Saddam, and the foreign secretary Margaret Beckett, before the mobile phone version was circulated, simply said Saddam has suffered for his crimes. Privately the Foreign Office is keenly aware that the insults will be seen as another sign that the Iraqi state is now run by Shia Muslims who have little interest in national reconciliation with the Sunni community.

Several Iraqi bloggers who are unsympathetic to Saddam have complained that the execution looked more like political vengeance than state-administered justice.

Most complaints, though, have focused on the rush to execute Saddam before sunrise on Eid al-Adha, one of the holiest days in the Muslim calendar. It has emerged from Washington that the Americans pressed the Iraqi government to delay the hanging to a less sensitive time but were spurned by the Iraqis.

A spokesman for the Iraqi government in London denied that Saddam had been humiliated, and pointed out that Saddam had shown no respect to his victims.

Mr Prescott's remarks are likely to be welcomed inside the Labour party. The anti-war MP Peter Kilfoyle said Mr Blair's silence was yet another error in a long list.

In France, both frontrunners in the coming presidential election condemned the execution. Nicolas Sarkozy, currently interior minister, described it as a "mistake" and said it would not help efforts to build a democratic Iraq.

"The execution of Saddam Hussein, the worst of men, is a mistake," he wrote in Le Monde newspaper, while stressing his opposition to the death penalty.

"I wish I could have hailed Saddam Hussein's trial as a landmark in the process of bringing democracy to Iraq.

"I deeply regret that Saddam Hussein, the dictator who had more blood on his hands than anyone in the world, was not made to stand trial for his other crimes."

The Guardian

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