INTERVIEW
 
Muslims Criticize Timing of Saddam's Execution
Reuters
December 30, 2006
Muslim leaders around the world espressed dismay Saturday that Saddam Hussein was executed at the time of Id al-Adha, an important holiday considered a time of forgiveness and compassion.

Muslim countries often pardon criminals to mark the occasion, and prisoners are rarely executed at that time.

The most important date in the Islamic calendar, Id al-Adha, or Feast of the Sacrifice, honors the biblical patriarch Abraham's willingness to kill his son Isaac for God before God decided to spare Isaac's life.

Id al-Adha also falls during the five- day hajj, the pilgrimage when more than two million Muslims from around the world follow ancient rites at the Islamic holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis were among those criticizing the holding of the execution during Id al-Adha. "There is a feeling of surprise and disapproval that the verdict has been applied during the holy months and the first days of Id al-Adha," a presenter on the official Al Ikhbariya TV said after programming was broken to read a statement.

"Leaders of Islamic countries should show respect for this blessed occasion," said the statement, which was attributed to the political analyst of the official press agency SPA.

In Indonesia, the world's most populous Islamic nation, the government said it respected the sentence and trial.

"This execution is not surprising as a legal process has been conducted, despite its imperfection, and Saddam Hussein has been given a chance to defend himself," said Desra Percaya, an Indonesian government spokesman. "Indonesia hopes the execution doesn't separate conflicting parties further in the efforts to realize a national reconciliation, which is a requirement for the return of Iraq's sovereignty."

Masdar Mas'udi, a co-chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia's biggest Islamic organization, said the execution was "right by law, but it is not wise."

"People can already predict what the reactions of Saddam's supporters will be," Masdar Mas'udi said. "There may be more bloodshed."

The execution was welcomed in Iran, which fought a war with Iraq in the 1980s. Iran called the hanging a "victory" for the Iraqis, while expressing regrets that the trial only focused on one of Hussein's crimes. "The Iraqi people are the victorious ones," Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid Reza Asefi told the Islamic Republic News Agency.

The former dictator may become a "martyr" for groups opposed to the U.S. presence in Iraq, said Rohan Gunaratna, the head of Terrorism Research at Singapore's Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies.

"Saddam's execution will contribute to the overall anger and resentment against the coalition forces and the new Iraqi government," said Gunaratna. "Pro-Saddam elements in Iraq will be more angered and will be able to generate more support."

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said Iraq should have listened to the views of the "international community" and commuted the sentence to life imprisonment.

"We are shocked at the execution because of the speed that it was carried out," Syed said in a phone interview today. "The execution is not going to assist in the reconciliation process. In the short run anyway, I think there will be increased tension and an increase in violence."

Iraq's former foreign minister Adnan Pachachi said the timing of Saddam Hussein's execution was questionable as it occurred on the day before Iraq celebrated Id al-Adha. Some other Muslim countries started celebrating the festival Saturday.

The official Saudi Press Agency said there was "a feeling of surprise" that about the timing of the execution.

The holy day "should unite Muslims and bring them together with the millions of pilgrims who are meeting at the holy site of Mecca looking for something to unite them, not for something that sets them apart," the press agency said.

Extreme reaction to the execution may occur outside Iraq, a Pakistani university teacher of international relations said.

"There is a widespread perception that it was a politically manipulated court case and the hanging was done in haste on the eve of Muslim sacred day of Id al-Adha," said Ishtiaq Ahmed, an associate professor of International Relations at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad. "His hanging will further fuel wave of anti-Americanism in Pakistan and in the Muslim world."

Access interview at nytimes.com