Sunni Muslims, angered by the execution of Saddam Hussein and the hurried and undignified way his hanging was carried out, have taken to the streets of Iraq in mainly peaceful demonstrations.
Yesterday, a crowd of Sunni mourners in Samarra marched to a bomb-damaged Shiite shrine and were allowed by guards and police to enter the holy place carrying a mock coffin and photos of the former dictator.
The protest took place at the Golden Dome, which was shattered in a bombing by Sunni extremists 10 months ago. That attack was the catalyst for the past year’s dramatic increase in sectarian violence between Iraq’s Sunni and Shiite Muslims, with daily murders, bombings and kidnappings.
Meanwhile, the military on Tuesday announced the death of a US soldier by a roadside bomb south-west of Baghdad. The blast yesterday wounded three others, including an interpreter, as they talked with local residents about sectarian violence, the military said.
A roadside bomb also killed three Iraqi civilians and wounded seven others in eastern Baghdad today, police said.
Hundreds of demonstrators yesterday mourned Saddam in a Sunni neighbourhood in northern Baghdad. Some praised the Baath Party, the outlawed nationalist group that under Saddam insured Sunni Arab dominance of Iraq. Sunnis are the minority sect in the country, but have held sway over and oppressed the Shiite minority for centuries.
“The Baath party and Baathists still exist in Iraq, and nobody can marginalise it,” said Samir al-Obaidi, 48, who attended a Saddam memorial in northern Baghdad.
In Dor, 75 miles north of Baghdad, hundreds more demonstrators marched to a dedication of a giant mosaic of Saddam. Children carried toy guns and men fired real weapons into the air.
Sunnis were not only outraged by Saddam’s execution on Saturday, just four days after an appeals court upheld his conviction and sentence. Many were also incensed by the unruly scene in the execution chamber, captured on video, in which Saddam was taunted with chants of “Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada”.
The chants referred to Muqtada al-Sadr, a firebrand Shiite cleric who runs one of Iraq’s most violent religious militias. He is a major power behind the government of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.
Many Sunnis are also upset that Saddam was put to death the day that Sunni celebrations began for Eid al-Adha, a major Muslim festival. The judge who first presided over the case that resulted in Saddam’s death sentence said the former dictator’s execution at the start of Eid was illegal according to Iraqi law, and contradicted Islamic custom.
The law states that “no verdict should implemented during the official holidays or religious festivals”, said Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin, a Kurd.
Rizgar presided over Saddam’s trial on charges he killed 148 Shiite men and boys in Dujail, north of Baghdad, in a botched assassination attempt in 1982. The judge stepped down from the case after Shiite complaints that he was too lenient.
Mourners at a mosque in Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit slaughtered sheep as a sacrifice. The mosque’s walls were lined with condolence cards from tribes in southern Iraq and Jordan who were unable to travel to the memorial.
Yesterday’s demonstrations came on a day that saw the US military kill six Iraqis during a raid on the offices of a prominent Sunni political figure where American forces believed al-Qaida fighters had taken refuge.
Iraqi authorities, meanwhile, reported yesterday that 16,273 Iraqis - including 14,298 civilians, 1,348 police and 627 soldiers – died violent deaths in 2006. The total exceeds an Associated Press count by more than 2,500.
On the first day of the New Year, Iraqi police reported finding 40 handcuffed, blindfolded and bullet-riddled bodies in Baghdad. A police official said 15 of the bodies were discovered in the mainly industrial Sheikh Omar district of northern Baghdad.
Today, police said they found 15 more bodies dumped in the north of the city.