Iraq’s prime minister has ordered an investigation into Saddam Hussein’s execution to try to uncover who taunted the former dictator in the last minutes of his life, and who leaked footage taken by camera phone of the hanging.
The unofficial video, on which at least one person is heard shouting “To hell!” at the deposed president and Saddam is heard exchanging insults with his executioners, dealt a blow to Iraq’s efforts to prove it was a neutral enforcer of the law.
Instead, the emotional, politicised spectacle raised tensions between the Shiite majority and Sunni Arabs who ran the country until their benefactor, Saddam, was ousted in the US-led invasion of 2003.
A prosecutor who saw the hanging said some of the taunting came from guards outside the execution chamber, not the masked ones who put the noose around Saddam’s neck.
The Iraqi government did not say what, if any, punishment would await anyone uncovered in its probe of guards and 14 selected witnesses who attended the execution at a Baghdad prison before dawn on Saturday.
Some were high-ranking officials or people affiliated with radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a political ally of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who had wanted to speed up the timing of the execution after an appeals court upheld the death sentence.
The grainy video appeared on the internet late on Saturday.
Al-Jazeera television also showed the footage at that time, saying it was exclusive.
The footage contained audio of people taunting Saddam with chants of “Muqtada”, a reference to al-Sadr.
Also on the video, Saddam accuses his tormentors of being unmanly in scenes that stop just short of pandemonium.
The video was inflammatory not only because the chanting was clearly audible, but also for showing the spectacle of Saddam plummeting through the gallows trapdoor and dangling in death, his vacant eyes open and his snapped neck almost at a right angle to the line of his shoulders.
In contrast, the official video showed masked executioners placing a heavy noose around Saddam's neck, without a soundtrack. Another official video shows Saddam wrapped in a burial shroud after his death, though his head and neck are exposed as proof of his identity.
Munqith al-Faroon, an Iraqi prosecutor who helped convict and sentence Saddam to death for the killings of 148 people in the town of Dujail in 1982, said he was a witness to the hanging.
He said two top officials had their mobile phones with them – even though the government-approved witnesses had been searched before boarding a US helicopter that carried them from the Green Zone to the site of the execution, their phones placed in a box for safekeeping.
Al-Faroon did not name the officials who had their phones and said he did not know whether the Iraqi government had approved the mobile phone video.
“It might be for money. Maybe he decided from the start to film it and to sell it to the satellite TV channels,” al-Faroon said in an interview with TV2, a Danish television network. “I do not think that an investigation is necessary if they only filmed it for money. The execution was not a secret. The filming was not against the law.”
Still, the prime minister “ordered the formation of an investigative committee in the Interior Ministry to identify who chanted slogans inside the execution chamber and who filmed the execution and sent it to the media,” said Sami al-Askari, a political adviser to the Iraqi leader.
Al-Faroon said he vigorously protested when people began to shout just before Saddam was executed, and that shouts of “Muqtada” came from guards outside the execution chamber.
“I am certain that the chanting at the moment of the execution was not organised, and that those chanting were not being ordered to do so,” al-Faroon told TV2. “The guards made a decision to do so by themselves. This is the truth. I shouted at them and ordered them to keep silent. My voice is very clear in the recording.”
In the leaked video, one voice called: “Allah, bless those who pray for Muhammad and his descendants. Allah, pray for Muhammad and his descendants and may they bring us their help soon and curse their enemies and back their son Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada.”
At that point Saddam asked: “Is this manly?”
A voice responded: “To hell.”
Another voice called out: “Long live Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr” – a reference to the Dawa Party founder and Shiite cleric who was executed along with his sister by Saddam in 1980.
Then, a voice purportedly belonging to al-Faroon said: ”Please no, this man is being executed, please no, I beg you no.”
After Saddam was dropped through the trapdoor, a voice is heard shouting, “Don’t rush, come back!” That suggests people were moving toward the body. However, the leader of Saddam’s clan has said the body showed no signs of mistreatment after it was returned to Saddam’s hometown on Sunday.
It was unclear how many guards attended the execution. On the official video, seven people were on the gallows platform with Saddam. They included five guards in masks, a man without a mask whose face was blurred over, and a photographer.
Sadiq al-Rikabi, an adviser to the prime minister, told the US-financed Al-Hurra television that he does not know who leaked the video and that such an act “is wrong and should be investigated, and I agree that cellular telephones were taken from witnesses before they boarded the helicopter” that headed to the execution site.
“I am full of hope that the results of the investigation will be announced, and the person who did this act should pay a price,” al-Rikabi said. Still, the results of some Iraqi government probes in the past have not been released.
The Vatican’s official newspaper yesterday decried media images of the hanging as a “spectacle” violating human rights and harming efforts to promote reconciliation in Iraq.
Within Iraq, Saddam’s execution and the way it was conducted has provoked anger among Sunni Muslims, who have taken to the streets in mainly peaceful demonstrations across the country.
On Monday, 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, a Shiite shrine bombed by Sunni extremists 10 months ago. That attack triggered the current cycle of retaliatory attacks between Sunnis and Shiites.
Yesterday, police in Baghdad said they had found 45 bodies scattered around the city. Many had been blindfolded, handcuffed and shot, apparent victims of sectarian violence.