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World leaders divided over effects of Hussein execution

Australia's Iraqi community reacted with joy near Sydney yesterday after the news of Saddam Hussein's hanging. Australia's Iraqi community reacted with joy near Sydney yesterday after the news of Saddam Hussein's hanging. (JACKY GHOSSEIN/SUNHERALD via ASSOCIATED PRESS)

BEIRUT -- Saddam Hussein's enemies rejoiced, his supporters seethed with anger, and many Arabs felt outraged at his hanging on one of Islam's holiest days.

Those who sympathized with the former Iraqi president painted him as the victim of a vengeful Iraqi trial sponsored by the United States. Some in Kuwait and non-Arab Iran said Hussein had not been brought to account for the wars against them.

Leading Sunni Muslim Arab power Saudi Arabia criticized Iraq's Shi'ite leaders for executing Hussein, a Sunni, during the Eid al-Adha, and said his trial had been politicized.

"There is a feeling of surprise and disapproval that the verdict has been applied during the holy months and the first days of Eid al-Adha," a new announcer on the official Al-Ikhbariya TV said after programming was interrupted.

"Leaders of Islamic countries should show respect for this blessed occasion . . . not demean it," said the statement, which was attributed to the official Saudi Press Agency news agency's political analyst.

The drama of Hussein's violent end yesterday was brought into living rooms across the Arab world with television pictures of masked hangmen tightening the noose around his neck. Separate film of Hussein's body in a white shroud also upset many viewers.

Many Arabs said his hanging for crimes against humanity was provocatively timed to coincide with Eid al-Adha and would worsen violence in Iraq.

"This is the worst Eid ever witnessed by Muslims. I had goosebumps when I saw the footage," said Jordanian woman Rana Abdullah, 30, who works in the private sector.

Hesham Kassem, an Egyptian newspaper publisher and human rights activist, said airing the images was controversial, but added: "This man was one of the most brutal mass murderers in the history of mankind. He stands alongside Hitler and Stalin."

But in the impoverished Iraqi village where Hussein was born, residents vowed revenge. "We will all become a bomb," said one young man in Awja, 90 miles north of Baghdad.

World political leaders were divided over whether Hussein's execution was a milestone toward peace or more conflict, and nearly every European country used the hanging as an opportunity to condemn the death penalty.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, like many others, tempered her criticism of the execution by saying Hussein had "now been held to account for at least some of the appalling crimes he committed against the Iraqi people."

While the Vatican denounced the execution as "tragic," Kuwaitis and Iranians welcomed the death of the leader who led wars against each of their countries.

"This is the best Eid gift for humanity," said Saad bin Tafla al-Ajmi, former information minister of Kuwait, which was invaded by Iraq in 1990, setting off the Gulf War.

Iranian state TV hailed the hanging of Hussein, who waged war with Iran from 1980-88. "With the execution of Hussein, the life dossier of one of the world's most criminal dictators was closed," state-run television reported.

Many countries simultaneously condemned the use of the death penalty and Hussein's crimes.

Silvio Berlusconi, who as former Italian premier backed the war and sent Italian soldiers to Iraq, described the hanging as "a step backward in Iraq's difficult road toward full democracy."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai appeared to criticize the timing of the execution, but said it was "the work of the Iraqi government" and would have no effect on Afghanistan.

In Australia, Prime Minister John Howard, another United States ally in the Iraq war, said the execution was a sign that Iraq was embracing democracy.

"I believe there is something quite heroic about a country that is going through the pain and the suffering that Iraq is going through, yet still extends due process" to Hussein, a "murderer of his own people."

Russia -- whose president, Vladimir Putin, had vocally opposed the US-led invasion that toppled Hussein -- expressed regret that international opposition to the execution was ignored.

"The political consequences of this step should have been taken into account," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in Moscow.

Indian officials, who were against the execution, expressed their disappointment and worried the execution could trigger more sectarian violence.

"We hope that this unfortunate event will not affect the process of reconciliation, restoration of peace and normalcy in Iraq," External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in a statement.

Said Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, "I don't know whether the sentence of Saddam Hussein was a sentence or whether it was vengeance."

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.

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