BAGHDAD — Rage over the hanging of Saddam Hussein spilled into the streets in many parts of the Sunni Muslim heartland yesterday, especially in Samarra, where a mob of protesters broke the locks of the badly damaged Shi’ite Golden Mosque and marched through carrying a mock coffin and photo of the executed former Iraqi dictator.
Sunni extremists had blown apart the glistening dome on the Shi’ite holy place 10 months earlier, setting in motion the sectarian slaughter that now grips the troubled land.
The U.S. death toll climbed to at least 3,002 by the final day of 2006 as the American military reported the deaths of two soldiers in an explosion Sunday in Diyala province, northeast of the capital.
The Samarra protest was particularly significant because it signaled a widening expression of defiance among Sunnis, the minority Muslim sect in Iraq that had enjoyed special status and power under Saddam and had oppressed the now-ascendant Shi’ite majority for centuries.
Until Saddam was executed, excluding a few days of protests after his death sentence was handed down Nov. 5, the broader Sunni population had sought a low profile in the sectarian conflict that had seen thousands of them killed or driven from their homes by Shi’ite militia forces since the Samarra bombing Feb. 22.
The Sunnis were angered not only by Saddam’s hurried execution, just four days after an appeals court upheld his conviction and sentence, but also by the unruly and undignified manner in which the hanging was carried out.
A clandestine video of the hanging showed Saddam was taunted by some present at the execution with chants of “Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada” in the last moments of his life.
The chants were a reference to anti-American Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who runs one of the deadliest religious militias in Iraq and is a major power behind the government of Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who had pushed for Saddam to be hanged before the year was out.
Iraq’s government said yesterday that it would investigate the video and the taunts at the execution.
Saddam was put to death on the eve of the Shi’ite celebration of the Eid al-Adha, the major Muslim festival marking the end of the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and a remembrance of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, now symbolized by the slaughtering of sheep.
The first judge in the so-called Dujail trial, Rizgar Mohammed Amin, said Saddam’s execution during Eid was illegal according to Iraqi law. Sunni Muslim festivities marking the holiday began on the day that Saddam was hanged.
Judge Amin, a Kurd, was removed as chief judge in the case after Shi’ite complaints that he was too lenient. He was replaced last January by Judge Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman.
Judge Amin said: “The implementation of Saddam’s execution during Eid al-Adha is illegal according to Chapter 9 of the tribunal law. Article 27 states that nobody, even the president (Jalal Talabani), may change rulings by the tribunal and the implementation of the sentence should not happen until 30 days after publication that the appeals court has upheld the tribunal verdict.
“The hanging during the Eid al-Adha period [also] contradicts Iraqi and Islamic custom.
“Article 290 of the criminal code of 1971 states that no verdict should be implemented during the official holidays or religious festivals,” he said.