The Timing

December 31, 2006

Contrary to what some acquaintances have been saying, the timing of Saddam’s execution had nothing to do with obscuring the news that the number of U.S. casualties in Iraq has passed the 3,000 mark. As Juan Cole notes in Salon, it had everything to do with the sectarian carnage that preceded the trial — carnage the execution will only inflame:

When the death verdict was announced against Saddam in November, Sunni Arabs in Baquba, to the northeast of the capital, staged a big pro-Saddam demonstration. They were attacked by the Shiite police that dominate that mixed city, who killed 20 demonstrators and wounded a similar number. There were also pro-Saddam demonstrations in Fallujah and Mosul. Baghdad had to be put under curfew.

The tribunal also had a unique sense of timing when choosing the day for Saddam’s hanging. It was a slap in the face to Sunni Arabs. This weekend marks Eid al-Adha, the Holy Day of Sacrifice, on which Muslims commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son for God. Shiites celebrate it Sunday. Sunnis celebrate it Saturday –- and Iraqi law forbids executing the condemned on a major holiday. Hanging Saddam on Saturday was perceived by Sunni Arabs as the act of a Shiite government that had accepted the Shiite ritual calendar.

The timing also allowed Saddam, in his farewell address to Iraq, to pose as a “sacrifice” for his nation, an explicit reference to Eid al-Adha. The tribunal had given the old secular nationalist the chance to use religious language to play on the sympathies of the whole Iraqi public.

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Cole’s piece is a must-read for anyone in search of the informed, historically astute analysis lacking in the endless snuff-film replays of the hanging on the Carrion News Network. Though I should note that if Saddam’s execution accomplishes nothing else, it will have gotten the cable “news” channels to pay attention to a death in Iraq — something they seem loath to do when the death involves an American soldier put in harm’s way by the lies of our sleazy, pathetic president.

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