First Published: 2007-12-29

 
Sunnis recall Saddam's parting words before he fled Baghdad
 

One year on, Saddam hanging seen as widening sectarian divide in war-torn Iraq.

 

Middle East Online

Iraqis paying tribute to Saddam

BAGHDAD - Even as defeat stared him in the face, Saddam Hussein stood on a pick-up truck outside Baghdad's Abu Hanifa mosque and waved to the crowd of 200 people, promising them a glorious future.

"His last words to us were 'I promise the people of Adhamiyah golden monuments once we defeat the Americans'," remembered Abu Rima one year after the deposed dictator was hanged in the Iraqi capital.

"The image flashes in front of my eyes even now like a scene from a film. It was April 9 and a Wednesday. That date is in my blood. Saddam is in my blood," Rima said, his voice choking with emotion.

Rima lives in the Sunni bastion of Adhamiyah in north Baghdad where Saddam made his last public appearance on April 9, 2003.

Sitting on the lawn of a one-storey home, the bald 65-year-old former teacher recalled his memories of that day.

"Just hours before the American tanks rolled into Firdoos Square and pulled down his statue he was here with us in Adhamiyah and they couldn't find him," Rima said.

US marines in central Baghdad hauled down the giant statue of Saddam, before an Iraqi crowd beat the head of the fallen figure with their shoes in an act considered the ultimate insult in Arab culture.

Describing the events of that day, Rima said Saddam appeared around the time of midday prayers.

"We were offering midday prayers inside the Abu Hanifa mosque when suddenly someone said the president was outside. We rushed out and there he was standing on the bonnet of the pick-up," Rima said.

He said Saddam was accompanied by his son Qusay, his bodyguard Abid Hammud and his defence minister Sultan Hashim al-Tai.

"This was not the first time I'd seen him. But I rushed up and shook hands with him. I kissed him on his chest and shoulders," Rima said, adding that Saddam was in a military uniform and that Qusay wore a purple suit.

"One brave woman who was standing close to Saddam said to him 'you look tired.' And he said to her 'I won't be tired. God willing, Iraq will be victorious'," Rima said.

Another Sunni resident of Adhamiyah, Mohammed al-Obeidi, also saw Saddam outside Abu Hanifa mosque that day and agreed that the former president looked exhausted.

"He was tired but he still had charisma. When he was talking to us I was so charged up that I started searching for a rifle to fire in the air as a celebration that we would beat the Americans," he said.

For Rima, Saddam remains a martyr who was executed by the Americans.

"If America had attacked us alone we would have defeated them. But they came with many evil partners. But look at the courage of the martyr. He talked to us even when American helicopters were above searching for him," Rima said.

Abu Abdullah said that Saddam even slept that night in the district.

"He was in the Abu Bishar al-Haafi mosque in Adhamiyah that night and the next day on April 10 he crossed the river in a boat and disappeared," said Abdullah, dressed in a traditional Arab dishdasha and a brown sweater.

The 61-year-old retired government employee said Saddam left Adhamiyah early in the morning of April 10.

"He left at around six. He was dressed like an Arab. He took a boat, crossed into Kadhimiyah and disappeared," Abdullah said, referring to the Shiite neighbourhood across the Tigris river.

Eight months later, on December 13 2003, US forces found Saddam hiding in a hole near his hometown of Tikrit in northern Iraq. He was put on trial for crimes against humanity and executed one year ago on December 30, 2006.

For these Adhamiyah residents, all former members of Saddam's Baath Party, the situation in Iraq now is one of despair.

"Look at what is happening now. In Saddam's time there was no Shiite-Sunni conflict," said Rima.

"Now we have to put guns in the hands of our youngsters to protect the neighbourhood from militias and Al-Qaeda," added Rima as a group of Sunni men stood guard outside the house where the men spoke.

Hundreds of Sunni Arabs in Adhamiyah have now become neighbourhood.

"During the war Adhamiyah was the last neighbourhood to be taken by the Americans. And even now the fight is not over. We will win. One day, we will win," Rima said before raising himself to his feet and walking out of the gate.



Hanging seen as widening sectarian divide



An Iraqi teacher who would give only his first name Omar said that the hanging of Saddam had been widely regarded by Iraqis as sectarian revenge.

"This humiliating execution was not viewed as the just punishment of a dictator but as an act of revenge by the Shiite government against the Sunnis who dominated the former Baath party," he said.

The hanging at the start of the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha had further deepened the rift between Sunnis and Shiites opened up by the bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in February last year, he added.

Under the Muslim calendar, the anniversary of the execution has already passed more than a week ago. Saddam was hanged just minutes before the start of Eid al-Adha which Sunni Muslims this year celebrated on December 19.

To mark the day, dozens of Sunni supporters gathered at Saddam's graveside in his home village of Awja, near the central city of Tikrit, to lay flowers and pay their respects.

 

Gaza death toll passes 700 mark

Spectacular attack on Iraq prisoner convoy

Air Algerie plane contact lost over west Africa

Libya government to hand over power to new parliament

Islamic State expands into tourism in Syria, Iraq

Russia begins supplying military equipment to Iraq

South Sudan warring sides to resume peace talks

Baghdad closer to breaking political limbo

Mladenov pleads for UN help to end IS 'atrocities' in Iraq

Hamas hails suspension of Israel flights as 'great victory'

Lebanon army records first case of desertion to join Syria Nusra Front

Iraq gunmen kill female former candidate for parliament

Kerry cites ‘some steps forward’ in Gaza truce efforts

Turkey hunts for nine intelligence officers in wire-tapping probe

Suspension of hostilities in Gaza to allow medical assistance

Assassination of famed Somali musician and lawmaker

Sisi defends Egypt in trying to broker Gaza truce

Syria welcomes nomination of Staffan de Mistura as new UN envoy

Iraq lawmakers stall presidential election as violence yields grim crop of bodies

Yemen president calls for unity

Etihad helps Jet Airways return to profit

Is Tunisia returning to old regime censorship?

Qatar emir in unannounced visit to Saudi

HRW: Iraq air strikes wreaking awful toll on civilians

Kuwait revokes pro-opposition TV, newspaper licences

Twin suicide bombing shakes Libya's Benghazi

Car bomb rips through Baghdad checkpoint

Israel escalates merciless Gaza onslaught

Turkey detains dozens of senior police officers for 'spying'

Saudi Arabia ousts head of Syria opposition government

Maliki meets Sunni tribal leaders in new bid to gain support

Israeli envoy: Our soldiers deserve a Nobel Peace Prize

Rights group denounces Kuwait's revocation of citizenship

Kerry again places onus on Hamas to accept ceasefire

Britain finds evidence of effort to Islamise state-run schools

Fiercest fighting in months hits Eastern Damascus

Iraq slams Jordan for hosting 'unacceptable' meeting of Sunni critics

Erdogan sacrifices Gaza mediation in favour of anti-Israel diatribes

Israel hits Al-Jazeera Gaza office

Syria oil industry suffers huge losses because of war

UN calls for help to vaccinate Syria toddlers against polio

Erdogan has stopped talking to Obama

Israel confirms kidnapped soldier is dead

South Sudan rebels pledge to pull troops out fails

Rouhani: More negotiations only solution for nuclear deal