Some on Thursday saw the scene as “American propaganda” while others viewed it as “poetic justice”.
“This is not the time,” said Muhammad Mahdi as he and several co-workers gathered around a small television set in a hotel lobby to watch the video over an Arabic language satellite station.
“Yes, he needs to be brought to justice. But the country has too many other problems now that should be fixed first.”
“What we’re seeing now is nothing more than propaganda. This is for Bush’s sake, for the sake of the American elections. This doesn’t have anything to do with justice for Iraqis.”
Some refused to comment, apparently fearful even now of making statements about the former leader.
“This is for Bush’s sake, for the sake of the American elections. This doesn’t have anything to do with justice for Iraqis”
Muhammad Mahdi, Iraqi citizen
“We won’t say anything,” said one woman who runs a handicrafts shop. “Even if the pictures were of him being executed, we wouldn’t talk.” Beside her, an elderly man nodded in agreement.
At another Baghdad hotel, a group of about 16 men glared at a big screen television. “Look at him. This isn’t the face of a prisoner. He’s running the courtroom,” said one man who refused to be identified.
Around him, other men nodded in agreement. One of them added: “That’s why he was president for so long.”
As the former president appeared in court on Thursday to hear charges ranging from genocide to crimes against humanity, some of the 25 million people who spent the better part of their lives under his authority voiced mixed emotions – sympathy or disgust – about the proceedings, depending largely on where they lived.
For Najib Khalid, a Kurd from the northern city of Kirkuk, the images he saw were ones of poetic justice – Saddam before a young judge.
Many Kurds were killed
“I felt as if Baghdad had fallen again and that the regime was once again toppled,” said Khalid, a 40-year-old resident of a region where the deposed leader reportedly authorised the gassing of thousands, and the murder of thousands more.
“In his day, Saddam killed thousands of Iraqi youths. Today, I am happy because I saw the day when Saddam was being judged by a young judge.”
Grinning at Saddam’s reference to Kuwaitis as “dogs,” Shakir Hasan, a security guard in the southern city of Basra, said the former Iraqi leader was right on the money. Hasan says his uncle, who lives in Kuwait and has six daughters, put it best.
“My uncle used to say that he would rather marry his daughters to Iraqi’s dogs than give their hand to a Kuwaiti emir,” said Hasan.
Similar sentiments were echoed by some residents of the central Iraqi city of Ramadi, a Sunni Muslim area where support for Saddam has been strong. Udai Falih voiced doubts that the former president was guilty of much beyond punishing those who deserved it.
“At least Saddam provided us with security. We have seen nothing good from the Americans,” he said, commenting on the deteriorating security situation.
Under Saddam’s regime, security was one element virtually guaranteed – if only out of fear of the government’s security apparatus.
“We had a better life during Saddam era,” said Falih, who works at the Ramadi Education Directorate. “We want a fair trial where Saddam can speak and defend himself against the fabricated charges filed against him. Saddam used to punish only the bad people who used to destabilise the country.”
Another Basra resident, however, said watching Saddam on television only reinforced his hatred for the man. Asad Aziz, an engineer, said Saddam should be executed. Seconds later, he qualified his comments.
“At least Saddam provided us with security. We have seen nothing good from the Americans”
“Before that, he should be placed in a metal cage and taken on tour of all the Iraqi cities so that the million who have been starved, robbed, beaten, deprived and tortured by his regime can see the man responsible for their suffering,” Aziz said.
Further north, in Kirkuk, officials with two pro-American but rival Kurdish groups agreed that Saddam deserves punishment but debated just how severe that punishment should be.
“We, as Kurds, have many charges against Saddam and his aides who committed murderous crimes against the Kurdish people,” said Jalal Jawhir, an official with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. “We demand a fair trial and we think that the proper punishment … is a life sentence. We do not believe in capital punishment.”