Thursday 4th January, 2007 Posted: 13:56 CIT (18:56 GMT)
Iraqi Shiites carry a hanged effigy of the executed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein during a protest in Basra, 550 kilometers (340 miles) southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Jan. 4, 2007. More than 1,500 demonstrators took to the streets in Basra in support of Saddam’s execution. Photo: AP
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Iraqi authorities reported the arrests of two guards and an official in the investigation into who taunted Saddam Hussein as he stood on the gallows and took cell phone pictures showing his body dangling at the end of a rope.
The unauthorized video has ignited protests by Saddam’s fellow Sunni Arabs in various Iraqi cities and threatens to make a martyr out of the ousted dictator.
The Bush administration sent conflicting signals Wednesday about the conduct of the execution, with the White House declining to join criticism and the State Department and U.S. military publicly raising questions about it.
The second–guessing over the conduct of the execution came as a video turned up of four Americans and an Austrian abducted in November in southern Iraq. The hostages spoke briefly and appeared uninjured in a video believed to have been recorded nearly two weeks ago and delivered Wednesday to The Associated Press.
The men – security contractors for the Crescent Security Group based in Kuwait – appeared separately on the edited video, and three of them said they were being treated well. They were kidnapped Nov. 16 when suspected militiamen in Iraqi police uniforms ambushed a convoy of trucks being escorted by Crescent Security on a highway near the southern border city of Safwan.
In violence Thursday, two bombs exploded in Baghdad’s upscale Mansour neighborhood, killing 13 people and wounding at least 25, police said. Mansour is a primarily Sunni neighborhood in western Baghdad.
Saddam, who was convicted for the killings of 148 Shiites, was dignified and courteous to his American jailers up to the moment he was handed over to the Iraqis outside the execution chamber, a U.S. military spokesman said.
He "was courteous, as he always had been, to his U.S. military police guards," Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said. "He spoke very well to our military police, as he always had. And when getting off there at the prison site, he said farewell to his interpreter. He thanked the military police squad, the lieutenant, the squad leader, the medical doctor we had present, and the colonel that was on site."
National Security Adviser Mowaffak al–Rubaie and two other top officials variously reported one to three men were detained in connection with how Saddam’s execution was conducted.
"The investigation has already had an arrest warrant against one person and two to follow," al–Rubaie told CNN. He said the guard force at the execution was infiltrated by an Arab television station or another outsider.
The clandestine footage appeared on Al–Jazeera television and Web sites just hours after Saddam was hanged Saturday. The tumultuous scenes quickly overshadowed an official execution video, which was muted and showed none of the uproar among those on the floor of the chamber below the gallows.
Sami al–Askari, a Shiite lawmaker who advises Prime Minister Nouri al–Maliki, said two "Justice Ministry guards were being questioned. The investigation committee is interrogating the men. If it is found that any official was involved, he will face legal measures."
A second key al–Maliki adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information, reported the arrest of the official who supervised the execution and said he videotaped the execution.
Prosecutor Munqith al–Faroon, one of 14 official witnesses to the execution, told The Associated Press that he saw two government officials using camera phones at the hanging but did not know their names.
Caldwell said no Americans were present for the hanging and that the tumultuous execution would have gone differently had the Americans been in charge.
As the storm over the handling of the hanging gained strength, Caldwell was among several U.S. officials who suggested displeasure with the conduct of the execution.
"If you are asking me: ’Would we have done things differently?’ Yes, we would have. But that’s not our decision. That’s the government of Iraq’s decision," the general said.
The White House declined to join in the criticism.
"The president is focused on the new way forward in Iraq so these issues are best addressed out of Iraq, out of Baghdad," deputy White House press secretary Scott Stanzel said. "Prime Minister Maliki’s staff have already expressed their disappointment in the filmings, so I guess we’ll leave it at that."