Posted: 03 January 2007 at 7:28am | IP Logged
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A guard present at Saddam Hussein's execution was being questioned in connection with a cell phone video showing the hanging, according to Sadiq al-Rikabi, an adviser to the Iraqi prime minister said Wednesday.
The security guard is suspected of making and distributing the video, which showed bitter exchanges between the Sunni former dictator and his Shiite guards. The images fed Sunni fears that Hussein's death was a sectarian lynching by the Shiite-led government, rather than a legitimate execution.
Iraq's national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie, who was an official observer at the hanging, told CNN on Wednesday that the execution was "not a sectarian lynching" but that some of the behavior in the execution chamber was "unacceptable."
"I believe the whole process has been infiltrated by people who have a vested interest in escalating the violence," al-Rubaie said. "They wanted to promote a political cause for themselves or for their groups or for their leader or whatever, but I believe the Iraqi government has done the proper thing."
Al-Rubaie said there were people in the execution chamber whom he could not account for and who did not seem to be part of the execution team.
Iraq has launched an investigation into who recorded and distributed images of the execution, as well as the taunting of the former leader just before to his death, according to a government spokesman. (Watch how the cell-phone video is causing concern in Iraq )
There are conflicting reports on who smuggled a cell phone into the execution chamber.
Sami al-Askari, an aide to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, attended the execution and told CNN it was one of the four masked guards who recorded the hanging.
Al-Rubaie denies bringing in cell phone
The New York Times quoted Iraqi prosecutor Munqith Faroon as identifying al-Rubaie as one of two Iraqi officials holding their cell phones in the air to capture images and sound of Saddam's hanging.
Al-Rubaie Wednesday denied the charge, saying that the accusation had since been pulled off The New York Times' Web site.
Faroon -- a prosecutor in the Dujail case in which Hussein was found guilty and sentenced to death -- did not identify the second Iraqi official.
CNN is attempting to contact The New York Times to find out why the paragraph was removed from its online edition.
Al-Rubaie told CNN he and other Iraqi officials were meticulously screened by U.S. soldiers before entering the execution chamber.
"The cell phones were taken by the American guards in the Green Zone and also before we entered into the execution chambers," al-Rubaie said.
He said some of the guards securing the chambers were carrying cell phones -- and possibly some of the executioners -- but said he did not see who was videotaping the hanging because he "was busy looking at Saddam."
He said whoever leaked the video "meant harm to the national unity of Iraq" and noted there were a few people inside the chamber that he did not witness going through the security process.
"I believe there was an infiltration to the crowd inside the chamber," al-Rubaie said. "These people have done a lot of harm and I honestly believe that this may well have been planned by one of these Arab television channels infiltrating, and probably this video has been sold to this Arab television station."
"There was some behavior which was unacceptable from some people, but some of them -- some of this reaction -- [was] a natural reaction that should not have happened," he said. "It should have been -- they should have respect for the occasion and the event, but I think some of them, they were natural reactions."
'The man is being executed'
Early Saturday morning, Hussein was transported from his holding cell at Camp Cropper to the execution site, a building where Hussein's intelligence officers had hanged so many others.
There, he was handed over to Iraqi security.
Official government video of the execution was released without sound and ends when the noose is put around Hussein's neck.
But a crude cell-phone video leaked less than 24 hours later goes much further -- showing bitter exchanges between Hussein and his Shiite guards. (Watch how Iraqis react to cell-phone footage )
After Hussein offers prayers, the guards shout praise for Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric whose father is believed to have been murdered by Hussein's regime.
They chant, "Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada!"
"Is this how you show your bravery as men?" he asks.
"Straight to hell," someone shouts back at him.
"Is this the bravery of Arabs?" Hussein asks.
A sole voice is heard trying to silence the taunts.
"Please, I am begging you not to," the unknown man says. "The man is being executed."
Another shout, "Long live Mohammed Baqir Sadr" -- referring to Muqtada al-Sadr's father-in-law and a founder of the Shiite Dawa movement, who was executed by the Hussein regime. Dawa is al-Maliki's party.
The taunts continued, and the trapdoor dropped shortly after 6 a.m. Saturday. Hussein was hanged. (Watch Hussein's last moments )
Immediately after, Shiite witnesses danced around his body, chanting celebratory slogans.
The images raised concerns that even moderate Sunnis would be driven further away from the Shiite-led government they already mistrust, reducing the chances for a united Iraq where the sects share power.
U.S.: We would have done it differently
The execution would have been done differently had the United States been in charge, a U.S. military spokesman said Wednesday.
"But that was not our decision," U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said during a Baghdad news conference. "That was the government of Iraq's decision. This is a sovereign nation and they're going to learn from each thing they do."
Leading up to the exchange of "physical control" of Hussein to the Iraqis, Caldwell said the former dictator was "dignified as always" and was "courteous as he always had been to the U.S. military police guards."
"We had absolutely nothing to do with any of the procedures or control mechanisms from that point forward," Caldwell added.
U.S. officials reportedly tried to delay the execution, fearing it would fuel perceptions the death of the former Iraqi dictator was more about Shiite retribution than about justice. (Full story)
On Sunday, the U.S. military transported Hussein's body for burial at his home village of Awja near Tikrit, where Sunnis took to the streets loudly calling the former Iraqi president a hero and a martyr. (Full story)
CNN's Arwa Damon, Jomana Karadsheh, Aneesh Raman and Brian Todd contributed to this report.