Iraq Quiet in Wake of Saddam's Passing

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There is jubilation in Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad following the execution of Saddam Hussein, but the general reaction is muted and aside from a deadly bombing in the mostly Shiite town of Kufa, there are no reports of extraordinary violence.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is away. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

There was jubilation in Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad this morning, gunfire and dancing in the streets of Sadr City as people long oppressed by Saddam Hussein celebrated his execution. The 69-year-old former dictator went to the gallows just before dawn.

He was condemned for one of his lesser crimes - ordering the deaths of 148 Shiite men and boys in revenge for an attempt to assassinate him. His trial for genocide, the killing and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds, was left unfinished.

U.S. military and Iraqi security forces braced for retaliatory attacks from Saddam's former supporters, and there has been violence, although it's hard to tell yet whether it's anything beyond the violence that has become routine for Iraqis.

NPR's Corey Flintoff joins us. He's in Baghdad. Corey, could you set the scene for us in those moments before dawn when Saddam's execution took place?

COREY FLINTOFF: It was relatively quiet, Linda. Saddam's death wasn't announced until about 10 minutes after it took place, and it took more than a hour for any details to emerge. So all of that may have muted the reaction. This also all happened, too, just before the start of a major Muslim holiday, the Eid al-Adha. And it's likely that many people were either asleep or preparing for the holiday.

WERTHEIMER: Does this mean, do you suppose, that Saddam had become less relevant as the situation in Iraq became more dire?

FLINTOFF: I think it does. I talked to several people before the execution who said they didn't think Saddam's death would make a great deal of difference. They said Iraqis are far more worried about the prospect of a sectarian civil war.

The people who may have had the most reason to hate Saddam are the ones who didn't want him executed now. Iraqi Kurds wanted him to stand trial for the so-called Anfal massacres, the campaign that killed tens of thousands of Kurdish villagers.

WERTHEIMER: I suppose that the Arabic-language media are broadcasting this all over the place. Are we seeing - are you seeing something different from what we're seeing in the U.S.?

FLINTOFF: I think I am. They seem to be treating it more gently than international cable channels. On CNN and BBC we're seeing a lot of footage that was taken right after Saddam was captured. You know, it shows this disheveled, unkempt man who's just come out of the spider hole and he's being checked for lice by an Army doctor.

We've seen very little of that on the Arabic TV channels. On Al-Arabia showed video throughout Saddam's career and pictures of him, you know, in his military uniform looking quite triumphant.

WERTHEIMER: What about the video of the execution? Is there anything - is anything different on the air there?

FLINTOFF: Not really. The Arabic channels, they're showing the same pictures of Saddam surrounded by masked men; they're placing the noose around his neck. They're not showing any more of that official video than the English channels. And we're also seeing the same cell phone video of Saddam's corpse, which was apparently shot right after he was taken down from the gallows.

I should say this is very important here, because Iraqis have said they won't believe Saddam is really dead until they've seen it for themselves. Some people believe that Saddam had hidden wealth and would be able to buy his way out into exile at the last minute.

WERTHEIMER: Do you think that the actual execution will be shown at some point?

FLINTOFF: It hasn't been, and we haven't heard any announcement. There's been no official explanation of why it hasn't been shown. Iraq's national security adviser, who was at the execution, said only that it had been taped, but not when it might be aired.

WERTHEIMER: And I do - I wonder about the violence today. Can you tell if the violence that is happening in Iraq today is more than usual?

FLINTOFF: Well, we may have had an upsurge in violence, and so far it seems to have hit hardest against Shiites. There were three car bombs that blew up in Haria(ph), a neighborhood in northwest Baghdad. Used to be a mixed neighborhood, but rounds of threats by Shiite militias have driven most of the Sunni residents out. So far that has killed at least two dozen people, and the death toll is rising.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Corey Flintoff reporting from Baghdad. Corey, thank you very much.

FLINTOFF: Thank you, Linda.

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