George Packer joins us. He's a writer for the New Yorker magazine who has covered Iraq extensively.

GEORGE PACKER: Good morning.

WERTHEIMER: We've been looking - listening to the news, looking at all the old pictures, the toppling of the statue of Saddam, people leaping onto it. Wouldn't you expect there to be still some of that kind of feeling left in Iraq, and not just among the Shiites, that this was a tyrant, that so many people died in Iraq as a result of Saddam Hussein's reign?

PACKER: I know that millions of Iraqis feel that way and so today is going to be a day of vengeful joy for a lot of Iraqis. But the thing that strikes me is, you know, Saddam falling through the gallows to his death is an utterly just act, but the whole context for it and the sort of - the historical meaning of it - it feels wrong to me today. It - this is not going to be an act of justice that is going to lead to some kind of national reckoning with the past and therefore an ability to move on.

Instead, it's simply going to be swept into what Iraq has become, which is a divided, violent country in which groups will choose to read the execution of Saddam according to group identity rather than Iraqi identity. And so it seems to me there is no Iraqi state or nation today that is really capable of executing Saddam in a way that does reflect Iraq rather than the groups within Iraq that were his victims.

WERTHEIMER: Do you think that this means that there will be any difference to the Sunni insurgency with Saddam gone? He has not been obviously leading anything because he's been in prison for three years. But the symbol of Saddam - does that make a difference?

PACKER: I don't think that there's going to be any real tactical change in the Sunni insurgency. I do think that it's simply going to deepen the sense among Sunnis, including those who while Saddam was ruling over them despised him completely, that they had been singled out and shut out, and that this is Shiite and Kurdish vengeance rather than Iraqi justice. That's going to be the perception among even some secular Sunnis who feel persecuted these days because of the death squads and the fact that the Iraqi government is dominated by Shia and Kurds.

WERTHEIMER: Do you think this is going to be seen as something the Americans are pushing for, that it took place so quickly because that's what the Americans wanted?

PACKER: It may be seen that way, but I think the opposite is true. From what I've read, American officials were stunned at the speed of this. It was really the Iraqi government that was pushing to get it done so quickly. And it's ironic that Saddam has been executed for killing 148 civilians from the town of Dujail. The fact that he killed hundreds of thousands of Shia Kurds and other Iraqis in the great massacres of the late '80s and early '90s will go unpunished, because those trials, which were underway, can't be completed without the defendant.

And so in a way they've executed Saddam for one of his smallest crimes and left the largest crimes untried and unjudged.

WERTHEIMER: And do you think that's going to make - how will the people whose crimes are unjudged - how do they feel about that, do you think?

PACKER: Well, I think some Kurds may well feel they wanted to see the Anfal trial, the genocide trial against the Kurdish people, carried through. But I also know from experience that the level of hatred against Saddam is so intense among - especially Kurds and Shia - that the fact that he's dead may well satisfy them. They may well feel it was too good for him, because I've heard accounts of how they would like to see Saddam executed that were pretty gory indeed. And this may well seem like it happened too secretly and too mercifully, because that's the level of hatred that he engendered.

WERTHEIMER: Why do you think the government moved in that way?

PACKER: I think that although the trial was not entirely a political trial - there was some of the procedures of justice, and we have to recognize that - it was politicized especially in the speed which he was executed. I think the Maliki government wanted to have Saddam on their record as having been executed on their watch. They wanted to do it as quickly as possible in order to gain the benefit of it.


PACKER: They didn't want Saddam hanging over their heads.

WERTHEIMER: Thank you very much. George Packer is a writer for the New Yorker magazine. His book is called "The Assassin's Gate: America in Iraq." Thank you.

PACKER: Thank you.

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