Guards in Saddam video named; Bush supports probe


  • World
  • Friday, 05 Jan 2007

By Ibon Villelabeitia

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Investigators have identified two guards who illicitly filmed Saddam Hussein's execution, an official said on Thursday, as the Iraqi government sought to dampen growing outrage from Sunni Arabs over the unruly hanging. 

The mobile phone video of Shi'ite officials taunting Saddam on the gallows has inflamed sectarian passions in a country on the brink of civil war. 

Footage from Al Iraqiya television shows masked executioners preparing to put a noose around former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's neck moments before his hanging in Baghdad, December 30, 2006. (REUTERS/Al Iraqiya)

"Two Justice Ministry guards have been arrested. Other guards have identified them as having filmed the hanging," Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's aide Sami al-Askari told Reuters. 

U.S. President George W. Bush said that Saddam's execution should have been carried out in a "more dignified way." 

"We expect there to be a full investigation of what took place," Bush said at a White House news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in his first public comments on the matter. 

"I wish, obviously, that the proceedings had been -- gone in a more dignified way. But nevertheless, he was given justice," Bush said. "The thousands of people he killed were not." 

Bush also promised to unveil his new Iraq strategy next week. One option under consideration is a temporary increase in troops, though on Thursday he would not tip his hand about the upcoming changes. 

"I'm in the process of making up my final decision as to what to recommend, what recommendations to accept," he said. "One thing is for certain, I will want to make sure that the mission is clear and specific and can be accomplished." 

Michigan Democrat Senator Carl Levin, incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Bush was likely to link any short-term increase in U.S. troop levels to certain conditions. 

Levin said he believed Bush would "at a minimum" reverse the open-ended nature of the U.S. troop commitment in Iraq. 

Bush is planning to name a new ambassador to Iraq and will likely pick new military commanders there, moves that would wrap up a virtually complete change of top U.S. officials responsible for the prosecuting the war. This follows the departure of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who was replaced with former CIA chief Robert Gates. 

NO RADICAL SHIFT 

But there is little expectation that changing faces will mean a radical shift in policy called for by some opposition Democrats, who took control of the U.S. Congress on Thursday after an election dominated by the Iraq debate. 

As U.S. military casualties in Iraq climbed above 3,000, an American soldier was killed in western Baghdad on Thursday after his patrol came under attack from small arms fire, the U.S. military said in a statement. 

Two bombs exploded earlier near a petrol station in Baghdad's western Mansour district, killing at least 13 people and wounding 22, police said. 

A prosecutor who attended Saddam's execution told Reuters he had seen two senior officials filming the hanging, prompting suggestions among some Iraqis that the guards might be used as scapegoats. 

Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani told a news conference: "The investigation is ongoing and we have identified those who flouted the rules ... Even for a dictator like Saddam, the law must be obeyed." 

The images, which show observers yelling "Go to hell" and chanting the name of a radical Shi'ite cleric before Saddam falls through the trap, have sparked angry demonstrations by Saddam's fellow Sunnis, fearful of Shi'ite ascendancy. Moderate Sunnis say it deals a blow to Maliki's call for reconciliation. 

In Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's restive western province of Anbar, U.S. commanders met tribal chief Sheikh Sattar al-Buzayi, the U.S. military said in a statement Thursday. 

They discussed action being taken by Iraqi security troops with the help of U.S.-led forces in the region, the statement said but gave no further details. U.S. forces conducted a string of raids in Ramadi Wednesday and detained 23 suspects with ties to senior Al Qaeda leaders. 

Buzayi is head of the Anbar Salvation Council, an umbrella group of tribes in Anbar frustrated with al Qaeda's growing influence in the province. 

Barzan al-Tikriti, one of Saddam's half-brothers and his former intelligence chief, and Awad al-Bander, a former judge, were found guilty with Saddam two months ago over the killings of 148 Shi'ite men from the town of Dujail in the 1980s. Bander presided over the court that ordered the men's deaths. 

Officials have said they will take more precautions for the executions of Barzan and Bander, including checking witnesses for cameras and mobile phones. 

(Additional reporting by Mussab Al-Khairalla in Baghdad) 

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