In a statement issued after the execution of Saddam Hussein, President Bush said that bringing Saddam to justice "is an important milestone" of Iraq's evolution into a democracy and ally in the war on terror.
However, as hostile reactions by Sunni Muslims spread throughout the region and the U.S. military death toll surpassed 3,000, one must wonder if Saddam's execution is extremely dangerous and more of a setback to national unity than anything else.
Instead of making a clean break with Iraq's bloody past, current Iraqi leaders are blinded by sectarian loyalties and a primal desire to eliminate their former tormentors. They have not learned the lessons of their country's tragic past -- where executing rulers after deeply flawed trials fed a spirit of vendetta and birthed new violence.
Since the army overthrew the royal regime in 1958, Iraq has set a world record in the killing of its strongmen. Saddam and his henchmen perfected this murderous practice.
Iraq's blood-soaked modern history has tormented the land and its people, and caused a rift within and among its ethnic and religious communities. Political stability was only bought at exorbitant human and social costs.
One had hoped that the new Iraq would be built on a more humane and democratic foundation than the old, but as we have seen in other key decisions, the Iraqi leadership and the Bush administration are oblivious to the broader legal, moral and political ramifications inherent in Saddam's execution.
By all standards, Saddam's sentence is widely seen as illegitimate, as his trial was neither fair nor impartial. After his capture by U.S. troops in an underground hideout in 2003, Iraqi leaders said they wanted him dead -- sooner rather than later. They clamored with one another for his blood, even though human rights organizations questioned the credibility of the court's proceedings. Bush aides lavishly praised the trial and final denouement.
Ironically, Saddam was already politically dead and his bitter legacy disgraced. But now, his hanging, coupled with his defiance, has turned him into a "martyr" among Sunni Muslims worldwide, with leading religious authorities saying that Saddam was a freedom fighter defending his country against the American occupation.
Saddam must be laughing in his grave -- transformed into a war hero and symbol of resistance after death, thanks to the blunders of the Bush administration and Shiite-led government.
The hanging of Saddam, which occurred on the day of Eid al-Adha (one of the two most important Islamic holidays), embittered Sunni opinion against America. Forbidden in Islam, the execution is widely seen as an "insult" and "humiliation" carried out on one of their holiest days.
Although Bush officials kept a low profile, saying that the execution was an Iraqi operation, few in the Sunni heartland accept this. There is a popular belief that the Bush administration engineered Saddam's death. "Who captured Saddam? Who legitimized his deeply flawed trial? Who handed Saddam to his Iraqi executioners?" and, "America will rue the day when it handed Saddam over to his Shiite executioners," can both be heard on Arab streets.
In the end, tribal vengeance triumphed over the rule of law, humanity and toleration.