By Jim Garamone
Nov. 5, 2006 – An Iraqi court sentenced Saddam Hussein to death today for ordering the execution of 148 men in Dujail, Iraq, in 1982. Thousands of people in Baghdad took to the streets to celebrate the verdict. The Iraqi High Tribunal sentenced two other defendants to death and four to prison and acquitted one.
In anticipation of the verdict, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had imposed a curfew in Baghdad and two Diyala and Salaheddin provinces. The two provinces are primarily Sunni and were the base of Saddam's support during his dictatorship. Shiite and Kurdish provinces were not under curfew.
"The Saddam Hussein era is in the past now, as was the era of Hitler and Mussolini," al-Maliki said following the verdict. "We want an Iraq where all Iraqis are equal before the law," he said. "The policy of discrimination and persecution is over."
U.S. forces captured Saddam hiding in a hole in the ground in December 2003. In a written statement, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad called the verdict "an important milestone for Iraq as the country takes another major step forward in the building of a free society based on the rule of law."
Khalilzad said the verdicts demonstrate the commitment of the Iraqi people to hold the members of the former regime accountable for their actions.
All involved in the case showed courage in proceeding with it, the ambassador said. Baathist "dead-enders" tried to intimidate members of the court, and insurgents killed three defense lawyers in the course of the trial, he noted.
"Their determination to pursue justice is a signal that the rule of law will prevail in Iraq despite the difficult situation that the country now faces," Khalilzad said. "A former dictator feared by millions, who killed his own citizens without mercy or justice, who waged wars against neighboring countries, has been brought to trial in his own country - held accountable in a court of law with ordinary citizens bearing witness."
The ambassador said that although Iraq may face difficult days in the coming weeks, "closing the book on Saddam and his regime is an opportunity to unite and build a better future. As the Iraqi people move forward, the United States will support them in their efforts to build a just and democratic society."
Saddam's case will be appealed automatically to the Appellate Chamber of the Iraqi High Tribunal. The defense has 30 days to file any motions.