Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Saddam's Final Hours

The eccentric, hard-working dean of the NYT Iraq team, John Burns, pieces together Saddam's last hours.

American opposition to executing him in haste centered partly on the fact that the Id al-Adha religious holiday, marking the end of the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, began for Sunnis at sunrise on Saturday. In Baghdad, the sun was to rise at 7:06 a.m. Iraqi government officials had promised the hanging would be over before the dawn light began seeping through the palms that shade the capital’s streets.

The taunts Mr. Hussein endured from Shiite guards as he stood with the noose around his neck have made headlines around the world, and stirred angry protests among his fellow Iraqi Sunnis. But the story of how American commanders and diplomats fought to halt the execution until midnight on Friday, only six hours before Mr. Hussein was hanged, is only now coming into focus, as Iraqi and American officials, in the glare of international outrage over the hanging, compete with their versions of what happened.

The story, as you might expect, gets murkier the closer you get to it. One thing that begins to emerge from this and other accounts is that the "Iraq is a sovereign nation" explanation is not simply a convenient cop out. The "American commanders and diplomats," the mid-level people over there, tend to take it seriously and work as though it is so. The White House, however, sometimes forgets.