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Maliki to reap benefits from execution

December 31, 2006

BAGHDAD: After mounting political pressure on Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in the face of unrelenting bloodshed, the execution of Saddam Hussein is seen by many as a much-needed boost to his government.

Some politicians said Maliki’s actions would show him as a strong leader, not afraid of taking tough decisions. Analysts said the execution also gave Maliki the opportunity of reaching out to Baathists and other opponents.

Saddam’s dawn execution sparked scenes of joy in much of Iraq but there was anger in parts of the Sunni community, which forms the backbone of the anti-government insurgency.

Television footage showed Maliki dressed in a grey suit and striped tie signing the execution order in red ink before more footage showed a subdued Saddam having the noose put around his neck by masked hangmen.

Whilst Maliki was keen on portraying a triumphant image for a moment most Iraqis have long been waiting for, he also sent out a diplomatic statement soon after Saddam was executed, calling on the former leader’s supporters to put weapons aside and join a new Iraq free of dictatorship.

“I urge ... followers of the ousted regime to reconsider their stance as the door is still open to anyone who has no innocent blood on his hands to help in rebuilding ... Iraq,” Maliki said.

Political analyst Hazim al-Nuaimi said Maliki would reap the benefits from Saddam’s execution after the initial storm settled and that he was playing it right by reaching out to Baathists.

“After a while it will prove to be an excellent step to open a new page,” he said.

“The Baathists will taste the sour reality but Maliki has to convince them he has no issues with the Arab nationalist ideology that has deep roots in Iraq but rather has issues with Saddam and his leadership,” Nuaimi added.

After taking office as a compromise choice ending weeks of deadlock in May, Maliki transformed himself from a Shia hardliner into a man who urged reconciliation.

But after eight months on the job, he has struggled to quell sectarian violence and has been blamed by Sunni leaders for not doing enough to crack down on Shia militias.

Maliki’s Dawa party was seen as an ally of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr whose movement is accused of targeting Sunnis, a charge they firmly deny. He fell out with the group after he ignored their demands to snub the US president.

The premier, who spent long years exiled in Syria, has even had a public spat with the United States over sovereignty, gaining him popularity at home but not in Washington.

A few weeks before Saddam’s execution, things seemed to be falling apart for Maliki as followers of Sadr boycotted the

government at a time when speculation was rife of a new coalition that side-stepped both Dawa and Sadr.

A Shia politician, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the execution would reinforce Maliki’s reputation as a man willing to take political risks and upset allies to get things done. “I think he has already shown he is a strong and courageous leader,” he said.

He said he expected Iraq to see a short-lived surge in violence before the situation stabilised in three to six months.

“But the real challenge will come next,” the politician warned. “He has to seize the opportunity and draw in Baathists to calm the situation since they are now at their most vulnerable.”

Maliki, who knew Saddam’s lengthy trial procedures frustrated his Shia constituents, will want to be seen as having a central role in the execution, which followed Saddam’s conviction in November for crimes against humanity.

A senior Sunni official, who spoke anonymously to Reuters, said the execution would help Maliki keep his job but would not guarantee a successful reconciliation if “attitudes” remained.

“I think the quick execution was to please a lot of people when he clearly cannot provide security and basic services. However, for all Iraqis to accept his government, he must change his government’s attitude towards the opposition,” he said.

Nuaimi said: “Every conflict has an ending. Let us hope Maliki has given us all a priceless shortcut.”—Reuters