Sunday’s death sentence handed down to Iraq’s former president Saddam Hussein for ordering the killings of 148 Shiites after a bid on his life in 1982 was a foregone conclusion. Even within Iraq, the reaction seems to have moved along sectarian lines at a time when the need is for the Iraqis to become one to regain its old self and start reconstruction. While some have hailed the verdict, others have expressed doubts on its credibility, terming it “victor’s justice”. The moot point is not whether Saddam was guilty or not but how fair the trial has been. Many have cast doubts over the fairness of a verdict delivered by a widely perceived foreign-backed Shia regime.

But there is more to it that makes it hard to see that justice to have been done. Four of Saddam’s lawyers were killed and two judges removed under political pressure for being “too soft” on Saddam as the ‘kangaroo trial’ got underway. Some have even alleged that the verdict was timed to boost US president Bush’s image at home just two days before the US mid-term polls. The sentence will now be referred to an 8-man appeals panel, and if it ratifies the sentence, Saddam would have to be hanged within 30 days. Though US officials say Washington had no say in the verdict, observers allege that throughout the case Iraqi court officials had consulted closely with, or even been guided by, US embassy lawyers. Had Saddam been tried by a UN court or in a neutral venue, the judgement would not have looked like a farce that it does now. Amnesty International, too, has deplored the ‘deeply flawed’ judgement of death.