POLITICS

One Year On, Saddam Hanging Seen As Widening Sectarian Divide

Mar 28, 2008 | Updated May 25, 2011

Even as defeat stared him in the face, Saddam Hussein stood on a pick-up truck outside Baghdad's Abu Hanifa mosque and waved to the crowd of 200 people, promising them a glorious future.

"His last words to us were 'I promise the people of Adhamiyah golden monuments once we defeat the Americans'," remembered Abu Rima one year after the deposed dictator was hanged in the Iraqi capital.

"The image flashes in front of my eyes even now like a scene from a film. It was April 9 and a Wednesday. That date is in my blood. Saddam is in my blood," Rima said, his voice choking with emotion.

Rima lives in the Sunni bastion of Adhamiyah in north Baghdad where Saddam made his last public appearance on April 9, 2003.

Sitting on the lawn of a one-storey home, the bald 65-year-old former teacher recalled his memories of that day.

"Just hours before the American tanks rolled into Firdoos Square and pulled down his statue he was here with us in Adhamiyah and they couldn't find him," Rima said.

US marines in central Baghdad hauled down the giant statue of Saddam, before an Iraqi crowd beat the head of the fallen figure with their shoes in an act considered the ultimate insult in Arab culture.

Describing the events of that day, Rima said Saddam appeared around the time of midday prayers.

"We were offering midday prayers inside the Abu Hanifa mosque when suddenly someone said the president was outside. We rushed out and there he was standing on the bonnet of the pick-up," Rima said.

He said Saddam was accompanied by his son Qusay, his bodyguard Abid Hammud and his defence minister Sultan Hashim al-Tai.

"This was not the first time I'd seen him. But I rushed up and shook hands with him. I kissed him on his chest and shoulders," Rima said, adding that Saddam was in a military uniform and that Qusay wore a purple suit.

"One brave woman who was standing close to Saddam said to him 'you look tired.' And he said to her 'I won't be tired. God willing, Iraq will be victorious'," Rima said.

Another Sunni resident of Adhamiyah, Mohammed al-Obeidi, also saw Saddam outside Abu Hanifa mosque that day and agreed that the former president looked exhausted.

"He was tired but he still had charisma. When he was talking to us I was so charged up that I started searching for a rifle to fire in the air as a celebration that we would beat the Americans," he said.

For Rima, Saddam remains a martyr who was executed by the Americans.

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