Saddam Verdict / Just Another Death Sentence in Iraq

In Baghdad's Sadr neighborhood, a Shi'ite stronghold, there was much rejoicing yesterday at the death sentence meted out on Saddam Hussein. The same was true in Iraq's Shi'ite-dominated south, where demands for an immediate implementation of the sentence were loudly voiced.

The Kurds, in contrast, have a problem with history: They want the court to finish trying Saddam for the slaughter, using chemical weapons, of thousands of Kurds in Halabja before he is executed.

As for the Sunnis, they, according to Western media reports, are depressed and worried. But almost everyone in Iraq has his own personal and collective account to settle with Saddam.

Saddam's sentencing was thus supposed to close a chapter of history for Iraqis. It was supposed to be a way for the newly democratic country to purify itself of the evils of the past.

Today, however, Iraq looks more like a collection of gangs and militias than a democratic country.

Executions are carried out routinely in its streets; they are a regular part of daily life.

Thus a court-ordered execution lacks the cathartic power it might otherwise have had. It can neither close a chapter nor open a new era. It is just another death sentence - one of the dozens that Iraqi militias carry out each day against civilians from rival communities.

For this reason, the verdict will also have no real impact on what is happening on the streets of Baghdad and Mosul. For Iraq has long since been engaged in a new war, one that was not caused by Saddam and cannot be ended by his death.

This is a war of Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds against each other, as well as Shi'ites against rival Shi'ite factions.

And since American forces are also ensnared in this war, Saddam's execution will have equally little impact on America's prospects for leaving Iraq.

As for Saddam's followers - the very ones who were deemed terrorists two years ago and untouchables last year - they are now part of Iraq's new national security force, the one that is supposed to assume responsibility for Iraq's security in place of the Americans. And perhaps that, far more than his trial, will be Saddam's real legacy.