BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi authorities reported the arrests Wednesday of two guards and an official who supervised Saddam Hussein’s hanging and said the guard force was infiltrated by outsiders who taunted the former leader and shot the video showing his body dangling at the end of a rope.
The unauthorized video, which ignited protests by Saddam’s fellow Sunni Arabs in various Iraqi cities after it appeared on the Internet, threatens to turn the ousted dictator into a martyr. Saddam was shown never bowing his head as he faced death and asking the hecklers if they were acting in a manly way.
The Bush administration sent conflicting signals Wednesday about the taunting and baiting that accompanied the execution, with the White House declining to join criticism of the procedure and the State Department and U.S. military publicly raising questions about it.
National security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie and two other top officials variously reported one to three men were being questioned in the investigation into who heckled Saddam as he was minutes from death and took cell phone pictures of his execution.
Sami al-Askeri, a Shiite lawmaker who advises Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said two “Justice Ministry guards were being questioned.”
As the storm over the handling of the hanging gained strength, Caldwell was among several U.S. officials who suggested displeasure with the conduct of the execution.
“If you are asking me, ‘Would we have done things differently?’ – yes, we would have. But that’s not our decision. That’s the government of Iraq’s decision,” the general said.
The White House declined to join in the criticism.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said U.S. officials had questioned holding the execution on a Muslim festival day, the opening of Eid al-Adha, as well as some procedures.
The second-guessing over the conduct of the execution came as Iraqi and Arab media and an Iraqi government official said preparations were under way to hang two of Saddam’s co-defendants in the next few days but that the details still have to be worked out with the American military.