Sure, the guy was an asshole. An asshole, mind you, who was able to outshine most other assholes by orders of magnitude. He ordered a gas attack on Kurds, invaded a sovereign neighbor, and in general was a complete dick to everyone who wasn't a Sunni. He raised extremely scary sons - they symbolized what an upbringing with all of the privileges that come with extreme power, none of the responsibilities of having that power, and a complete disregard for the value of human life can bring you. I think about the cold, level-headed slaughter Saddam and his sons were capable of, and I shudder.
Still, another part of me wonders if he was unjustly executed. The things he did were done out of a definite need, in the 80's, for his regime to retain stability in the region. Sunni, Shia, and Kurds wanted nothing more than to slaughter each other - men, women, and children. They MIGHT have hated the Jews more, but certainly not by much. Saddam's Sunni minority wasn't a fun regime for ANYONE to live under, but at least he kept the country from imploding into a 3-way orgy of roadside and suicide bombing that targets innocent civilians based entirely on which fucking SECT of the Muslim faith they professed membership to. Hell, the Iraqis don't even really bother with Americans anymore- they're too busy blowing each other up at markets and intersections to even notice that our forces are still patrolling.
And then I go back to the fact that Saddam was a ticking bomb. We knew that if he COULD get a way to strike at the USA directly and cause real damage, that he would. We knew that he was slowly beginning to weasel his way into loosened sanctions (France and Russia were both becoming convinced that the UN sanctions should be removed), had completely undermined the "oil for food" program into a nightmare of tangled corruption that ensured Saddam+Family's pockets would be well lined at all times. Hell, even now I am pretty sure that the invasion was the right thing to do, removing him from power absolutely correct... but I am really unhappy about what happened afterward. The complete clusterfuck of our operational strategies in Iraq has been shameful at best, and we're now responsible for one hell of a mess.
The thing that really sticks in my mind, though, was the way in which Saddam faced his death. I've watched a few videos of the hanging now, and I am impressed by his dignity despite the heckling and his own impending death. The description I heard on the news originally was definitely inaccurate - the executioners were NOT taunting him, from what I'm gathering. The following is from Baghdad Burning, a great blog written by an Iraqi woman whose writings on Iraq have always been very insightful.
From the video that was leaked, it was not an executioner who yelled "long live Muqtada al-Sadr". See, this is another low the Maliki government sunk to- they had some hecklers conveniently standing by during the execution. Maliki claimed they were "some witnesses from the trial", but they were, very obviously, hecklers. The moment the noose was around Saddam's neck, they began chanting, in unison, "God's prayers be on Mohamed and on Mohamed's family…" Something else I didn't quite catch (but it was very coordinated), and then "Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada!" One of them called out to Saddam, "Go to hell…" (in Arabic). Saddam looked down disdainfully and answered "Heya hay il marjala…?" which is basically saying, "Is this your manhood…?".
Someone half-heartedly called out to the hecklers, "I beg you, I beg you- the man is being executed!" They were slightly quieter and then Saddam stood and said, "Ashadu an la ilaha ila Allah, wa ashhadu ana Mohammedun rasool Allah…" Which means, "I witness there is no god but Allah and that Mohammed is His messenger." These are the words a Muslim (Sunnis and Shia alike) should say on their deathbed. He repeated this one more time, very clearly, but before he could finish it, he was lynched.
So, no, CNN, his last words were not "Muqtada Al Sadr" in a mocking tone- just thought someone should clear that up.
I hope that I can meet my end with that level of dignity and strength. While the man was someone I despise on so many levels, I still can respect that in a person.