Gallup Poll of Iraq: Hussein Should Be Executed If Found Responsible for Murder

by Richard Burkholder, International Bureau Chief

As reported last week in The Gallup Poll Tuesday Briefing, more than four-fifths of all Iraqis agree that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein should be tried for crimes against fellow Iraqis, and most believe he will receive a fair trial if tried by a panel of Iraqi judges, according to Gallup's nationwide poll of 3,444 Iraqi adults in late March and early April. But what is their assessment of his personal culpability? 

Overwhelmingly, Iraqis believe that Hussein is probably guilty of responsibility for the murder of Iraqi civilians (84% say they believe this) and torture of Iraqi civilians (84%). Huge majorities also hold him guilty of crimes against humanity for the use of poison gas against Iraqi civilians (83%), and of war crimes for the use of poison gas against Iranian soldiers (80%).  

There is little dissent regarding Hussein's probable guilt. Nationwide, just 6% of Iraqis express the view that Hussein is probably not responsible for the murder, torture, and gassing of his fellow Iraqis, and just 1 in 12 (8%) believe Hussein is innocent of responsibility for the gassing of Iranian troops. 

Can Hussein's legal culpability for crimes committed against Iraqis be established? As the court's Director General, Salem Chalabi, observed in an interview with the BBC: "He has probably not killed a huge number of people with his own hands. He has most likely ordered the killing." 

Nevertheless, the poll clearly indicates that Hussein is widely believed to be personally liable for such crimes. Iraqis know, for example, that Hussein placed his most-feared subordinate, General Ali Hassan al-Majid, in command of both the savage suppression of the 1991 Shiite rebellion in the south, in which tens of thousands of civilians were murdered, and the 1987-1988 Anfal campaign in the Kurdish north, which included the gassing of thousands of civilians in the town of Halabja. To most Iraqis, it appears inconceivable that "Chemical Ali" could have supervised the atrocities committed during these two campaigns (as well as those committed during Iraq's occupation of Kuwait, where he served as Iraq's de facto governor), without the explicit approval of his cousin and commander, Hussein.

Execution Seen As Most Appropriate Sentence If Hussein Found Guilty Of Responsibility for Murder

The majority of Iraqis who believe Saddam Hussein is likely to receive a fair trial (see “Iraqis To Judge Saddam Hussein – But When?” in Related Items) were asked what sentence he should face if an Iraqi court finds him guilty of responsibility for the murder of Iraqi civilians. By a wide margin, the death penalty (61%) -– rather than a life prison sentence (21%) or other lengthy jail term (5%) -– is seen as the appropriate sentence should that scenario come to pass.

Support for the death penalty is particularly strong among residents of Baghdad (71%) and the country's heavily Shiite areas (70%), but even in strongly Sunni governorates, nearly half (47%) think Hussein should be executed if convicted of responsibility for murder (31% of people in Sunni areas choose a life sentence).

It should be noted that Iraq's death penalty was suspended through an order signed last June by Coalition Provisional Authority Administrator Paul Bremer. The subsequent Temporary Administrative Law -- adopted by the Iraqi Governing Council more than 3,700 years after another local ruler, Hammurabi, gave the world its first comprehensive legal code -- includes no provision authorizing capital punishment. And the United Nations, which may assume an expanded advisory role in Iraq after June 30, also opposes the death penalty. This is, however, precisely the sentence that most Iraqis believe Hussein ought to face if convicted of responsibility for murder.    

Iraqi Sympathy Toward Hussein

Evidently, only a small minority of Iraqis are sympathetic to Hussein. Just 1 Iraqi in 10 expresses either a somewhat favorable (4%) or very favorable (5%) opinion of the former Iraqi president, while 7% say they have a somewhat unfavorable view of Hussein. In contrast, nearly three-quarters of all Iraqis (73%) say they have a very unfavorable opinion of the ousted dictator -- far larger than the percentages expressing very unfavorable views of U.S. President George W. Bush (44%), British Prime Minister Tony Blair (36%), or Bremer (30%). 

Sympathetic appraisals of Hussein are largely limited to heavily Sunni areas of the country. The most extreme example of this pattern is the opinion of residents of central Anbar and Salah ad Din -- the only geographic grouping more likely to express a favorable view of Hussein (24% strongly favorable, 22% somewhat favorable) than an unfavorable one (33% strongly unfavorable, 5% somewhat unfavorable). In contrast, 90% of those in the country's heavily Shiite areas, and fully 98% of those in the Kurdish governorate of Sulaymaniyah, say their view of Hussein is very unfavorable, and only 1% of Iraqis in either of these areas express an opinion of Hussein that is even marginally positive.

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