The tribunal also had a unique sense of timing when choosing the day for Saddam's hanging. It was a slap in the face to Sunni Arabs. This weekend marks Eid al-Adha, the Holy Day of Sacrifice, on which Muslims commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son for God. Shiites celebrate it Sunday. Sunnis celebrate it Saturday –- and Iraqi law forbids executing the condemned on a major holiday. Hanging Saddam on Saturday was perceived by Sunni Arabs as the act of a Shiite government that had accepted the Shiite ritual calendar.I'm no fan of the death penalty to begin with- Saddam's death will mean that the truth will probably not be brought to light on his other crimes: the one for which he was convicted, while certainly terrible, was far from the worst he has committed. Worse, because it was in reprisal for an assassination attempt by the same Dawa fundamentalists that eventually came to rule Iraq in all but name, it looks like vengeance against vengeance, rather than justice.
The timing also allowed Saddam, in his farewell address to Iraq, to pose as a “sacrifice” for his nation, an explicit reference to Eid al-Adha. The tribunal had given the old secular nationalist the chance to use religious language to play on the sympathies of the whole Iraqi public.
It is this religious element that's truly worrisome, though. All that's keeping Iraq from turning into the next Rwanda, given the similarities of the minority vs. majority conflicts and the growing civil war, is the idea that the majority will not impose its beliefs to any unnecessary degree. Religious holidays are a serious issue in Iraq- the message this sends is that Sunni religious beliefs are at best ignored by the Shiite majority.
(If not actively disdained.)
Saddam exploited this, but this would have been an issue even if Saddam had not breathed a word. It's a message, one saying "we hold you in contempt, and (by extension) are only waiting for the opportunity to rid ourselves of you entirely."