Prescott attacks 'deplorable' images of Saddam execution

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An Iraqi prosecutor revealed yesterday that he almost halted the execution of Saddam Hussein because of the behaviour of witnesses who were taunting the condemned man. The Iraqi government announced an inquiry into chaotic scenes at the execution, which the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, condemned as "deplorable".

Munqith al-Faroon, one of the prosecutors in the trial, said two officials who were present at the execution had broken the rules by bringing their mobile phones, which were used to record the event. The leaked footage of the former dictator's final moments has provoked a backlash among Sunni Arabs, who see the execution as an act of sectarian revenge by Iraq's Shia-dominated government.

Mr Faroon said he threatened to leave unless the taunting of Saddam stopped. "They knew that if I left, the execution could not go ahead," he told the Associated Press news agency. Under Iraqi law a prosecution observer must be present.

Mr Prescott avoided any direct criticism of the Iraqi government, which has been embarrassed by the reaction to the recording of the execution. Mr Prescott's comments appeared to reflect growing concern in British government circles about the impact of Saddam's final, public humiliation on Iraq's disaffected Sunni minority.

Up to now, ministers have confined themselves to routine statements that Britain opposes the death penalty, while insisting that it was right that the former dictator should be put on trial. But, Mr Prescott insisted, the secret filming of Saddam's last minutes should be condemned "whatever your views about capital punishment".

"I think the manner was quite deplorable really," Mr Prescott told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "I don't think one can endorse in any way that, whatever your views about capital punishment. Frankly, to get the kind of recorded messages coming out is totally unacceptable and I think whoever is involved and responsible for it should be ashamed of themselves."

The Government's previous reluctance to comment on the circumstances of the execution angered Labour MPs who opposed the war. The former defence minister, Peter Kilfoyle, condemned Tony Blair's silence on the issue as "yet another error in a long catalogue" on Iraq.

A leading member of the largest Sunni parliamentary bloc said the images damaged Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's attempts at national reconciliation. Saleem al-Jibouri of the Iraqi Accordance Front told Reuters: "The big question is how serious is the government in calling for national reconciliation."

An official of Iraq's Justice Ministry said that some guards appeared to have breached instructions not to bring mobile phones or cameras. He added: "The Iraqi government is going to have an investigation into what happened. This operation should be done with the highest standards of discipline and with respect for the condemned man, both when he's alive and once he's dead. Anything that did not meet those standards should be accounted for." An adviser to Mr Maliki added: "There were a few guards who shouted slogans that were inappropriate and that's now the subject of a government investigation."

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