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Extra Aqua Vitae Nulla Salus


After The Hanging, The Body Remains

While the verdict and death sentence for Saddam Hussein were swift and unambiguous, it was much less clear on Saturday what would be done with his body.

Privately, both American and Iraqi officials say that the subject has been raised at the highest levels, but no decisions have been made. There is wide disagreement on the subject of his body, according to interviews with several top Western and Iraqi officials, nearly all of whom insisted on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

The most discussed options include sending his body out of the country to his family in Jordan, where two of his daughters live; burying him in a secret location never to be made public; burying him in a secret location but, after a period of time, having him disinterred and sent to his family or tribe; or sending him immediately to his hometown of Tikrit to be buried with members of his tribe.

In fact, a top Sunni politician even raised the prospect of holding a state funeral for Mr. Hussein. That idea, a Western official said, had very little chance of becoming reality.

Salahedeen Hamad Humood, the governor of Salahedeen Province, which includes Tikrit, said, “We demand an official funeral for Saddam Hussein; he is the ex-president of Iraq, and he should be buried next to his sons.”

Mr. Hussein’s sons, Uday and Qusay, were killed by American troops after the invasion of Iraq. To convince the public that they were actually dead, graphic images of their bloodied faces were made public.

Similarly, Iraqi officials had said that the hanging of Mr. Hussein would be taped, although it was unclear on Saturday whether that had been done, and if so, whether the tape would be made public.

If Mr. Hussein were allowed to be buried in Tikrit, which had been his main base of support, it would be out of character with the way the remains of some of the 20th century’s other most notorious tyrants have been treated.

From Mussolini to Ceausescu, the vanquishers of the once powerful rulers have sought to ensure that memorials to them do not inspire the kind of passions they did in life.

Tojo, Japan’s leader during World War II, was unceremoniously cremated after going to the gallows. The location of the ashes was kept secret for nearly three decades, until the urn with his remains was secretly placed in the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, where it remains today. The former Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, was buried secretly in a nondescript public graveyard. Although the grave markers bore fake names, the site was public knowledge within a year. He was killed by firing squad on Christmas Day in 1989.

Hitler’s bones, the source of endless morbid fascination, were buried in secret, dug up, moved across East Germany, buried again and dug up once more only to be cremated. A piece of his skull is kept in Russia.

Mussolini’s body traveled far after he was shot by a firing squad and then hanged upside down in a public square. Slivers of his brain were taken by American doctors to see if he had been driven mad by syphilis, while the rest of him was buried in an unmarked grave outside Milan. The site was soon discovered and a young neofascist dug up the remains, stuffed them in a steamer trunk and hid them in the mountains. Eventually, Mussolini was recovered and reburied in the Adriatic Sea town of Predappio, his home town.

Iraq’s leaders are obviously wrestling with the same questions as the victors who deposed other rulers. But in this case, it is complicated by the state of lawlessness that rules this country.

While many people here seem more concerned with just staying alive than worrying about the resting place of Mr. Hussein, government officials in this country built on the worship of martyrs are keenly aware of death’s ability to transform.


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