The Financial Times, whose correspondents and editorial board are often baffled by events in Iraq since the occupation, says that the execution "may allow Mr Maliki a window of political opportunity" because it provides "evidence that his former ruling Ba'ath party, which has a strong role in the insurgency, can no longer dictate events."
Maybe this is a bit of British drollery. The writer can't be unaware that Saddam has not been dictating for several years now and that the insurgents are if not dictating events at least shoving them around. Certainly Iraqis, including the ones most elated by the execution, know it. The writer's expectation seems to be that in the wake of the execution Maliki can persuade euphoric Shiite militias to disarm and dispirited insurgents to join the government. But the predictable reactions of triumphalism on the one side and deepened resentment on the other make that outcome even more unlikely than before, which was very.
The first charges against Saddam were, by mutual agreement between the Iraqi government at the time and the US, laid in connection with the execution of more than 100 Shiites in a town where members of Maliki's then-banned party mounted an assassination attempt against Saddam. The choice of charges was beneficial to the Shiite dominated government because it addressed an attack on their own. For the US, it meant that no photographs of Reagan special envoy Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam at the same time the United Nations condemned Iraq's use of chemical weapons against Iran would be entered into evidence.
The trial featured the murders of several defense attorneys and the removal of the first presiding judge, apparently for taking his job seriously. Few people outside the country other than Bush think holding a trial under those circumstances, in a country coming apart at the seams, could be called fair. But an international trial such as the one mounted for Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milo šević would have been long and exhaustive and embarrassing, at the least, for the US. It would also have precluded the death penalty.
Iraqi government officials say trials on additional charges such as the attempted genocide against the Kurds will continue. With Saddam too dead to assist in his own defense and with defense attorneys more unlikely to risk assassination on behalf of a dead man, the prospect of a meaningful proceeding is considerably more remote even than it was the first time around.
So Saddam is dead. Many people are relieved. Others are indifferent or angry. President Bush is probably wondering why it doesn't feel better. Possibly he realizes - maybe in his gut if not in his mind - that we've reached a point where nothing about Iraq is ever going to make him feel better.