BAGHDAD: Executed former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s Sunni tribal allies moved his body from a family plot eight months ago, fearful that Shiite militias would harm it, a tribal leader told Reuters Wednesday.
The caution paid off for Saddam’s supporters and perhaps Iraq, where tensions between Sunnis and Shiites would certainly explode into even more violence if any harm is done to the corpse of a man who still commands the respect of his sect.
A leader from Saddam’s Albu Nasir tribe and a police official told Reuters that Shiite militiamen broke into the gravesite, tore down photographs of the former Iraqi leader and then set the area on fire.
Video footage purporting to show a number of Shiite militiamen inside the ransacked mausoleum, boasting of their actions, has circulated this week on YouTube.
“We had moved the body eight months ago to a safer place. We were afraid something would happen to him. Our fears proved true,” said the tribal leader who asked not to be named.
“There were four of us that took up this mission. We could not move the bodies of Saddam’s sons. We are afraid someone will desecrate those graves,” he said.
The tribal chief would not give details on where Saddam’s body was taken. “We moved him to a place far from the hands of his enemies,” he said. “Isn’t it enough for them that they killed him once. Now they are afraid of his body.”
Saddam was hanged in 2006 after being convicted of crimes against humanity for the killing of 148 Shiite villagers after a failed assassination bid in 1982.
He was buried in his birthplace of Awja, 150 kilometers north of Baghdad, prompting an outpouring of grief from fellow Sunni Arabs who dominated the country’s Shiite majority under his rule.
Shiite officials taunted him as he stood on the gallows, defiant until his last breath.
“A militia force entered Saddam’s tomb site, destroyed everything in sight and set it on fire. Until now they are surrounding the tomb sites,” said a police captain from the operations room in the nearby city of Sammara.
The tribal chief confirmed that account. “Shiite militia broke into the tomb, smashed everything inside, including photographs of Saddam Hussein.”
A leader of a Shiite militia who is based near the area confirmed that militias set fire to the grave. Shiite militias have deployed in positions near Saddam’s gravesite to fight ISIS.
Saddam was buried in the dead of the night beside his sons. The tribal leader said he and other Sunnis were looking into reports that militias had desecrated the graves of Uday and Qusay, who were killed by U.S. troops in 2003 six months before their father was captured, and were despised by Shiites.
Saddam Hussein’s grave, in a family plot, was dug into the floor of an octagonal, domed building he had built during the 1980s for religious festivals.
The government at the time had said Saddam’s body might lie in a secret grave for fear the site could become a shrine and focal point for Baathist rebels. More than 70 people were killed in car bomb attacks on Shiite neighborhoods after Saddam’s execution.