Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Capital Punishment as a Means of Revenge

Iraqi rulers have long employed the death penalty as a way of getting back at their enemies.
By IWPR
Capital punishment has a long tradition in Iraq. It dates as far back as the ancient kingdom of Babylon in the 18th century BC when the Code of Hammurabi, one of the first bodies of written law, imposed the death penalty for robbery and murder, and gave rulers the flexibility to use it against their enemies.



Something Iraqi leaders have exploited up to modern times. For instance, the former regime killed whoever dared to say a bad word against officials. Spitting on a picture of the president was enough of a crime to be sentenced to death.



The Saddam government also insisted on executing Iranian-born British journalist Farzad Bazoft in 1990 - who they accused of being a spy - despite British and international calls to pardon him. Instead of showing a touch of humanity, the former leadership was proud of killing Bazoft.



Once, Iraq was famous for its scientists and its love for sciences during the age of the Abbasids. Lamentably, it always has been famous for its love of death, too.



In modern times, the death penalty has been the hallmark of Iraqi regimes that have ruled by force.



Notwithstanding the emergence democracy in Iraq, capital punishment has remained - despite international efforts to have it outlawed.



Many international officials, such as the special UN envoy Ashraf Kadi have shown concern about frequent executions. Iraq asked the world community for help to end the violence that’s gripped the country, but it has paid no attention to international calls for an end to the death penalty.



Paul Bremer, the US civil administrator in Iraq in 2003, sought to ban it before the establishment of the governing council, but the country’s new leaders reintroduced it.



Since the fall of the former regime, the authorities have sentenced more than 200 to death, executing 50 of them.



The main reason why Iraqi leaders insist on maintaining capital punishment is a love of revenge.



Even those who oppose the government have never called for the sentence to be banned because some day they may use it against their enemies.



They may have called on the government not to execute former president Saddam Hussein, but have refrained from calling for a ban on state-sanctioned executions.



The danger for Iraq is that whoever is in power uses the death penalty simply as a means of retribution and not for the purposes of justice and deterring crime.



The country’s new rulers were constantly under the threat of execution during the Saddam era; and now use it as a weapon to threaten their enemies.



Executing Saddam will not serve to lessen the sectarian conflict and violence.



On the contrary, it might ignite more hostility among the Iraqi people who are quite divided about the sentence, although no one can really predict what will happen.



However, the Saddam trial verdict has confirmed in the minds of Iraqis that while governments may come and go, the death penalty always remains.



Ali Marzook and Dhiya Rasan are IWPR contributors.