Baghdad, Iraq — Three men convicted of murder, rape and kidnapping sat before the judge, awaiting their fates. But first they had to face their victims' seething families.
"They broke his arms. They broke his legs. They took out his eyeballs," one woman said at the hearing this past Sunday in the city of Kut, describing what the men had done to her son. "Death penalty. I want the death penalty."
A man in the back of the crowded courtroom held a sign that said: "We do not accept any sentence less than death."
Moments later, the audience got its wish. The three alleged members of the insurgent group Ansar al-Sunna Army were condemned to be hanged "in the next 10 days," according to the sentence imposed by the special criminal court.
In a show of force the Iraqi government hopes will help quell the insurgency, Iraq will soon carry out its first judicial executions since the fall of Saddam Hussein. And despite objections raised by some other countries and international human rights groups, the Iraqi public, by most accounts, is welcoming their return.
"Before, the criminals thought that they would go to jail and a few months later they would be released," said Abu Muhammad, owner of Kuwait Money Exchange Co. "But now, this will stop them."
In Hussein's Iraq, execution was commonly used to suppress political dissent, and the death penalty was a punishment for 114 different crimes. After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the U.S. administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremer, suspended capital punishment, declaring that "the former regime used certain provisions of the penal code as a means of oppression."
Iraq's interim government revived the death penalty last August for a smaller set of violent crimes, as well as drug trafficking. The decision is believed to have been motivated by the desire to execute the now-captive Hussein, who is expected to be tried by a special tribunal this summer.