Baghdad: With a knock from the gavel of Judge Raouf Rashid Abdul-Rahman, the trial of Saddam Hussein ended in death sentences for the former president and two of his top aides. But the question of whether the sentences will bring peace or further turmoil to the country remains in doubt.

On the day before Saddam's sentencing, the Al-Basra Web site which believed to be a mouthpiece for Saddam's disbanded Baath Party, issued a stern warning, warning, "the leader's companions have completed their preparations and have taken all necessary steps to blow up the land like volcanoes under the feet of the occupation forces and their insignificant agents." The Web site called on "companions of the leader to remain at the highest state of readiness to implement the orders and carry out the people's sentence against the traitors, the agents, and their occupation masters ... in the event a ruling was passed against the leader and his heroic colleagues." Copies of the statement were circulated via e-mail and some were handed out on the streets of Iraq. On Sunday morning, the day on which the sentence was passed, most Iraqi cities were under curfew.

Hours before the sentence was passed, Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki told Iraqis to "celebrate quietly, each in his own way." The country's official television station, Al-Iraqiya, screened interviews and songs, all in support of the death sentence. But the violence continued. The Sunni district of Al-Azamiyah was shelled with mortars on Saturday night and Sunday morning. The shelling targeted the area surrounding the Mosque of Imam Abu Hanifa, a leading Sunni figure. The Iraqi Islamic Party issued a statement denouncing the shelling, saying that dozens were killed and wounded in the attacks.

Iraqis were of two minds in regard to the sentence. Broadcasting from [Saddam's hometown] of Tikrit, Salaheddin television received phone calls from individuals lauding Saddam and calling him a national hero. Al-Zawraa television, which is owned by former Parliamentarian Mishaan Al-Jabburi, denounced the sentence. Al-Jabburi has lost his parliamentary immunity and is due to stand trial on corruption charges, although interestingly, he was a strong supporter of the U.S. invasion and a fierce critic of Saddam.

Al-Forat Television of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and Beladi Television of Al-Dawa Party were jubilant over the sentence. Other televisions in the country took a neutral stance. The government has accusing the two broadcasters of fomenting sedition and has ordered them shut down.

The public was divided. In some towns, including Al-Sadr, Al-Shoala, Karbala, and Al-Najaf, people took to the streets in jubilation. In others, including Tikrit, Al-Dour, Baquba, and Al-Hella, pro-Saddam demonstrations were held.

In the court, Judge Abdul-Rahman seemed in a hurry to conclude the proceedings. He expelled former U.S. attorney-general Ramsey Clark when Clark presented a memorandum that Abdul-Rahman deemed "offensive to the Iraqi people."

[Editor's Note: Clark's memo called into question the legitimacy of the trial.]

Saddam's defense team tried to postpone the hearing so that President Bush wouldn't use the sentence to bolster his standing in the U.S. midterm elections. But the court was eager to proceed with sentencing. Saddam, who had insisted that he was entitled to death by firing squad "being a military man," reacted with defiance at the sentence of death by hanging. He shouted "long live Iraq, long live the great nation, down with the invaders," and accused the court of taking orders from the United States.

At a press conference following the sentencing, Judge Raed Gouhi and Public Attorney Jaafar Al-Musawi said that the defendants and their lawyers could appeal within 30 days.

A senior member of the Iraqi Lawyers Association, who asked that his name be withheld, told Al-Ahram Weekly that Prime Minister Al-Maliki violated the Constitution when he changed judges in the middle of the trial. He added that the court was illegal, because it was formed under orders by Paul Bremer, the civilian administrator of Iraq. It was a political charade, he remarked.

Former army officer Abu Hassan Ali said that the International Criminal Court should try President Bush for invading Iraq on false pretences and for causing the deaths of 600,000 Iraqis. "These are all crimes against humanity and crimes of war." Ali said Saddam deserves to be tried for the destruction he inflicted on Iraq, not over the Dujail incident, where he was reacting to an assassination attempt.

Badriya Kazem, whose three sons were executed in the 1980s, said the ruling was just and her children could now rest in piece.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad voiced his satisfaction, describing the day of the ruling as "a historic day for Iraq."

But some in Iraq still don't believe that Saddam will be executed. Political analyst Aziz Al-Hudeithi said the ruling may not be carried out, but would rather be used as a way to pressure Baathist supporters into laying down their arms. Other analysts said the ruling made it more likely that the violence will get worse.