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Saddam execution - time to move on

Saddam Hussein was executed last Saturday -- now almost a week ago. But it was only yesterday, Thursday, that -- for the first time -- we were not filing around the news cycle on the insidious fallout from ''the cell phone video."

Why? It was the perfect video storm: 2 minutes 36 seconds of grainy, shaky imagery had captivated the world's media organizations and galvanized anyone and everyone who had an opinion on the war. And -- especially -- against the war.

There was Saddam, once America's bulwark against the turbaned theocracy to the East, standing tall, head high, composed, taking verbal salvos from several unseen agents of the Shiite-led government America had supported, indeed -- created. The off-camera chants of "Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada" quickly became a mantra for America's final moral -- if not yet military -- defeat in Iraq.

Wasn't al-Sadr the very man who commanders had claimed was the biggest threat to U.S. interests in Iraq? What was going on here? "If this is a sectarian struggle over there, how did we get to be Shiites?" bellowed MSNBC’s Chris Matthews on the Today Show.

Enough. It's time to step back and digest some of the feedback we've received from viewers and bloggers who -- in sum -- complained about our voyeuristic obsession with the death of a tyrant at the hands of his victims.

What about Ceausescu, Mussolini?
If we were stunned by the ugliness of Saddam's final moments, some suggested, we should recall other executions of earlier dictators.

Nikolai Ceausescu's trial lasted minutes, the time it took for Romania's wretched strongman - and his defiant wife, Elena -- to drown out the litany of charges against them (which did NOT include mass murder by nerve gas). They wouldn't send their own dog to such a rogue court.

Nor would they have the chance: the Ceausescus were lined up next to a wall nearby --hands tied -- and shot. The images broadcast around the world weren't grainy or shaky or filmed under-cover. The gory close-ups of the Fallen Couple were as vivid as the blood on the fresh December snow.

Benito Mussolini also comes to mind. Il Duce and his mistress, Clara, were not only shot -- without a trial -- by an angry mob of partisans on the last days of World War II, but were hung -- upside down -- from lampposts for all in the streets near Lake Como to see.

It's true that Saddam's execution looked pretty tame, next to these. Still, by enlightened, Western standards, it was shocking.

Enemy of our enemy - not our friend
But why are we even applying such a gauge in a land where bloodshed, hatred and revenge have conspired to a degree we can barely comprehend? How many times, in America's own death chambers, have the victims of some horrific crime wanted -- even tried -- to murder the condemned BEFORE the executioners did?

Look at the ugly emotion that often sullies our own courtrooms. There is certainly nothing nice about cursing a man -- with a noose around his neck -- about to die. It wasn't the right thing to do. But this was the man who spread fear so pervasively that many Iraqis believed he could NOT die, that Saddam Hussein was in fact a kind of mythic vampire who would come back in the dead of night to suck their blood, as he did in real life.

How did we all become Shiites? We didn't. The enemy of our enemy is NOT REALLY our friend.

Al-Sadr still remains -- for some -- the biggest threat to U.S. interests in Iraq. But Al-Sadr's political wing controls 30 seats in Iraq's divided parliament, and five cabinet posts. And it's Sadr's Mahdi Army that protects millions of Iraqi Shiites -- from Baghdad to Najaf -- from marauding gangs of Sunni vigilantes even as it resists U.S. military presence.

And true, its death squads also kill dozens of Sunni civilians, every day, and are driving a campaign of ethnic cleansing in Baghdad and other "mixed" cities and towns on a level unseen since the wars in the former Yugoslavia. And no doubt all of this was playing out at Saddam's gallows.

But, basta. Rather than harping on the shock value of 156 seconds of tape, we may have -- finally -- turned the corner. And that may, in the end, be the easy part. For, without some kind of time-out from the brutality and a hint of dialogue between Iraq's disparate and hateful people, what lies ahead could get even uglier.

Jim Maceda is an NBC News Correspondent based in London and on assignment in Iraq.

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