NEW YORK (AP) - Small groups of Americans opposed to the Iraq war and the death penalty decried Saddam Hussein's execution, and the center headed by one of the former dictator's lawyers said the hanging was part of a plan by President George W. Bush to escalate the war.
The small rallies Saturday in New York's Times Square and in Boston, led by a group affiliated with former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, were among several condemnations of Saddam's hanging. The Vatican denounced the execution as "tragic," and activists in Detroit also planned their own demonstration.
Clark, who leads the New York-based International Action Center and was one of Saddam's defense lawyers, predicted during the Iraqi leader's trial that a bloodbath would follow if he was executed. In a statement faxed to The Associated Press, the center said his hanging was part of a plan by Bush to escalate the war.
"The execution of Saddam Hussein is a clear sign that the Bush administration is looking not to negotiate a way for the U.S. to leave Iraq, but is instead sending a signal that it will continue the war and escalate it despite the impending disaster," the International Action Center said in a written statement.
At least 80 people died and more than 130 were wounded in two bombings in Iraq following the execution, which took place early Saturday, just before the start of one of the holiest Islamic holidays, Eid al-Adha.
At the Times Square rally, which occurred near a military recruiting station, protester Sara Flounders held up a sign that read "ExecutionEscalation."
"We didn't need this execution. Saddam should have been jailed," said the Rev. Joel Jang, a Presbyterian minister who was among a few dozen activists gathered at the site.
In Boston, about five protesters stood in light snow outside of the Marine Corps recruiting building and passed out printed statements to the few people that walked by. Protesters referred to the execution of Saddam Hussein as U.S. sponsored murder. They also called for an immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.
Making no claims about Hussein's guilt or innocence, Steve Kirschbaum, a member of the International Action Center, said the execution was a "serious violation of international law ... a legal lynching."
In Detroit, 15 anti-war demonstrators stood in front of an FBI building to call on Congress to end the war in Iraq and denounce Saddam's execution.
The small protests were in stark contrast to the scenes of jubilation in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn late Friday night, when hundreds of Iraqi Americans took to the streets, honking car horns and dancing while celebrating news of Saddam's death.
"This is the first time I've seen my dad this happy," said 13-year-old Ali Al-Najjar, with tears in his eyes and a grin on his face, as he watched his father celebrate Saddam's death. "I've been praying for this all my life."
His father, Imam Husham Al-Husainy, the director of the Karbalaa Islamic Educational Center mosque, had gathered some of the men earlier Friday night, praying for the death of the former Iraqi dictator.
Dearborn is home to one of the largest concentrations of Arab Americans in the United States and the small city, which boasts several mosques, has a large Iraqi-American Shiite community.
Chants of "Now there's peace, Saddam is dead" in English and Arabic rang into the night as many of the men hoisted U.S. and Iraqi flags.
"This is our celebration of the death of Saddam," said Al-Husainy while standing on top of a car following reports that Saddam had been hanged. "The gift of our New Year is the murder of Saddam Hussein.
"If you want to share the Iraqi people's happiness for the death of Saddam, raise your voice and your hands."
The crowd responded with resounding cheers.
The city, however, is also home to thousands of other Arabs — Sunni, Shiite and Christian — many of whom had opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In Saddam's death, they foresaw increased bloodshed in the war-ravaged country.
Osama Siblani, publisher of The Arab American News and chairman of several local Arab-American groups, said Saddam's death sentence is one more casualty in a war that has killed thousands, and it will not solve the power struggle among Iraqi religious groups.
"The execution might bring some amusement and accomplishment to the Bush administration, but it will not help the Iraqi people," Siblani said.
Associated Press Writer Kristen Longley contributed to this report from Dearborn, Michigan, and AP Writer Brandie M. Jefferson contributed from Boston.
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