After Saddam, a Sunni-Shiite Thirty Years’ War?

After Saddam, a Sunni-Shiite Thirty Years’ War?

TEHRAN, Iran -- A bravura performance by former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein at his own hanging has transformed him into a martyr in the eyes of secular and religious Sunni Muslim nationalists throughout the Arab World and may have sharpened Sunni-Shiite tensions beyond the point of no return.

Defiant to the end, Saddam stood with a noose around his neck and expended his last words condemning America and Iran. It was a skillful manipulation of many Arabs' fears that -- with Arab nationalist strongman Saddam gone -- a resurgent Iran will dislodge traditional regional powers such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt and entrench a Shiite axis from Kabul to the Mediterranean. Iran maintains close ties with friendly governments in Baghdad and Damascus and militant groups such as Lebanon's Hezbollah, Palestinian Hamas and the Shiite Hazara minority in Afghanistan that are rapidly ascending the political ladder in their countries.

Saddam's execution on the dawn of the holiest day in the Muslim calendar electrified the Arab World. In Libya, quixotic leader Moammar Qaddhafi cancelled all official celebrations and declared three days of official mourning. As with many of his declarations, his main thrust was rhetorical and Libyan television continued its festive coverage on the day. Elsewhere, conservative Arab leaders of majority Sunni states, such as Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Jordan's King Abdullah and Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, maintained an uneasy silence. At a time when their people seethe with anger over the close alliances they maintain with Washington, tension with Iran offers them a convenient diversion and a common enemy.

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