Just over an hour ago, Saddam Hussein was executed by hanging for crimes against humanity. Now that the former tyrant is no more, both the U.S. and Iraq will have to see whether delivering justice to Saddam becomes a milestone toward national reconciliation or serves to further alienate Sunnis (his sect) from the Shiite/Kurd-led government.
The fact that Iraq today remains unstable and faces an uncertain future, three years after Saddam was overthrown, forces us to confront his legacy. In his absence, the sectarian rivalries and various factions vying for power that were quashed under his tyrannical rule have emerged and gone virtually unchecked, proceeding to rent Iraq asunder.
Certainly he was a vile and narcissistic despot who murdered thousands and brutally oppressed his own people. He was also a major threat to regional and world security, and we are better off having eliminated him. Nonetheless, his secular and pro-modernization attitude is one that we should hope is adopted by future Middle East leaders if we want to see strong, secure states emerge in that region. An emphasis on education and economic development, rights for women, and a legal system that doesn't consist only of arcane Sharia law is vastly preferable to the hostile, Islamist vision for the future that is gaining in popularity across the Muslim world today.
More pertinent to the immediate future of Iraq, given the country's ethnic and religious divisions, is the idea of Iraqi nationalism. Unlike many political players in today's Iraq, who wouldn't mind seeing their country partioned for the benefit of their respective groups, Saddam believed in the idea of Iraq the nation (although his belief rested on twisted, selfish notions.) It would not be in our interests or the region's interests to see Iraq carved to pieces, so we should hope for the emergence of Iraqi leaders who will put the interests of Iraq first--not Kurdistan, "Shi'astan", etc. Oh, and they have to do it without all the death squads, imprisonments, brutalities, corruption, paranoia, and self-interest that Saddam employed, thanks!