US forces had no role in Saddam Hussein's hanging, but would have handled it differently, a US general said on Wednesday, after a video of Iraqi officials taunting him on the gallows sparked outrage among Sunni Arabs.
Major General William Caldwell also urged the Iraqi government to reach out to disillusioned Sunni Arabs, who have warned that the execution and video are a blow to the Shi'ite- led government's efforts to foster national reconciliation.
A government committee has been set up to investigate who filmed and leaked the illicit video that has fuelled sectarian tensions and sparked international condemnation.
Caldwell said US forces, who had physical custody of Saddam for three years, left all security measures at Saddam's hanging, including access to the execution chamber, to Iraqis. Saddam was handed over at a holding cell nearby and US forces then withdrew from the site where the hanging took place.
"Had we been physically in charge at that point we would have done things differently," Caldwell told a news conference, reacting to criticism of the execution that embarrassed US officials as well as moderate Shi'ite and ethnic Kurds.
"At this point the government of Iraq has the opportunity to take advantage of what has occurred and really reach out now in an attempt to bring more people back into the political process and bring the Sunnis back," he said, singling out a need to ease restrictions on former members of Saddam's Baath party.
"It's a real critical juncture."
An unofficial video of the hanging, apparently filmed on a mobile phone, showed Shi'ite officials mocking Saddam just before he was hanged, inflaming sectarian passions in a country already on the brink of sectarian civil war.