BAGHDAD—Succumbing to public outcry and intense media scrutiny over his alleged March 1996 sexual liaison with a Presidential Palace concubine, embattled Iraqi president Saddam Hussein resigned Monday.
"President Hussein has finally done the right thing," said Special Inquisitor and Most-Holy Scholar Of The Koran Fayd al-Khurmah, who doggedly pursued the president for nearly 27 months. "It is my sincere hope that this episode has at last been brought to a close, and that the nation of Iraq can move forward."
According to sources close to Hussein, the final straw came on July 30, when al-Khurmah struck an immunity deal with the 22-year-old concubine in exchange for her testimony against the Iraqi ruler. The concubine—who remains unnamed because of fundamentalist doctrine stipulating that convicted harlots be referred to as "She-Who-Cannot-Be-Named"—agreed to provide al-Khurmah with a full account of Hussein's alleged sexual misconduct. She also agreed to hand over to prosecutors the infamous "Love Veil," a black, woolen facial covering Hussein allegedly removed to gaze upon her exposed hair, facial features and upper neck.
Under the terms of the concubine's deal with the Special Inquisitor's office, in exchange for her testimony, she will be spared execution for harlotry by public stoning.
Hussein, who maintains his innocence, issued his brief statement of resignation on Iraqi television.
"My fellow Iraqis," Hussein said, "while I very much would like to continue to govern this nation, I can no longer do so effectively while faced with this distracting investigation and constant hounding by the Iraqi media. In light of this, I believe it is in the best interests of Iraq that I step down as your president."
For more than a year, Hussein struggled to preserve his government's totalitarian reign of terror while the scandal deepened. Though he originally attempted to downplay the al-Khurmah probe, dismissing the sexual-misconduct charges as "satanic, infidel lies" and telling reporters, "I need to get back to the serious business of slaughtering thousands of Kurds," the investigation and accompanying media frenzy ultimately proved too much for the president.
On July 8, Hussein admitted to investigators that he helped the concubine land a position in Iraqi deputy minister of finance Mustafa Aziz's harem in the remote desert city of Mosul, but he insisted he only did so as "a favor to a friend."
Among the numerous charges Hussein has denied: that he had improper sexual relations with the concubine and urged her to lie about it under oath; that he gave her numerous gifts, including a personally autographed copy of The Koran, a 14th-century Moorish sword, and the left ear of longtime opposition-party leader Khusuf al-Birjand; and that he proclaimed a fatweh, or death sentence, against al-Khurmah.
Iraqi public opinion of the Hussein scandal has been deeply divided.
"If Saddam Hussein did indeed have improper relations, is this the sort of man we want leading Iraq?" said Samarra-area fig vendor Anah Saddiq. "It is important for me to feel that I can trust my president."
"What does it matter if President Hussein lifted a woman's veil?" countered Abdul Kifri, a Ba'qubah rice farmer. "The important thing is that he is doing a good job leading Iraq. As long as unemployment is low, crime is down, and the weapons-inspecting U.N. infidel pig dogs are kept away from our secret underground chemical-weapons plants, who cares what the president does in his private life?"
Hussein, who officially left office Tuesday, said he plans to take a year off and then rejoin the Baghdad law firm of Basrah, Abdanan & al-Qayyarah, where he was a senior partner from 1966 to 1972.