A Late-Career Legal Niche After the Hussein Trial

He proudly pointed to a picture on the wall of himself standing next to Anthony M. Kennedy, the United States Supreme Court justice, and singled out other photographs that line the walls of his office. There he is, with emirs, ayatollahs, princes and ambassadors. One stands out more than the others. In it, a smiling Mr. Haddad, in a judge’s robe, is peering up from a desk at a man whose face is unseen but whose identity is unmistakable: Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Haddad refers to himself as “the guy who hung Saddam Hussein,” and while it was an ensemble cast who carried out the dictator’s execution, he played a leading role. He presided over the trial, and, early one morning in 2006, in a drab room in a former military intelligence building, Mr. Haddad read Mr. Hussein the execution order and then accompanied him to the gallows.

Since then, life for Mr. Haddad, who as a Shiite and a Kurd was doubly oppressed under a dictatorship that was dominated by a Sunni Arab elite, has taken on an unlikely trajectory. He is now in a private law practice, having been pushed out of the judiciary, like so many qualified civil servants, by the Shiite-dominated government and replaced, he says, by political party hacks. He has carved out a late-career niche — and a new measure of fame — defending countless Sunnis jailed on what he and human rights activists say are spurious terrorism charges.

“I used to be a hero for the Kurds and the Shiites,” he said, because of his role in Mr. Hussein’s trial. “Now, I’m a hero for the Sunnis.”

He has also gotten rich.

“I have become a millionaire,” he said, immodestly, and then ticked off the locales in which, he said, he owns homes: Beirut, Dubai, Barcelona, Germany.

“Last week I bought a big house in Holland,” he said. He said he had plenty of money, but kept working because “my wife and daughter want everything.”

His family lives in the northern Kurdish region, where life is easier and safer than elsewhere in Iraq, and where, he said, his daughter recently called him asking for a $40,000 Jeep. He said he would purchase it in Baghdad and have it sent north.

As he spoke, he remembered that he was due in Beirut in a few days, to try to sell a property there because he is worried that the war in Syria will drive down real estate prices. He called in an assistant and pulled from his pocket a roll of $100 bills, peeling off a few and telling the young man to buy a plane ticket to Beirut.

MR. HADDAD’S story tells two truths of modern Iraq: the exile of educated technocrats from government service in favor of the patronage appointments of party-aligned officials who bend to the will of a powerful prime minister, and the vast wealth that is available to the well-connected in a society where the majority of citizens live in abject poverty.

With violence in Iraq increasing, the government has responded with some of its harshest crackdowns yet on Sunni areas, casting a wide net in pursuit of terrorism suspects, arresting the innocent and guilty alike. Which is good news, of course, for Mr. Haddad, whose business is booming. He said his phone was constantly ringing, with calls coming in from Anbar, Mosul and Tikrit, Sunni areas where young men are filling the jails.

Through Mr. Haddad’s efforts, Abu Hussein, a Sunni police officer in Samarra, was recently released from jail after being held for a year on terrorism charges that he said were false and made by an anonymous informer. That is standard practice here. Many Iraqis, some of whom used to feed tips to the American military in exchange for money, now earn a living informing on their neighbors. The problem, say human rights activists and Iraqi officials, is that the information is often false.

After his arrest, a friend told Abu Hussein about Mr. Haddad.

“They said he is the one who defends the innocent people,” he recalled. “The Iraqi law is protecting those informers, but never the innocent people.”

He continued: “He is a Shiite man, but he defends the Sunnis. He knows what is right and wrong, and sect is not important.”

Yasir Ghazi contributed reporting.