It was partly the postcolonial execution kitsch -- the masked hangmen who looked like their next gig might be robbing a 7-11. The big last-minute rush to get him up on the gallows before dawn. The absurd, transparent attempts to wipe the American fingerprints off the whole thing and pretend the Iraqis were calling the shots.
But there was a more transcendent tawdriness to it as well.
Whether you believe in capital punishment or not, this event -- ex-dictator put in the dock, then the noose -- should be a moment of high historical drama, a watershed for a nation. But it wasn't. There is no nation anymore, just vengeful factions and constituencies. Can these guys really administer justice? Even if they could, would Iraqis be able to collectively recognize it as such?
Though it arguably happened too quickly, before many of Saddam's misdeeds were publicly aired and Iraqis really hashed them out, at this point his death is an afterthought, a sideshow to the broader disintegration taking place. It's hard to imagine it having much impact in Iraq. At this point, even the White House won't be able to get any domestic political mileage out of this one.
So all we're left with was a cheap show -- the trappings of history, the headlines and images, but without meaningful content. I won't say Saddam deserved better. But Iraq did.