"It was a slap in the face to Sunni Arabs. This weekend marks Eid al-Adha, the Holy Day of Sacrifice, on which Muslims commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son for God. Shiites celebrate it Sunday. Sunnis celebrate it Saturday -- and Iraqi law forbids executing the condemned on a major holiday. Hanging Saddam on Saturday was perceived by Sunni Arabs as the act of a Shiite government that had accepted the Shiite ritual calendar.
"The timing also allowed Saddam, in his farewell address to Iraq, to pose as a 'sacrifice' for his nation, an explicit reference to Eid al-Adha. The tribunal had given the old secular nationalist the chance to use religious language to play on the sympathies of the whole Iraqi public."
The timing issue has dominated Arab discussion:
"The decision to execute Saddam on the Eid has swamped pretty much every other aspect of the Arab discussion of Saddam's fate. Anger over the timing has probably overwhelmed any other sentiment (with 'it doesn't change anything, Iraq is still a mess' coming a close second). Just a very quick roundup: Tareq al-Homayed, editor of the Saudi al-Sharq al-Awsat, and Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed, former editor of al-Sharq al-Awsat and current director of the Saudi al-Arabiya TV, turn in virtually identical columns today expressing delight over Saddam's execution and shock and outrage over the timing. Ghassan Cherbel, editor of the more Arab nationalist paper al-Hayat, also focuses on the Eid issue. Officials from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan have all expressed surprise and anger over the Eid timing. This reaction was entirely predictable, which makes it hard to explain as anything other than intentional. Maliki did it this way for a reason - maybe not a good reason, or a smart one, but a reason nonetheless."
I suspect Muqtada Sadr - al-Maliki's chief military backer - of hoping to keep violence going to ensure his own power, and the Bush administration is just along for the ride.
UPDATE: I may have blamed the Bushies too quickly here, as David Kurtz has sources claiming that American officials did express concerns over the timing.