Ever since the late Iraqi mass murderer, dictator, and president for life - almost - Saddam Hussein, decided to join the swinging lifestyle, there have been street demonstrations, mostly in the Sunni Muslim areas of Iraq, protesting the manner in which his execution was carried out.

These protests have been intense at their epicenter, but unlike issues that evoked universal outrage across the so-called Arab "street" in earlier years, there has been little in the way of wider affects.

The columnist and television commentator Charles Krauthammer noted on a recent Fox News appearance that the vindictive and amateurish manner in which the execution was conducted had undone years of steady progress in the world view of the new Iraqi government. He expressed concerns that the execution, that was more like thuggery gone amok (my opinion,) would have lasting ramifications that we in the US will be experiencing for years.

I agree that the execution was flawed beyond the mere description of flawed. To have his hangmen gloating that Saddam was being executed in the name of Muqtada Al Sadr, the wannabe Muslim cleric who heads an army of vigilantes, and himself is wanted for murder, is akin to executing John Wayne Gacy in the name of Jeffrey Dahmler.

The execution was an embarrassment, not for the United States, but for the Iraqis. Hussein was on trial forever it seemed, as the fledgling Iraqi legal system took great pains to show that he was as guilty in the eyes of the law as he was in the eyes of public opinion.

After allowing him to rant and rave throughout his court proceedings, after allowing him to denounce the new system and the manner in which he was removed from it, after allowing his displaced minions and henchmen to create and expand a religious war of terror on their countrymen who already had been victimized by decades of Saddam rule, suddenly the government hustles him up on the gallows, and drops him through the trap door, taunting him all the way.

Very few conscious, thinking, sane and rational people have a problem with him being executed, aside from those who oppose the death penalty universally on moral grounds. But few can find rationale in the manner in which Saddam was dispatched.

As Krauthammer put it, the only person on the gallows who showed any restraint or dignity was Saddam himself. That is indeed regrettable.

But I don't think the long-range ramifications will haunt us. The Iraqis who benefited from Saddam's rule did so because they were part of a hybrid system of religious and ethnic beliefs that put them in power, with the majority of the Iraqi population at their mercy.

That there have been repercussions from the once-victimized majority is obvious. It goes on day after day. That many on both sides have embarrassed their religion, through, for instance, using mosques to store ammo and as headquarters to launch raids on their foes, is equally obvious.

If the religion of peace is to have any credibility on the world stage, its most vocal and aggressive proponents will have to stop blowing up each other's places of worship first. The hypocrisy of using holy ground to wage war, not on "infidel and crusaders" but on each other, just doesn't get it.

But I don't believe the inconsistencies in the positions taken by the various factions in Iraq, and their backers from elsewhere in the Muslim world, will do any more long-range damage to the western world, specifically the United States, than the most aggressive members of these factions already have planned for us.

Rather, I believe the demonstrations are nothing more than the expected "in your face" actions of a society of street fighters who not only have been beaten and removed from their once impenetrable positions of power, but also have seen their number one champion executed, in an especially callous and disdainful manner.

The Sunni Muslims in Iraq have little left that they can use to maintain some sense of pride and status in their own community. When they were the minority in power they had the guns. Now, the Shiites and Kurds have guns too, and every intention of using them.

The Sunnis are outnumbered and outgunned, and there is little they can do to change this, especially given the penchant of the new well-armed majority to inflict payback on Saddam's followers.

But in the world of the street fighter, there is a code that is as inviolate as anything written in all the writings of all the religions in the world. That code is based on one thing, and only one thing - pride.

That code says that if you are beaten, but aren't dead, you can not let your opponent know how badly you were beaten. You can not be cowed; you can not slink off to a quiet corner to lick your wounds.

Like a football player who is leveled by an opposing player within an instant of making a great catch, and who then bounces right back up and jaws at his tormentor all the way back to the huddle, the street fighter must, absolutely must, be back on the street the day after taking a beating, strutting, jawing and loudly threatening what will happen "next time."

To maintain his pride, the street fighter has to come back from a beating, or he will lose his status forever. And for most street fighters, status is all they have, which is why it is worth dying for.

The demonstrations protesting Saddam's execution already are dwindling, and even at their height weren't that much.

The remnants of Saddam's supporters have done what they have to do to maintain their own status on their own street, on their own block. For most, that is the extent of their world and their influence.

In time, their numbers will dwindle to a pitiful few, and when they appear in public they will be seen in a manner similar to the old drunk who sits at the bar and mumbles about great exploits in great battles in previous times that few others remember, and fewer still care about. In time, the remnants of Saddam's supporters will have no status, no power, and no sympathy.

But for the moment, they have to play out the dictates of the code. They have done that, and may do more in the near future. But their champion is gone, they have no chance to regain what he gave them, and many already realize this.

So they will demonstrate, they will posture, and strut and shout. They will play their part, but when seen for what it is, that part is no longer to rule or misrule, but to simply to salvage their pride.