Published December 31, 2006
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqis awoke Saturday to television images of a noose being slipped over Saddam Hussein's neck and his white-shrouded body, the pre-dawn work of black-hooded hangmen. They went to bed as new video emerged showing Saddam exchanging taunts with onlookers before the gallows floor dropped away and the former dictator swung from the rope.
Saddam was buried shortly before dawn Sunday inside a compound for religious ceremonies in the center of Ouja, the town where he was born. Few were present for the interment, according the Salahuddin province governor.Baghdad's Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City, victims of his three decades of autocratic rule took to the streets Saturday to celebrate, dancing, beating drums and hanging Saddam in effigy. Celebratory gunfire erupted across other Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad and other predominantly Shiite regions of the country. Sunni uprising in retaliation for the execution, and the bloodshed from civil warfare was not far off the daily average -- 92 from bombings and death squads.
Outside the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, west of the capital, loyalists marched with Saddam pictures and waved Iraqi flags. Defying curfews, hundreds took to the streets vowing revenge in Samarra, north of Baghdad, and gunmen paraded and fired into the air in support of Saddam in Tikrit, his hometown.
Still, authorities imposed curfews sparingly in contrast to the several-day lockdown put in place after Saddam was sentenced to death Nov. 5.
By several accounts, Saddam was calm but scornful of his captors, engaging in a give-and-take with the crowd gathered to watch him die and insisting he was Iraq's savior, not its tyrant and scourge.
"He said we are going to heaven and our enemies will rot in hell and he also called for forgiveness and love among Iraqis but also stressed that the Iraqis should fight the Americans and the Persians," Munir Haddad, an appeals court judge who witnessed the hanging, told the British Broadcasting Corp.
Another witness, national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie, told The New York Times that one of the guards shouted at Saddam: "You have destroyed us. You have killed us. You have made us live in destitution."
"I have saved you from destitution and misery and destroyed your enemies, the Persian and Americans," Saddam responded, al-Rubaie told the Times.
"God damn you," the guard said.
"God damn you," responded Saddam.
New video, first broadcast by Al-Jazeera satellite television early Sunday, had sound of someone in the group praising the founder of the Shiite Dawa Party, who was executed in 1980 along with his sister by Saddam.
Saddam appeared to smile at those taunting him from below the gallows. He said they were not showing manhood.
Then Saddam began reciting the "Shahada," a Muslim prayer that says there is no god but God and Muhammad is his messenger, according to an unabridged copy of the same tape, apparently shot with a camera phone and posted on a Web site.
Saddam made it to midway through his second recitation of the verse. His last word was Muhammad.
The floor dropped out of the gallows.
"The tyrant has fallen," someone in the group of onlookers shouted. The video showed a close-up of Saddam's face as he swung from the rope.
Then came another voice: "Let him swing for three minutes."
The responses within Iraq to Saddam's death echoed the larger reaction across the Middle East, with his enemies rejoicing and his defenders proclaiming him a martyr. While Iranians and Kuwaitis welcomed the death of the leader who led wars against each of their countries, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the execution prevented exposure of the secrets and crimes the former dictator committed during his brutal rule.
Some Arab governments denounced the timing of the 69-year-old former president's hanging just before the start of the most important holiday of the Islamic calendar, Eid al-Adha. Libya announced a three-day official mourning period and canceled all celebrations for Eid.
Within Iraq and across the world, the airwaves were alive with pictures of Saddam in death, a bruise on his cheek, his neck elongated and twisted impossibly to the right -- grisly proof that the man who had tormented and killed so many during a bloody quarter-century rule was truly dead.
But some Iraqis -- like 34-year-old Haider Hamed, a candy store owner in east Baghdad -- wondered what would really change with the execution of Saddam, who was just four months shy of his 70th birthday.
"He's gone, but our problems continue," said the Shiite Muslim, whose uncle was killed in one of Saddam's many brutal purges. "We brought problems on ourselves after Saddam because we began fighting Shiite on Sunni and Sunni on Shiite."
At least 80 Iraqis died in bombings and other attacks Saturday, and police said 12 more tortured bodies were found dumped in Baghdad. The U.S. military announced six more service members -- three soldiers and three Marines -- were killed.
The execution took place on the penultimate day of the year's deadliest month for U.S. troops, with the toll reaching 109. At least 2,998 members of the U.S. military have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003, according to an AP count.
On Sunday, Saddam was buried about 2 miles from the graves of his sons Odai and Qusai in the main town cemetery in Ouja, a small town outside Tikrit. The sons and a grandson were killed in a gunbattle with the American forces in Mosul in July 2003.
Um Abdullah, a Sunni and teacher in Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, said she would wear black to mourn the city's favorite son.
"Saddam will be a hero in our eyes," she said. "I have five kids and I will teach them to take revenge on Americans."
Police blocked the entrances to Tikrit and said nobody was allowed to leave or enter the city for four days. Despite the security precaution, gunmen took into the streets, carrying pictures of Saddam, shooting into the air and calling for vengeance.
Security forces also set up roadblocks at the entrance to another Sunni stronghold, Samarra, and a curfew was imposed after about 500 went into the streets to protest the execution.
Among minority Sunnis there was deep anger, born not only of Saddam's execution but of the loss of their decades-long political and economic dominance that began with Saddam's ouster in the U.S. invasion nearly four years ago.
"The president, the leader, Saddam Hussein is a martyr and God will put him along with other martyrs," said Yahya al-Attawi, who led prayer at a towering Sunni mosque constructed by Saddam in Tikrit.
There were cheers at the cafeteria of a U.S. outpost in Baghdad as soldiers having breakfast learned Saddam had been hanged.
But members of the Army's 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment, on patrol in an overwhelmingly Shiite neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, said the execution wouldn't get them home any faster -- and therefore didn't make much difference.
"Nothing really changes," said Capt. Dave Eastburn, 30, of Columbus, Ohio. "The militias run everything now, not Saddam."
Staff Sgt. David Earp, who also fought in 1991's Operation Desert Storm, said the execution worried him.
"In my opinion, something big is going to happen," said Earp, of Colorado Springs, Colo. "There will be a response. Probably not today because they know we are looking for one, but soon."