BAGHDAD, Iraq – Saddam Hussein's former deputy, hanged before dawn in what was once Iraq's military intelligence headquarters, was buried Tuesday near the ousted dictator who died on the same gallows less than three months ago.
Taha Yassin Ramadan, who was Saddam's vice president, went to the gallows on the fourth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq for the deaths of 148 Shiites in the town of Dujail.
Bassam al-Husseini, an adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said the execution went smoothly, although Ramadan appeared frightened and recited the two shahadahs — a declaration of faith repeated by Muslims — "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet."
Al-Husseini said precautions were taken to prevent a repeat of what happened to Saddam's half brother and co-defendant Barzan Ibrahim, who was inadvertently decapitated on the gallows during his January execution.
Ramadan, who was nearly 70, was weighed before the hanging and the rope was chosen accordingly, al-Husseini said.
The execution took place at 3:05 a.m. at a prison at an Iraqi army and police base, which had been the headquarters of Saddam's military intelligence, in a predominantly Shiite district in northern Baghdad. Ramadan had been in U.S. custody but was handed over to the Iraqis about an hour before the hanging, according to al-Husseini, who saw the hanging.
It was carried out despite appeals from international human rights groups. Russia also criticized the act on Tuesday. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said "it adds nothing positive to the efforts being made to resolve the situation" in Iraq.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said it was an Iraqi decision but stressed "the trial has by most accounts met the basic standards of international justice."
Al-Maliki has not attended any of the executions, but representatives from his office, a judge and a prosecutor attended the hanging, along with members of the justice and interior ministries and a physician.
The prosecutor read out the court verdict upholding the death sentence and al-Maliki's decision to carry it out, the adviser said, adding that a defense lawyer who attended the execution received Ramadan's written will.
The contents were not revealed, although Yahya Ibrahim, a Sunni cleric and member of the influential Association of Muslim Scholars, later said Ramadan had asked to be buried near Saddam.
The body was flown by the U.S. military to Saddam's hometown later Tuesday, police said.
It was then carried in an ambulance for burial near co-defendants Ibrahim and Awad Hamed al-Bandar in Ouja, on the outskirts of Tikrit. The graves, along with those of Saddam's sons Odai and Qusai and a grandson Mustafa, are in the courtyard of the building in which the former leader is buried. A three-day wake also was be held for Ramadan.
Hundreds of mourners, including Ramadan's relatives and al-Bandar's son, followed the casket, draped with an Iraqi flag. Some fired shots in the air.
Badee Izzat Aref, a lawyer representing several former regime members, told the AP by telephone that he was with Ramadan's lawyer when the condemned man called to report that he would be hanged and requested that no further appeals be made.
Ramadan also called family members living abroad to tell them he was to ask for their prayers, promising he would "face death with courage," Aref said.
Ramadan was convicted in November of murder, forced deportation and torture and sentenced to life in prison, but an appeals court ruled that was too lenient and he was sentenced to death. Besides the four executed, three other defendants were sentenced to 15 years in jail in the case, while one was acquitted.
One of the highest-profile figures remaining to be tried for Saddam-era atrocities is Ali Hassan al-Majid, among six defendants facing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from Baghdad's military campaign in which more than 100,000 Kurds were killed. Al-Majid, who is Saddam's cousin, also is known as "Chemical Ali" for allegedly ordering poison gas attacks.
Ramadan, who became vice president in March 1991 and was a Revolutionary Command Council member — Iraq's highest political body under Saddam — maintained his innocence, saying his duties were limited to economic affairs, not security issues.
Saddam was executed on Dec. 30 for his role in the killings. The hanging drew international outrage after a clandestine video showed the former president being taunted on the gallows. Another leaked video showed Saddam's corpse with a gaping neck wound.
Saddam's regime was predominantly Sunni and many members of the sect have protested the executions on the grounds they were politically motivated by the newly empowered Shiite majority in Iraq.
Ramadan was said to have presided over many purges carried out by Saddam to eliminate rivals and strengthen his political control.
At the height of the standoff leading up to the U.S. invasion, Ramadan suggested in 2002 that Saddam and President Bush fight a duel to settle their differences and spare their people the ravages of war.
Separately, the U.S. military said two American soldiers were killed Tuesday in southern Baghdad during a combat patrol.
In other violence, at least 15 people were killed or found dead, most in Baghdad, as the war entered its fifth year. The U.S.-led invasion began in the early morning in Baghdad, when it was still March 19 in the United States.
Two parked car bombs struck Shiite targets Baghdad — one near a main bus station in central Baghdad, killing five civilians and wounding 18, and another at the entrance of a tunnel downtown, killing three civilians and wounding seven.
A suicide car bomber also drove his vehicle into an Iraq army checkpoint in a predominantly Sunni neighborhood in western Baghdad, killing one soldier and wounding another, police said.
Late Monday, U.S. and Iraqi troops also engaged in a major operation as part of a security crackdown in the volatile Hurriyah neighborhood in northern Baghdad, state television said. Witnesses said many people were reported holed up in two Shiite mosques, surrounded by U.S. forces. The state-run Iraqiya network said six civilians had been killed. The U.S. military did not comment on the reports.