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Death of a dictator

india Updated: Dec 31, 2006 02:07 IST

SADDAM HUSSEIN was hanged at dawn on Saturday for crimes against humanity, a dramatic, violent end for a leader who brutally ruled Iraq for three decades before he was toppled by a US-led invasion in 2003.

Betraying no hint of regret, a composed-looking Saddam refused a black hood over his head before a masked hangman placed the noose around his neck, a Shia Muslim politician who witnessed the execution said. Another witness said the 69-year-old ousted president said a brief prayer.

Sami al-Askari, an ally of Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said the indoor execution was carried out at a former military intelligence headquarters in Baghdad, where Saddam, a Sunni, had executed his opponents.

A Shia-run TV channel aired a grainy film of the body in a white shroud, showing Saddam lying with his neck twisted with what appeared to be blood or a bruise on his cheek.

Askari said Saddam would likely be buried secretly in Iraq after the government rejected a family request for the body. The execution came 56 days after a court sentenced Saddam to death for his role in the killing of 148 Shias in the town of Dujail after he escaped an assassination attempt there in 1982. Saddam’s appeal was rejected four days ago.

As Shias celebrated, the Iraqi prime minister, a Shia himself,  called on the former president’s Sunni Baathists to end their insurgency. “Saddam’s execution puts an end to all the pathetic gambles on a return to dictatorship,” said Maliki, seen on television signing the order with red ink for a hanging he did not attend.

But there was little sign of an end to the violence. Police in Kufa, near the Shia holy city of Najaf, said 36 people were killed by a car bomb at a market packed with shoppers ahead of the week-long Eid-ul-Adha holiday. Many Arabs said his hanging for crimes against humanity was provocatively timed to coincide with Eid al-Adha and would worsen violence in Iraq.

In the impoverished Iraqi village where Saddam was born, residents vowed revenge. “We will all become a bomb,” said one young man in Awja, 150 km north of Baghdad.

Libya, the only state to show solidarity with Saddam in his death, declared three days of mourning and cancelled public Eid celebrations. Flags on government buildings flew at half-mast. While many Arab governments refrained from comment, a senior aide to Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa called the execution “a tragic end to a sad phase in Iraq's history”.

In a statement, US President George W. Bush, who called Saddam a threat, said: “Bringing Saddam Hussein to justice will not end the violence in Iraq, but it is an important milestone on Iraq’s course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain, and defend itself.”