Iraq's former president Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death by a criminal tribunal on Sunday, sparking angry demonstrations from his fellow Sunnis even as Iraqi Shias celebrated the verdict.
Iraq's High Criminal Tribunal handed down the death penalty to the ousted president and two of his senior aides for the Dujail case.
Saddam's half-brother and former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim and Awad Hamad al-Bandar, chief judge of Saddam's Revolutionary Court, were sentenced to death over the execution of 148 people of Dujail during a crackdown on the town after a failed assassination attempt against Saddam in 1982.
The former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan was sentenced to life imprisonment, while the other three Baath party local officials from Dujail received 15 years each.
Hours after the verdicts, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki delivered a national televised speech to welcome the verdicts, saying Saddam "is facing the punishment he deserves".
"This sentence is not a sentence on one man, but a sentence against all the dark period of his rule," al-Maliki said.
The US ambassador in Iraq also hailed the verdicts in a statement, saying they shaped an "important milestone" for the Iraqi people though they may face "difficult days in the coming weeks".
"Today is an important milestone for Iraq as the country takes another major step forward in the building of a free society based on the rule of law," Zalmay Khalilzad said.
According to Iraqi law, Saddam's case would be reviewed by a nine-judge panel. The review has no time limit but the death sentence, if upheld, must be carried out within 30 days.
Some analysts anticipated that the execution of Saddam might be months or years away, while some others expressed fears that the death verdict may deepen the rift between Sunnis and Shias in the war-torn country.
Despite a curfew imposed in the capital, thousands of Iraqi Shias took to the streets in Sadr city to celebrate the verdict, raising posters of Shia radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
In a statement issued by his office, al-Sadr called for peaceful celebrations and urged people not to attack Sunnis.
"You are called upon now to give a thanksgiving prayer," said the statement, which was read out through loudspeakers of mosques across the Shia slum.
However, Iraqi Sunnis protested against the verdict.
Hundreds of residents in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, some 170 kms north of Baghdad, demonstrated to protest the verdict in the Arba'ien Street despite a curfew imposed on Salahudin province.
In the town of Baiji, some 200 kms north of Baghdad, US troops detained demonstrators who insisted on taking to the streets to protest against Saddam's death penalty.