Saddam hanged but no let-up in Iraq violence

By Mariam Karouny and Alastair Macdonald
Saturday, December 30, 2006; 5:17 PM

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Saddam Hussein was hanged at dawn on Saturday for crimes against humanity after Iraq's prime minister rushed through an execution few believed would help stem the sectarian violence tearing the country apart.

The former president, toppled by the U.S. invasion four years ago, was shown on state television going calmly to his death on the scaffold. He was to be buried within hours near his home city of Tikrit.

"It was very quick. He died right away," an official witness told Reuters, adding that the body was left to hang for 10 minutes and he was pronounced dead at 6:10 a.m. (0310 GMT).

The bearded Saddam, still robust at 69, refused a hood and declined to have a cleric present, but said a brief prayer on the gallows once used by his own secret police.

Grainy video later showed his body in a white shroud, the neck twisted and blood on a cheek. It was taken to Awja, his native village near Tikrit, and his family said later he would be buried in the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Ramadi.

"After the family received the will of the martyred president from lawyers who last met him where he asked to be buried either in Awja or was decided to bury him in the city of Ramadi," a family statement received by Reuters said.

Three decades after Saddam established his personal rule by force, the execution closed a chapter in Iraq's history marked by war with Iran and a 1990 invasion of Kuwait that turned him from ally to enemy of the United States and impoverished his oil-rich nation.

However, as President Bush said in a statement, sectarian violence pushing Iraq toward civil war had not ended.

Car bombs set off by suspected insurgents from Saddam's once-dominant Sunni minority killed more than 70 people in Baghdad and near the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf, in areas populated by Shi'ite Muslims oppressed for decades and now in the ascendant.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, his fragile authority among fellow Shi'ites significantly enhanced after he forced through Saddam's execution over Sunni and Kurdish hesitation, reached out to Saddam's Sunni followers.

"Saddam's execution puts an end to all the pathetic gambles on a return to dictatorship," he said in a statement as state television showed film of him signing the death warrant in red ink. "I urge...followers of the ousted regime to reconsider their stance as the door is still open to anyone who has no innocent blood on his hands to help in rebuilding...Iraq."

There is little prospect of peace from al Qaeda's Sunni Islamists but Maliki and Bush hope that more moderate Sunnis may choose negotiation over violence. As on November 5, when Saddam was sentenced over the deaths of 148 Shi'ites from the town of Dujail, reaction among the Sunni population was muted.

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