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Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein executed

Late Saddam Hussein reacts to his death sentence on November 5
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December 30, 2006 09:11 IST
Last Updated: December 30, 2006 12:26 IST

Saddam Hussein, who ruled Iraq with an iron fist for over quarter of a century, was hanged to death on Saturday, three years after he was deposed from power by the US.

The 69-year-old former President, a staunch friend of India, was taken to the gallows and executed at 6 am local time (08.30 IST), Iraqi state-run television reported.

The dictator, who had plunged his country into a long war with neighbouring Iran in 1980s and later invaded Kuwait in 1990, inviting US wrath, was hanged 56 days after a court convicted and sentenced him to death for his role in the killings of 148 Shiite Muslims.

The execution became imminent on Thursday after Iraq's highest court rejected Saddam's appeal and ordered carrying out the sentence within 30 days.

A last-minute challenge from Saddam was rejected by a US judge on Friday.

On Friday evening, his personal effects were removed and he was handed over by US officials to Iraqi government authorities in preparation for the execution.

There were conflicting reports over whether his half-brother Barzan Ibrahim and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, the former chief justice of the Revolutionary Court, were also executed with him.

While initial reports said they were also put to death, later reports quoting eyewitnesses said only Saddam was hanged.

State-run Iraqiya television news, however, said, "Criminal Saddam was hanged to death and the execution started with criminal Saddam then Barzan then Awad al-Bandar."

A doctor was present during the execution, which was filmed.

The Iraqiya TV station aired national songs after the first announcement and had a tag on the screen that read 'Saddam's execution marks the end of a dark period of Iraq's history'.

US forces in Iraq were put on high alert and security beefed up at British and American missions, particularly in the Gulf.

Saddam was in the middle of a second trial charged with genocide and other crimes for a 1987-88 military crackdown which killed an estimated 180,000 Kurds in northern Iraq.

An overwhelming number of Iraq's Shiite majority were anxious to witness the execution of the man whose Sunni Arab-dominated regime targeted them for decades.

Before the hanging, a mosque preacher in the Shiite holy city of Najaf on Friday called Saddam's execution 'God's gift to Iraqis'.

On Thursday, two half brothers visited Saddam in his cell, a member of the former dictator's defense team, Badee Izzat Aref, told AP by telephone from the United Arab Emirates. He said the former dictator handed them his personal belongings.

A senior official at the Iraqi defence ministry said Saddam gave his will to one of his half brothers. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

In a farewell message to Iraqis posted Wednesday on the Internet, Saddam said he was giving his life for his country as part of the struggle against the US - 'Here, I offer my soul to God as a sacrifice, and if he wants, he will send it to heaven with the martyrs'.

As he was led to the gallows at Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, Saddam with his hands bound behind him showed no visible signs of tension, Iraqi officials said.

Saddam's last words before execution were a plea and a warning to the Iraqi people - 'I hope you will be united, and I warn you not to trust the Iraqi coalition, because they are dangerous'.

"He said he was not afraid of anyone," Judge Moneer Haddad, who witnessed Saddam's execution for crimes against humanity, was quoted by AFP.

Saddam's taunt was apparently aimed at Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shiite-led ruling coalition, which many Iraqi Sunnis accuse of being a front for Iranian influence.

The dictator's life ebbed out as the trapdoor dropped, bringing to an end the era of a rebel Arab leader who had contempt for the other rulers in the Gulf and revelled himself in taking on the Americans.

Saddam's two co-accused --his half brother and intelligence chief -- were convicted of crimes against humanity by an Iraqi court on November 5.

Saddam's Jordan-based defence team, which largely boycotted the year-long trial, made one last desperate attempt by going to court in the US to demand that the ousted despot remain in US military custody.

But US authorities in Baghdad insisted that the detainees have been under Iraqi legal authority for more than a year and were only being held in an American military base as a simple security precaution.

In the Shiite holy city of Najaf celebratory gunfire erupted all around the city immediately after the verdict.

Security officials fear a backlash, however, from hardline factions among Iraq's Sunni minority, including the Islamist and nationalist militant groups that make up the deadliest elements of Iraq's violent insurgency.

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