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Saddam Hussein executed

Former Iraqi leader hanged at dawn

(Baghdad -WABC, December 29 , 2006) - Saddam Hussein struggled briefly as American military guards handed him over to Iraqi executioners before dawn Saturday. But in his final moments, as masked executioners slipped a black cloth and noose around his neck, he grew calm. He refused a hood to cover his eyes. Hours after Saddam Hussein's execution, Iraqi state television showed grainy video of what it said was his body, the head uncovered and the neck twisted at a sharp angle.

A man whose testimony helped lead to Saddam's execution before sunrise said he was shown the body because "everybody wanted to make sure that he was really executed."

"Now, he is in the garbage of history," said Jawad Abdul-Aziz, who lost his father, three brothers and 22 cousins in the reprisal killings that followed a botched 1982 assassination attempt against Saddam in the Shiite town of Dujail.

The post-execution footage showed a body identified as Saddam's lying on a stretcher, covered in a white shroud. His neck and part of the shroud have what appear to be bloodstains. His eyes are closed.

In Baghdad's Shiite enclave of Sadr City, hundreds of people danced in the streets while others fired guns in the air to celebrate.

World political and religious leaders were divided over whether the execution is a milestone toward peace or more conflict, and nearly every European country used the hanging as an opportunity to condemn the death penalty. British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, like many others, tempered her criticism of the execution by saying Saddam had "now been held to account for at least some of the appalling crimes he committed against the Iraqi people."

While the Vatican denounced the execution as "tragic," Kuwaitis and Iranians welcomed the death of the leader who led wars against each of their countries.

President Bush said Saddam was executed "after receiving a fair trial - the kind of justice he denied the victims of his brutal regime."

"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, and be an ally in the war on terror," Bush said in a statement.

The execution took place during the year's deadliest month for U.S. troops, with the toll reaching 108.

State-run Iraqiya television initially reported that Saddam's half-brother Barzan Ibrahim and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, the former chief justice of the Revolutionary Court, also were hanged. However, three officials later said only Saddam was executed.

"We wanted him to be executed on a special day," National Security adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie told state-run Iraqiyah.

Shortly before the execution, Saddam's hat was removed and Saddam was asked if he wanted to say something, al-Askari said. "No I don't want to," al-Askari, who was present at the execution, quoted Saddam as saying. Saddam repeated a prayer after a Sunni Muslim cleric who was present.

"Saddam was treated with respect when he was alive and after his death," al-Rubaie said. "Saddam's execution was 100 percent Iraqi and the American side did not interfere."

The execution came 56 days after a court convicted Saddam and sentenced him to death for his role in the killings of 148 Shiite Muslims from a town where assassins tried to kill the dictator in 1982. Iraq's highest court rejected Saddam's appeal Monday and ordered him executed within 30 days.

With the execution, there is growing concern that his death could spark violence. In response, U.S. forces in Iraq are on high alert, braced for any surge in violence. In Saddam's hometown of Takrit, a curfew has been imposed for the next four days in order to prevent any violence. Saddam's family hopes to have the body flown to Yemen, where they want him to be buried until Iraq stabilizes. They hope he will be brought back and buried in Iraq at that time

(Copyright 2006 WABC-TV)