Saddam Hussein hanged: Iraqi official

Saddam Hussein hanged: Iraqi official
Fri Dec 29, 2006 10:57 PM ET

By Mariam Karouny

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Saddam Hussein was executed by hanging shortly before 6 a.m. (10:00 p.m. EST) on Saturday, U.S.-backed Iraqi television station Al Hurra and Arabic satellite channel Arabiya said.

Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Labeed Abbawi also said the execution had taken place.

“I believe so, yes. He has been executed. It has been officially announced that he has been executed,” Abbawi said, speaking by telephone to BBC News 24.

The former Iraqi president ousted in April 2003 by a U.S.-led invasion was convicted in November of crimes against humanity over the killings of 148 Shi’ite villagers from Dujail after a failed assassination bid in 1982.

An appeals court upheld the death penalty on Tuesday and the government rushed through the procedures to hang him by the end of the year and before the Eid al-Adha holiday that starts on Saturday, coinciding with the haj pilgrimage to Mecca.

Earlier, senior officials told Reuters they were expecting to see the former president hang between 5:30 and 6 a.m. (0230 and 0300 GMT).

U.S. television showed scenes of cheering and flag-waving Iraqi-Americans in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, Michigan, home to the largest U.S. Arab-American community.

Arabic satellite channel Arabiya said Saddam’s half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti and former judge Awad al-Bander were also executed by hanging on Saturday.

The Iraqi government had kept details of its plans shrouded in secrecy amid concerns it could spark a violent backlash from his former supporters with Iraq on the brink of civil war.

The execution will delight Iraq’s majority Shi’ites, who faced oppression during Saddam’s three-decade rule, but may anger some in his resentful Sunni minority.

Some Kurdish leaders had sought a delay so they too could see justice for the man they accuse of genocide against them.

ONCE BELLIGERENT STRONGMAN

Saddam’s conviction on November 5 was hailed by President Bush as a triumph for the democracy he promised to foster in Iraq after the invasion almost four years ago.

With U.S. public support for the war slumping as the number of American dead approaches 3,000, Washington is likely to welcome the death of Saddam, despite misgivings among many allies about capital punishment.

But the hanging could complicate efforts by Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to heal Iraq’s sectarian divisions with violence spiralling out of control and threatening to pitch the country into full-scale civil war.

Once the belligerent strongman of the Middle East, Saddam’s power crumbled when U.S. tanks swept into Baghdad in April 2003. He fled and was captured in December that year by U.S. soldiers who found him hiding in a hole near his home town of Tikrit.

During his three decades in power, Saddam was accused of widespread oppression of political opponents and genocide against Kurds in northern Iraq. His execution means he will never face justice on those charges.

Defiant to the end, Saddam insisted during his trial that he was still the president of Iraq.

He said in a letter written after his conviction in November that he offered himself as a “sacrifice”.

“If my soul goes down this path (of martyrdom) it will face God in serenity,” he wrote in the letter.

Defense lawyer Issam Jhazzawi earlier told Reuters Saddam’s exiled daughters in Jordan were bracing for his imminent death.

“The family are praying for him every minute and are calling on God that He let his soul rest in peace among the martyrs,” he said.

His daughter Raghd, who is exiled in Jordan, “is asking that his body be buried in Yemen temporarily until Iraq is liberated and it can be reburied in Iraq,” a source close to the family said by telephone before the execution.

(Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald, Ibon Villelabeitia, Claudia Parsons in Baghdad and Suleiman Khalidi in Dubai)

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