Executed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was buried shortly before sunrise Sunday in a family plot next to the graves of his two sons in the town of his birth north of Baghdad, witnesses said. Those who saw the ceremony said only a few people were present for the burial in Ouja, a small town outside Tikrit, Saddam's power base 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad.
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Iraqi government officials initially wanted to bury Saddam in secret in an unmarked grave to prevent the burial site from becoming a place of pilgrimage.
But the Tikrit burial was facilitated after negotiations in Baghdad between the government and US officials and a delegation that included the governor of Salahuddin Province and the head of Saddam Hussein's Albu-Nassir clan, Al-Arabiya satellite television reported late Saturday.
Salahuddin provincial governor Hamad Hamoud Shagtti and Sheik Ali al-Nidawi, leader Saddam's clan in Ouja, organized the return of Saddam's body, which arrived in Ouja at about 4 a.m. Sunday.
The former Iraqi leader was interred near where his sons Odai and Qusai in the main cemetery in Ouja. The sons and a grandson were killed in a gunbattle with the American forces in Mosul in July 2003.
On Saturday, in Baghdad's Shiite enclave of Sadr City, people danced in the streets while others fired guns in the air to celebrate the former dictator's death. The government did not impose a round-the-clock curfew as it did last month when Saddam was convicted to thwart any surge in retaliatory violence.
Iranian state TV said that the hanging closed "the life dossier of one of the world's most criminal dictators" and Iranians were joyful at the death of the leader who launched an eight-year war on their country in 1980.
In parts of Teheran, Iran's capital, residents handed out sweets to passers-by in celebration and a fruit seller offered produce at half price to mark the occasion.
Saddam's lawyers praised his bravery during his final moments.
"The martyr remained fearless, honest and clear-minded," said the statement issued by Saddam's defense team from Jordan where it is based.
People in the Sunni-dominated city of Tikrit, once a power base of Saddam, lamented his death.
"The president, the leader Saddam Hussein is a martyr and God will put him along with other martyrs. Do not be sad nor complain because he has died the death of a holy warrior," said Sheik Yahya al-Attawi, a cleric at the Saddam Big Mosque.
As a security precaution, police blocked the entrances to Tikrit and said nobody was allowed to leave or enter the city for four days.
Former Iraqi diplomat Mohammed al-Douri said the deposed leader's death was a blow to the Arab cause. "The Arab nation has lost a hero. So have all of those who are against Iran and Israel and for Arab unity."
A leading member of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood took offense at the timing of the hanging. Jamil Abu-Bakr said that executing Saddam as Sunni Muslims began celebrating the Islamic holiday was an attempt "to harm the Muslim Nation."
Meawhile, at least 80 Iraqis died in bombings Saturday, including one planted on a minibus that exploded in a fish market in a mostly Shiite town south of Baghdad.
There was no indication the attacks were related to the execution of Saddam Hussein. They came on the eve of when Iraq's Shiites begin celebrating Eid al-Adha, the most important holiday of the Islamic calendar, and shoppers crowded into markets to buy supplies for the four-day festival.
In northwest Baghdad, two parked cars exploded one after another, killing 25 civilians and wounding 65 in a mixed neighborhood of the Iraqi capital, police said.
Saturday mornings hanging was a grim end for the 69-year-old leader. Despite his ouster, Washington, its allies and the new Iraqi leaders remain mired in a fight to quell a stubborn insurgency by Saddam loyalists and a vicious sectarian conflict.
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.
By several accounts, Saddam was calm but scornful of his captors, engaging in a give-and-take with the crowd gathered to watch him die and insisting he was Iraq's savior, not its tyrant and scourge.
"He said we are going to heaven and our enemies will rot in hell and he also called for forgiveness and love among Iraqis but also stressed that the Iraqis should fight the Americans and the Persians," Munir Haddad, an appeals court judge who witnessed the hanging, told the British Broadcasting Corp.
Another witness, national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie, told The New York Times that one of the guards shouted at Saddam: "You have destroyed us. You have killed us. You have made us live in destitution."
"I have saved you from destitution and misery and destroyed your enemies, the Persian and Americans," Saddam responded, al-Rubaie told the Times.
"God damn you," the guard said.
"God damn you," responded Saddam.
New video, first broadcast by Al-Jazeera satellite television early Sunday, had sound of someone in the group praising the founder of the Shiite Dawa Party, who was executed in 1980 along with his sister by Saddam.
Saddam appeared to smile at those taunting him from below the gallows. He said they were not showing manhood.
Then Saddam began reciting the "Shahada," a Muslim prayer that says there is no god but God and Muhammad is his messenger, according to an unabridged copy of the same tape, apparently shot with a camera phone and posted on a Web site.
Saddam made it to midway through his second recitation of the verse. His last word was Muhammad.
The floor dropped out of the gallows.
"The tyrant has fallen," someone in the group of onlookers shouted. The video showed a close-up of Saddam's face as he swung from the rope.
Then came another voice: "Let him swing for three minutes."
On Saturday night, Sami al-Askari, the political adviser of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, told The Associated Press that Saddam struggled when he was taken from his cell in an American military prison but was composed in his last moments.
He said Saddam was clad completely in black, with a jacket, trousers, hat and shoes, rather than prison garb.
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 later was taken to the gallows and refused to have his head covered with a hood," al-Askari said. "Before the rope was put around his neck, Saddam shouted: 'God is great. The nation will be victorious and Palestine is Arab."'
Saddam was executed at a former military intelligence headquarters in Baghdad's Shiite neighborhood of Kazimiyah, al-Askari said. The neighborhood is home to the Iraqi capital's most important Shiite shine, the Imam Kazim shrine.
Al-Askari said the government had not decided what to do with Saddam's body.
"He did not ask for anything. He was carrying a Quran and said: 'I want this Quran to be given to this person,' a man he called Bander," al-Maliki said. Al-Rubaie said he did not know who Bander was.
"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."
Iraq state-run television was airing 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."
The Iraqi prime minister's office released a statement that said Saddam's execution was a "strong lesson" to ruthless leaders who commit crimes against their own people.
"We strongly reject considering Saddam as a representative of any sect in Iraq because the tyrant only represented his evil soul," the statement said. "The door is still open for those whose hands are not tainted with the blood of innocent people to take part in the political process and work on rebuilding Iraq."
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.
A US judge on Friday refused to stop Saddam's execution, rejecting a last-minute court challenge.
US troops cheered as news of Saddam's execution appeared on television at the mess hall at Forward Operating Base Loyalty in eastern Baghdad. But some soldiers expressed doubt that Saddam's death would be a significant turning point for Iraq.
"First it was weapons of mass destruction. Then when there were none, it was that we had to find Saddam. We did that, but then it was that we had to put him on trial," said Spc. Thomas Sheck, 25, who is on his second tour in Iraq. "So now, what will be the next story they tell us to keep us over here?"
The execution was carried out around the start of Eid al-Adha, the Islamic world's largest holiday, which marks the end of the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, the hajj. Many Muslims celebrate by sacrificing domestic animals, usually sheep.
Sunnis and Shiites throughout the world began observing the four-day holiday at dawn Saturday, but Iraq's Shiite community - the country's majority - was due to start celebrating on Sunday.
Al-Maliki had rejected calls that Saddam be spared, telling families of people killed during the dictator's rule that would be an insult to the victims.
At his death, he was in the midst of a second trial, charged with genocide and other crimes for a 1987-88 military crackdown that killed an estimated 180,000 Kurds in northern Iraq.
Experts said the trial of his co-defendants was likely to continue despite his execution.
Many people in Iraq's Shiite majority were eager to see the execution of a man whose Sunni Arab-dominated regime oppressed them and Kurds.
Before the hanging, a mosque preacher in the Shiite holy city of Najaf on Friday called Saddam's execution "God's gift to Iraqis."
"Oh, God, you know what Saddam has done! He killed millions of Iraqis in prisons, in wars with neighboring countries and he is responsible for mass graves. Oh God, we ask you to take revenge on Saddam," said Sheik Sadralddin al-Qubanji, a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
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," he said.
One of Saddam's lawyers, Issam Ghazzawi, said the letter was written by Saddam on Nov. 5, the day he was convicted by an Iraqi tribunal in the Dujail killings.
The message called on Iraqis to put aside the sectarian hatred that has bloodied their nation for a year and voiced support for the Sunni Arab-dominated insurgency against US-led forces, saying: "Long live jihad and the mujahedeen."
Saddam urged Iraqis to rely on God's help in fighting "against the unjust nations" that ousted his regime.
Najeeb al-Nauimi, a member of Saddam's legal team, said US authorities maintained physical custody of Saddam until the execution to prevent him being humiliated publicly or his corpse being mutilated, as has happened to previous Iraqi leaders deposed by force. He said they didn't want anything to happen to further inflame Sunni Arabs.
"This is the end of an era in Iraq," al-Nauimi said from Doha, Qatar. "The Baath regime ruled for 35 years. Saddam was vice president or president of Iraq during those years. For Iraqis, he will be very well remembered. Like a martyr, he died for the sake of his country."