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Saddam Hussein's former deputy was hanged before dawn Tuesday for his part in the killings of 148 Shiites, an official with the prime minister's office said, despite appeals from international human rights groups.
Taha Yassin Ramadan, who was Saddam's vice president when the regime was ousted nearly four years ago, was the fourth man to be executed in the killings of 148 Shiites following a 1982 assassination attempt against the former leader in the town of Dujail north of Baghdad.
The official, who witnessed the hanging but spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to disclose the information, said precautions were taken to prevent a repeat of what happened to Saddam's half brother and co-defendant Barzan Ibrahim, who was inadvertently decapitated on the gallows during his January execution.
Ramadan, who was nearly 70, was weighed before the hanging and the length of the rope was chosen accordingly, the official said.
The execution took place at a prison at an Iraqi army and police base, which had been the headquarters of Saddam's military intelligence, in a predominantly Shiite district in northern Baghdad. Ramadan had been in US custody but was handed over to the Iraqis about an hour before the hanging, the official said.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has not attended any of the executions, but a committee made up of officials from his office, a judge and a prosecutor attended the hanging, along with representatives of the justice and interior ministries and a physician.
The prosecutor read out the verdict of the appeals court upholding the death sentence along with al-Maliki's decision to carry it out, the official said, adding that a defense lawyer who attended the execution received Ramadan's written will. The contents were not revealed.
Ramadan appeared frightened and said words that indicated he was remorseful, the official said, although he was not more specific.
"He recited the two shahadahs. The execution was flawless," the official said, adding that the hanging was videotaped for official purposes. The two shahadas are the declaration of faith repeated by Muslims - "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet."
Ramadan was convicted in November of murder, forced deportation and torture and sentenced to life in prison. A month later, the appeals court said the sentence was too lenient, and returned his case to the High Tribunal, demanding he be sentenced to death. The court agreed to turn it to a death sentence.
Ramadan, who became vice president in March 1991 and was a Revolutionary Command Council member - Iraq's highest political body under Saddam - maintained his innocence, saying his duties were limited to economic affairs, not security issues.
Human Rights Watch and the International Center for Transitional Justice have said the evidence against him is insufficient for the death penalty.
Saddam was executed on Dec. 30 for his role in the killings. Two of his co-defendants in the Dujail case - his half brother Ibrahim who was former intelligence chief, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, former head of Iraq's Revolutionary Court - were executed in January.
Ibrahim plunged through the trap door and was beheaded by the jerk of the thick rope at the end of his fall, causing a furor; the Iraqi government said the decapitation was an accident.
Saddam's Dec. 30 execution drew international outrage after a clandestine video showed the former president being taunted on the gallows. Another leaked video showed Saddam's corpse with a gaping neck wound.
Saddam's regime was predominantly Sunni and many members of the sect have protested the executions on the grounds they were politically motivated by the newly empowered Shiite majority in Iraq.
International human rights groups have, by and large, protested that the trial which found the men guilty did not provide them with due legal process.
Ramadan's body would be delivered to his family later Tuesday for burial, the official said. He refused to give a location.
Ramadan was No. 20 on the US most-wanted list issued shortly after the invasion began. He was captured on Aug. 20, 2003. He was widely considered to be as ruthless as Saddam. He once headed a court that executed 44 officers for plotting to overthrow the regime.
Born in 1938, Ramadan joined the underground Baath Party in 1956 and became close to Saddam. After the 1968 coup by the party, he held several ministerial posts and became a member of the regional command in 1969.
During the 1980s, he was deputy prime minister and was for a time considered the second-most powerful man in Iraq after Saddam.
He was said to have presided over many purges carried out by Saddam to eliminate rivals and strengthen his political control.
He lauded the execution of Iraqi officials found guilty of bribery as necessary "lessons for the others" and often took a harder line than Saddam in denouncing the United States, Israel and other states deemed hostile to Baghdad.
He once described the US Congress as little more than an extension of Israel's Knesset, or parliament.