Deposed Iraqi dictator hanged for deaths of 148 Shiites in 1982
• Saddam hanged
Dec. 29: Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was hanged for the killing, torture and other crimes against the Shiite population of the town of Dujail. NBC’s Campbell Brown and Richard Engel report.
• Images of downfall
The path to descent of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Three years after he was hauled from a hole in the ground by pursuing U.S. forces, Saddam Hussein was hanged Saturday under a sentence imposed by an Iraqi court, al-Hurra TV, al-Arabiya and Sky News TV reported.
The deposed president was found guilty over the killing of 148 members of the Shiite population of the town of Dujail after militants tried to assassinate him there in 1982, during Iraq’s war with Shiite Iran.
The official witnesses to his execution gathered Friday in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone in final preparation for his hanging, as state television broadcast footage of his regime’s atrocities.
The Pentagon said U.S. forces, always on high alert in Iraq, were braced for any upsurge in violence from Sunni insurgents loyal to Saddam.
A U.S. judge refused late Friday to stop the execution, rejecting a last-minute court challenge by the former Iraqi president.
"Petitioner Hussein’s application for immediate, temporary stay of execution is denied," U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said in Washington after a hearing over the telephone with attorneys.
An Iraqi appeals court upheld Saddam’s death sentence Tuesday for the killing of 148 people who were detained and tortured after the attempt on his life.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in statements released Friday that those who opposed the execution of Saddam were insulting the honor of his victims. His office said he made the remarks in a meeting with families of people who died during Saddam’s rule.
“Our respect for human rights requires us to execute him, and there will be no review or delay in carrying out the sentence,” al-Maliki said.
‘God’s gift to Iraqis’
In his Friday sermon, a mosque preacher in the Shiite holy city of Najaf 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, known as SCIRI.
Rumors and reports swirled Friday over when the execution would take place and whether U.S. forces had handed Saddam over to Iraqi custody, presumably the last step before the execution.
Earlier reports said al-Maliki feared fueling religious tensions if Saddam were executed during Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday that starts at sundown Saturday.
An execution during Eid carries great symbolism. The feast marks the sacrifice the prophet Abraham was prepared to make when God ordered him to kill his son, and many Shiites could regard Saddam’s death as a gift from God. Such symbolism could further anger Sunnis, who are resentful of new Shiite power.
Najeeb al-Nueimi, a member of Saddam’s legal team, said U.S. authorities were maintaining physical custody of Saddam until the time of the execution to prevent him from being humiliated beforehand. He said the Americans also want to prevent the mutilation of his corpse, as has happened to other deposed Iraqi leaders.
Saddam has been held at a U.S. base near Baghdad airport, but the place of execution has been kept secret.
Meeting with half-brothers
Saddam, who said in court he had no fear of dying, had a farewell meeting with two of his half-brothers on Thursday, his lawyers said, adding the fallen dictator was in high spirits and ready to die a “martyr.” A third half-brother and another aide are also condemned to die for crimes against humanity.
Saddam’s conviction was hailed by President Bush as a triumph for the democracy he promised to foster in Iraq after the 2003 invasion.
International human rights groups criticized the year-long trial, during which three defense lawyers were killed and a chief judge resigned complaining of political interference.
Rights groups, along with the United Nations and many of the United States’ Western allies, oppose capital punishment and have voiced unease over the decision to put Saddam to death.
Saddam’s lawyers issued a statement Friday calling on "everybody to do everything to stop this unfair execution." The statement also said the former president had been transferred from U.S. custody, though American and Iraqi officials later denied that.
The governments of Yemen and Libya made eleventh-hour appeals that Saddam’s life be spared.
Yemeni Prime Minister Abdul-Kader Bajammal wrote to the U.S. and Iraqi presidents, warning in his letter to President Bush that Saddam’s execution would "increase the sectarian violence" in Iraq, according to the official Yemeni news agency Saba.
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi made an indirect appeal to save Saddam, telling Al-Jazeera television that his trial was illegal and that he should be retried by an international court.