By Christopher Torchia and Qassim Abdul-Zahra: The Associated Press
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Saddam Hussein, the shotgun-waving dictator who ruled Iraq with a remorseless brutality for a quarter-century and was driven from power by a U.S.-led war that left his country in shambles, was taken to the gallows and executed Saturday.
It was a grim end for the 69-year-old leader who had vexed three U.S. presidents. 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.
President Bush called Saddam’s execution “the kind of justice he denied the victims of his brutal regime.”
Also hanged were Saddam’s half-brother Barzan Ibrahim and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, the former chief justice of the Revolutionary Court. State-run Iraqiya television news announcer said “criminal Saddam was hanged to death and the execution started with criminal Saddam then Barzan then Awad al-Bandar.”
Mariam al-Rayes, a legal expert and a former member of the Shiite bloc in parliament, told Iraqiya television that the execution “was filmed and God willing it will be shown. There was one camera present, and a doctor was also present there.”
Al-Rayes, an ally of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, did not attend the execution. She said Al-Maliki did not attend but was represented by an aide.
The station earlier 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 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.
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 U.S. judge on Friday refused to stop Saddam’s execution, rejecting a last-minute court challenge.
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.
“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’s office quoted him as saying during a meeting with relatives before the hanging.
The hanging of Saddam, who was ruthless in ordering executions of his opponents, will keep other Iraqis from pursuing justice against the ousted leader.
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.
On Thursday, two half brothers visited Saddam in his cell, a member of the former dictator’s defense team, Badee Izzat Aref, told The Associated Press by telephone from the United Arab Emirates. He said the former dictator handed them his personal belongings.
A senior official at the Iraqi defense ministry said Saddam gave his will to one of his half brothers. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
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 U.S. “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.