BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iraq's High Tribunal on Sunday found Saddam Hussein guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to hang for the 1982 killing of 148 Shiites in the city of Dujail. The visibly shaken former leader shouted "God is great!"
Saddam's half brother and former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, head of the former Revolutionary Court, were sentenced to join Saddam on the gallows for the Dujail killings after an unsuccessful assassination attempt during a Saddam visit to the city 35 miles north of Baghdad.
The death sentences automatically go to a nine-judge appeals panel which has unlimited time to review the case. If the verdicts and sentences are upheld, the executions must be carried out within 30 days.
Chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi told reporters that the Anfal trial now in progress for Saddam and others alleged role in gassing and killing Kurds would continue while the appeals process is underway. But if the appellate judges uphold the death sentence, the Anfal proceedings and other cases would be halted and Saddam hanged.
Al-Moussawi said Saddam would be hanged if the sentence were upheld, despite his demand that he be shot by a firing squad.
A court official told The Associated Press that the appeals process was likely to take three to four weeks once the formal paperwork was submitted.
Clashes immediately broke out in north Baghdad's heavily Sunni Azamiyah district where police were battling men with machine guns. At least seven mortar shells slammed to earth around the Abu Hanifa mosque, the holiest Sunni shrine in the capital. There was no immediate word on casualties.
Celebratory gunfire rang out elsewhere in Baghdad, and the people in Sadr City, the capital's Shiite slum, celebrated in the streets, calling out "Where are you Saddam? We want to fight you."
Breathing heavily as he ran along the streets, 35-year-old Abu Sinan said, "This is an unprecedented feeling of happiness...nothing matches it, no festival nor marriage nor birth matches it. The verdict says Saddam must pay the price for murdering tens of thousands of Iraqis."
A jubilant crowd of young men carried pictures of radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and handed out candy to children.
In Tikrit, Saddam's hometown, 1,000 people defied the curfew and carried pictures of the city's favorite son through the streets.
"By our souls, by our blood we sacrifice for you Saddam" and "Saddam, your name shakes America."
People were celebrating in the streets of Dujail, a Tigris River city of 84,000, as the verdict was read. They burned pictures of their former tormentor.
Celebratory gunfire also rang out in Kurdish neighborhoods across the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, where taxi driver Khatab Ahmed sat on a mattress in his living room to watch trial coverage with his wife and six children.
"Thank God I lived to see the day when the criminals received their punishment," the 40-year-old exclaimed on hearing of Saddam's death sentence.
His brother and uncle were arrested by Saddam's security forces in the 1980s and disappeared forever. Two cousins died in a 1991 Kurdish uprising.
‘Trial was fair,’ Talabani says in Paris
Iraq’s president said Sunday that the trial against the ousted Iraqi leader was fair. But Jalal Talabani would not comment on the guilty verdict or death sentence for fear it could inflame tensions in his volatile nation.
“I think the trial was fair,” the president told The Associated Press at his Paris hotel, where he watched the proceedings live on television. “Those people had the full right to say what they intended.”
Talabani has opposed the death penalty in the past, but found a way around it by deputizing a vice president to sign an execution order on his behalf — a substitute that has been legally accepted.
Talabani, a Sunni Kurd who once took up arms against Saddam and was elected president in April 2005, would not comment Sunday about the use of the death penalty, saying he would make his position known after all the legal proceedings were exhausted.
“I must respect the independence of the Iraqi judiciary,” Talabani said. “Until the end I must be silent ... because my comments could affect the situation.”
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari was more outspoken about the verdict.
“This was the only reasonable outcome,” he told AP, calling Sunday “a historic day” that would bring closure to Iraq’s relations with its former leader.
“It’s a victory for the victims of Saddam,” he said.
'An opportunity to unite'
The United States Embassy immediately issued a statement under the name of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who said the verdicts "demonstrate the commitment of the Iraqi people to hold them (Saddam and his co-defendants) accountable."
"Although the Iraqis may face difficult days in the coming weeks, closing the book on Saddam and his regime is an opportunity to unite and build a better future," Khalilzad said.
Saddam's chief lawyer Khalil al-Dulaim told AP his client called on Iraqis to reject the sectarian violence ripping the country apart and to "not take revenge" on U.S. invaders.
"The message from President Saddam to his people came during a meeting in Baghdad this morning, just before the so-called Iraqi court issued its verdict in his trial," al-Dulaimi said.
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett praised the verdict by an Iraqi court. “The evidence against him has been heard in full court, it has been tested in full court, and their verdict has been given in a court of the people against whom his crimes were committed,” she said.
After the verdict was read, a trembling Saddam yelled out, "Long live the people, and death to their enemies. Long live the glorious nation, and death to its enemies!"
Other verdicts follow
He initially refused Chief Judge Raouf Adbul-Rahman's order to rise to hear the verdict and sentence. Two bailiffs lifted Saddam to his feet, and he remained standing but turned to one guard, telling him to stop twisting his arm.
Former Vice President and Saddam deputy Taha Yassin Ramadan was sentenced to life in prison.
Three defendants were sentenced to 15 years in prison for torture and premeditated murder. Abdullah Kazim Ruwayyid and his son Mizhar Abdullah Ruwayyid were party officials Dujail, along with Ali Dayih Ali. They were believed responsible for the Dujail arrests.
Mohammed Azawi Ali, a former Dujail Baath Party official, was acquitted for lack of evidence and immediately freed.
Before the trial began, one of Saddam's lawyers, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, was ejected from the courtroom after handing the judge a memorandum in which he called the Saddam trial a "travesty."
Abdul-Rahman pointed to Clark and said in English, "Get out."
'A lot of incriminating evidence'
The trial proceedings were shown on Iraqi and pan-Arab satellite television channels with a 20-minute delay. Ahead of the verdicts, several channels aired documentaries about Saddam's crackdowns on Kurds and Shiites. They also aired videotape of mass graves being uncovered after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Al-Masai television, run by the prominent Shiite Dawa party, played solemn music as it scrolled through snapshots of Iraqis who went missing under Saddam's 23-year rule.
Another Shiite channel, al-Furat, aired archive footage of Saddam from the 1980s proclaiming, "Everyone stands against the revolution, whether they are 100 or 2,000 or 10,000, I will chop their heads off and this doesn't shake a hair of me at all."
U.S. officials associated with the tribunal said Saddam's repeated courtroom outbursts during the nine-month trial may have played a key part in his conviction.
They cited his admission in a March 1 hearing that he had ordered the trial of 148 Shiites who were eventually executed, insisting that doing so was legal because they were suspected in an assassination attempt against him.
"Where is the crime? Where is the crime?" he asked, standing before the panel of five judges.
Later in the same session, he argued that his co-defendants must be released and that because he was in charge, he alone must be tried. His outburst came a day after the prosecution presented a presidential decree with a signature they said was Saddam's approving death sentences for the 148 Shiites, their most direct evidence against him.
Video: Iraqis cheer death sentence About 50 of those sentenced by "The Revolutionary Court" died during interrogation before they could go to the gallows. Some of those hanged were juveniles.
"Every time they (defendants) rose and spoke, they provided a lot of incriminating evidence," said one of the U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. "Saddam thought he had all the right answers, when in fact he was helping the court establish "command responsibility."
Under Saddam, Iraq's large bureaucracy showed consistent tendency to document government orders, policies and minutes of meetings. That, according to the U.S. officials, helped the prosecution produce more than 30 documents that clearly established the chain of command under Saddam.
One document gave the names of every one from Dujail banished to a desert detention camp in southern Iraq. Another, prepared by a close Saddam aide, gave the president a blow-by-blow account of the punitive measures taken against the people of Dujail following the failed attempt on Saddam's life.
Trial mirrored turmoil of Iraq
Saddam's trial had from the outset appeared to reflect the turmoil and violence prevailing in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled the former president.
One of Saddam's lawyers was assassinated the day after the trial's opening session on Oct. 19, last year. Two more were later assassinated and a fourth one fled the country.
In January, chief judge Rizgar Amin, a Kurd, resigned after complaints by Shiite politicians that he had failed to keep control of court proceedings. He, in turn, complained of political interference in the trial. Another Kurd, Raouf Abdul-Rahman, replaced Amin.
Hearings were frequently disrupted by outbursts from Saddam and Ibrahim, with the two raging against what they said was the illegitimacy of the court, their bad treatment in the U.S.-run facility where they are being held and the lack of protection of their defense attorneys.
The defense lawyers contributed to the chaos in the courtroom by staging several boycotts.
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