Hundreds of Iraqis flocked Sunday to the village where Saddam Hussein was born to see the deposed leader buried in a religious compound 24 hours after his execution.
Dozens of relatives and others, some of them crying and moaning, attended the interment shortly before dawn in Ouja. A few knelt before his flag-draped grave. A large framed photograph of Saddam was propped up on a chair nearby.
“I condemn the way he was executed and I consider it a crime,” said 45-year-old Salam Hassan al-Nasseri, one of Saddam’s clansmen who attended the interment in the village just outside Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad. Some 2,000 Iraqis traveled to the village as well.
Mohammed Natiq, a 24-year-old college student, said “the path of Arab nationalism must inevitably be paved with blood.”
“God has decided that Saddam Hussein should have such an end, but his march and the course which he followed will not end,” Natiq said.
Police on Saturday blocked the entrances to Tikrit and said nobody was allowed to leave or enter the city for four days. Despite the security precaution, gunmen took to the streets, carrying pictures of Saddam, shooting into the air and calling for vengeance.
Saddam was captured in an underground hide-out near Ouja on Dec. 13, 2003, eight months after he fled Baghdad ahead of advancing American troops.
His burial place is about two miles from the graves of his sons, Odai and Qusai, in the main town cemetery. The sons and a grandson were killed in a gunbattle with the American forces in Mosul in July 2003.
The head of Saddam’s Albu-Nassir’s clan said the body showed no signs of mistreatment.
“We received the body of Saddam Hussein without any complications. There was cooperation by the prime minister and his office’s director,” the clan chief, Sheik al-Nidaa, told state-run Al-Iraqiya television. “We opened the coffin of Saddam. He was cleaned and wrapped according to Islamic teachings. We didn’t see any unnatural signs on his body.”
On Saturday, Iraqis awoke to television images of a noose being slipped over Saddam’s neck and his white-shrouded body, the pre-dawn work of black-hooded hangmen. They went to bed as new video emerged showing Saddam exchanging taunts with onlookers before the gallows floor dropped away and the former dictator swung from the rope.
In Baghdad’s Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City on Saturday, victims of Saddam’s three decades of autocratic rule took to the streets to celebrate, dancing, beating drums and hanging him in effigy. Celebratory gunfire erupted across other Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad and other predominantly Shiite regions of the country.
There was no sign of a feared Sunni uprising in retaliation for the execution, and the bloodshed from civil warfare on Saturday was not far off the daily average — 92 from bombings and death squads.
Outside the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, west of the capital, loyalists marched with Saddam pictures and waved Iraqi flags. Defying curfews, hundreds took to the streets vowing revenge in Samarra, north of Baghdad.
Still, authorities imposed curfews sparingly in contrast to the several-day lockdown put in place after Saddam was sentenced to death on Nov. 5.
Calm but scornful
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.
'The tyrant has fallen'
New video, first broadcast by Al-Jazeera satellite television early Sunday, had the 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.”
The responses within Iraq to Saddam’s death echoed the larger reaction across the Middle East, with his enemies rejoicing and his defenders proclaiming him a martyr.
While Iranians and Kuwaitis welcomed the death of the leader who led wars against each of their countries, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the execution prevented exposure of the secrets and crimes the former dictator committed during his brutal rule.
Holiday celebrations canceled
Some Arab governments denounced the timing the 69-year-old former president’s hanging just before the start of the most important holiday of the Islamic calendar, Eid al-Adha. Libya announced a three-day official mourning period and canceled all celebrations for Eid.
Haider Hamed, a 34-year-old candy store owner in east Baghdad, wondered what would really change after Saddam’s execution.
“He’s gone, but our problems continue,” said the Shiite Muslim, whose uncle was killed in one of Saddam’s many brutal purges. “We brought problems on ourselves after Saddam because we began fighting Shiite on Sunni and Sunni on Shiite.”
Cheers around Iraq
Among minority Sunnis there was deep anger, born not only of Saddam’s execution but of the loss of their decades-long political and economic dominance that began with Saddam’s ouster in the U.S. invasion nearly four years ago.
“The president, the leader, Saddam Hussein is a martyr and God will put him along with other martyrs,” said Yahya al-Attawi, who led prayer at a towering Sunni mosque constructed by Saddam in Tikrit.
There were cheers at the cafeteria of a U.S. outpost in Baghdad as soldiers having breakfast learned Saddam had been hanged.
But members of the Army’s 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment, on patrol in an overwhelmingly Shiite neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, said the execution wouldn’t get them home any faster — and therefore didn’t make much difference.
“Nothing really changes,” said Capt. Dave Eastburn, 30. “The militias run everything now, not Saddam.”
Staff Sgt. David Earp, who also fought in 1991’s Operation Desert Storm, said the execution worried him.
“In my opinion, something big is going to happen,” said Earp, of Colorado. “There will be a response.”