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Friday, December 29, 2006

Ned Parker in Fallujah
Saddam Hussein was hanged shortly before dawn today after the Iraqi Government rushed through the formalities of his final hours.

With unexpected speed, the Iraqi Prime Minister swept aside any remaining political hurdles and signed the former dictator’s death sentence. Iraqi and US officials met for almost three hours late last night to confirm that all legal requirements for the execution had been met.

The official witnesses to the execution gathered at the green zone in Baghdad in the early hours as final preparations were made. A gallows had been erected in a parade ground still dominated by a triumphal arch formed of crossed swords held in hands modelled on Saddam’s own.

Judge Moneer Haddad, who was one of the official witnesses, told The Times that he read the death warrant to Saddam before asking him for his last wish and request. Another witness, a Muslim cleric, then asked Saddam to deliver his final words.

Earlier, Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, insisted that there would be “no review or delay” in carrying out the sentence. To do so would be an insult to his victims, he said: “Our respect for human rights requires us to execute him.”

In his high-security cell near Baghdad airport, Saddam would have been aware that his end was near.He was allowed a visit by his half-brothers. Saddam gave them his will, and they left with his personal belongings.

An official close to Mr al-Maliki said the Government had decided to expedite Saddam’s route to the gallows “because a lot of Iraqis believe in conspiracies and thought a group might help him escape”.

The physical transfer of Saddam from American to Iraqi authorities was one of the last steps before the hanging. The former dictator had been in US custody since he was captured in December 2003.

The way for the execution was cleared yesterday by Mr al-Maliki and Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi President. They agreed that the hanging could go ahead without reference to the country’s three-man presidency council, as was expected, because Saddam’s case had been dealt with by a special tribunal and not the regular Iraqi courts.

Saddam’s lawyers made a desperate last-minute application asked a US judge for a stay of execution, but it was denied.

Iraqi authorities have imposed a curfew on Saddam’s home town of Tikrit.

Romano Prodi, the Italian Prime Minister, said: “The execution of Saddam Hussein fills us with horror. We had hoped that human pity and political sense would inspire wiser decisions.” In the United States, Iraqi-Americans gathered at a mosque last night in anticipation of Saddam Hussein’s execution, praying for the death of the former Iraqi dictator. People honked car horns, sang and danced in celebration.

Dave Alwatan, 32, one of dozens of men at the mosque in Detroit, said: “Now there will be peace for my family. My dream has come true.” He said that Saddam’s forces tortured and killed family members that were left behind when Mr Alwatan left Iraq in 1991.

This article is from The TimesOnline.

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