December 30, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The judge who read the order for Saddam Hussein's execution told RFE/RL that the former Iraqi president said he was "not afraid of death" before he was hanged early this morning in the presence of judicial and government figures.
"The execution took place after 6:10 in the morning outside the Green Zone [in Baghdad]," Iraqi judge Munir Haddad told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq. "There were 14 people present including [myself], a member of the High Iraqi Tribunal, Prosecutor-General Monqeth al-Ferawn, the deputy justice minister, representatives of the Council of Ministers, and other government figures, as well as four prison guards. There were no representatives from American side."
Haddad, who also read out Hussein's sentence, described the scene as the former leader's execution approached.
"Saddam Hussein was dressed in black clothes, wearing a Baghdadi hat. He had his beard. In his hands, he was holding his famous Koran," Haddad said.
"He wasn't afraid. He was normal. He said, 'I'm used to fighting, and I'm not afraid of death.' He recited the two shahadas. He also talked about politics, and said, 'I warn you about the Persians. [And for Iraq], I recommend tolerance.' He recited the two shahadas and then he died immediately," Haddad recalled.
Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubay'i, who witnessed the execution, spoke to CNN today by telephone.
"The man was really, really broken, and I could not see any remorse, I could not feel any remorse in the man," al-Rubay'i said. "He was not repentant. He was not apologetic at all."
Iraqis were able to see the moments before the execution for themselves. Footage broadcast on state television showed an apparently calm Hussein chatting with his masked executioners before the noose was placed around his neck. The footage did not show the actual hanging.
Initial reports that Hussein's half-brother, Barzan al-Tikriti, and former judge Awad al-Bander were also executed were later denied by Iraqi officials.
In the United States, a judge refused to stop Hussein's execution, rejecting a last-minute court challenge by the former Iraqi president.
Earlier, an adviser to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said the time of the execution was agreed upon during a meeting on December 29 between U.S. and Iraqi officials.
U.S. President George W. Bush was one of the first leaders to react.
The U.S. president issued a written statement saying that the execution was a milestone for the Iraqi people and his trial was, in his words, "the kind of justice [Hussein] denied the victims of his brutal regime."
But Bush said Hussein's execution will not end the violence in the country.
Just a few hours after Bush's statement, a car bomb exploded in a market in the city of Kufa, killing at least 30 people. Scores of people were wounded in the blast.
In a second attack, three car bombs reportedly killed 25 people and wounded 65 more in Al-Hurriyah, a mixed neighborhood in northern Baghdad.
U.S. allies Australia and the United Kingdom expressed sentiments similar to those of Bush.
In London, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said Hussein had been "held to account." She added, however, that the British government did not support capital punishment in Iraq or elsewhere.
In Sydney, Australian Prime Minister John Howard said it was significant that Hussein was given "a proper trial" given the pain and suffering Hussein had caused Iraq.
Hussein was convicted of crimes against humanity by an Iraqi court on November 5. An appeals court upheld the verdict on December 26.
Outrage And Celebration
His trial has been described by many human rights organizations as "deeply flawed."
Richard Dicker, the director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch's international justice division, said that history will judge Hussein's trial and his execution "harshly."
Iran hailed the hanging of Hussein as a deserved punishment for a man it holds responsible for starting a devastating eight-year war against the Islamic republic that left over 1 million people dead.
Speaking to reporters in Kabul, Afghan President Hamid Karzai gave a neutral reaction. "The execution of Iraq's former president is the affair of Iraq's government," he said. "We wish peace and prosperity and joy for the people of Iraq. It will not have any impact on Afghanistan."
Adnan Mufti, speaker of the Iraqi Kurdistan National Assembly, told Radio Free Iraq today that "capital punishment [for Saddam Hussein] is natural. All of us expected that [he would be executed] for the serious crimes that were committed under the rule of former President Saddam Hussein. He was the person directly responsible for those crimes."
But many countries and leaders have condemned Hussein's execution.
In Libya, the government of Moammar Gadhafi announced a three-day official mourning period.
In Rome, the Vatican said the execution was "tragic" and risked feeding "the spirit of vengeance."
Russia also condemned the death of the former Iraqi leader and expressed concern that it could trigger a new wave of violence.
The EU said that it condemns "the crimes committed by Saddam and also the death penalty." The EU's aid and development commissioner Louis Michel said the execution was "barbaric" and said it may turn Hussein into a martyr.
The Scene In Iraq
In Iraq, the reaction to the execution was mixed.
A man in Al-Hilla told Radio Free Iraq today that Hussein's death was cause for celebration.
"Today we celebrate two [important] occasions. The first occasion is the blessed Eid Al-Adha. The second occasion is the execution of the tyrant Saddam who killed and tortured millions of Iraqis and not only Iraqis but also sons of the neighboring countries who suffered during his despotic regime," he said. "We hope and request from the Iraqi government and officials to [execute] two other [former] officials who participated in Saddam's tyranny over Iraqis."
In Amara, a man congratulated all Iraqis who were "victims of injustice by the despot Saddam Hussein."
"Today is a day of joy, which marks the end of all despots in the world," he told Radio Free Iraq. "They should listen and learn [a lesson ]. We hope this will be a new beginning for Iraq who was liberated by its sons. We wish full dignity and prosperity to Iraq."
In predominantly Shi'ite areas like Baghdad's Al-Sadr City, residents were singing and dancing in the streets.
But members of Iraq's Sunni minority have expressed anger at the way the ousted Iraqi leader was treated. There are fears that Hussein's execution will further anger the Sunnis, who were dominant under his rule.
In Tikrit, Hussein's hometown, several hundred people demonstrated against the execution. The protesters called on the Iraqi government to hand over his body to his family.
Iraqi officials have not yet announced where Hussein's body will be buried. One of his lawyers has requested that the body be transferred outside Iraq.
Today, Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki urged followers of the ousted regime to join the political process.
In a statement, al-Maliki said that "the door is still open to anyone who has no innocent blood on his hands."
Al-Maliki, who is struggling to contain the soaring sectarian violence that has pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war, said Hussein's demise should now give way to reconciliation.
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