M A I N   N E W S

The day after, Saddam is home with his sons

Sons buried in Awja

Awja is a small settlement of unusually grand homes, signs of the prosperity it enjoyed during the rule of its most famous son, born there in poverty in 1937. It seems Saddam will lie close to but not beside his sons, whom he groomed as successors.

Baghdad, December 31
Saddam Hussein was buried in the dead of night early today in his native village Awja, near Tikrit in northern Iraq, local officials and family sources said.

New, grainy images appeared on the Internet showing the former Iraqi president being hanged in Baghdad less than 24 hours earlier, showing his body dropping through the trap, something the officially released video had not shown.

Mohammed al-Qaisi, governor of the local Salahaddin region, told Reuters he attended the funeral, which began at 3.05 pm (10.50 IST) and lasted about 25 minutes. Also present was Ali al-Nida, head of Saddam’s Albu Nasir tribe.

A source close to Saddam’s family also confirmed his remains were interred at Awja, where his sons Uday and Qusay, killed by US troops in 2003, lie in a family plot in the cemetery. The family had said yesterday it wanted him buried in the western city of Ramadi, another stronghold of the Sunni insurgency.

A source close to leading local Sunni Muslim clerics who took part in the proceedings said US and Iraqi troops kept a close guard over the event and insisted on a burial in the grounds of a mosque erected by Saddam in the 1980s.

Arab television stations broadcast new video images of Saddam’s hanging, apparently shot on a low-quality camera by guards or other officials at the execution, taken from a different angle from footage shown on Iraqi state television.

One video on the Internet shows Saddam drop through the trap while still intoning the Muslim profession of faith. He was abruptly cut off in the second verse: “I bear witness that Mohammad...” He was also shown hanging, with his eyes open.

The new video also bore out witness comments yesterday that the 69-year-old former strongman, who looked calm and composed as he stood on the gallows, had shouted angry political slogans while masked guards were bringing him into the execution chamber once used by his own feared intelligence services.

Grainy video also later showed his body in a white shroud, the neck twisted and blood on one cheek.

Tribal elders in Tikrit, on the Tigris river 175 km north of Baghdad, took delivery of the body on Saturday, an Iraqi government source confirmed. A lawyer for Saddam said it was sent there aboard a U.S. military aircraft.

During three decades of harsh rule, clan members from around Tikrit in particular, and minority Sunni Muslim Arabs in general, played a dominating role at the expense of ethnic Kurds and of the Shia majority that has taken control of government since the US invasion that overthrew Saddam.

While government officials had indicated he might lie in a secret, unmarked grave for fear the site could become a shrine and focal point for Baathist rebels, it appears they have taken the view that Uday and Qusay were buried there three years ago and the cemetery can be kept under surveillance.

Three decades after Saddam established his personal rule by force, his death closes a chapter in Iraq’s history marked by war with Iran and a 1990 invasion of Kuwait that turned him from ally to enemy of the United States and impoverished his oil-rich nation.

But, as US President George W. Bush said in a statement, sectarian violence pushing Iraq towards civil war has not ended.

Car bombs set off by suspected Sunni insurgents killed more than 70 people in Baghdad and near the Shia holy city of Najaf yesterday.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, his fragile authority among fellow Shia significantly enhanced after he forced through Saddam’s execution over hesitation among Sunni and Kurdish members of his government, reached out to Sunni rebels.

“Saddam’s execution puts an end to all the pathetic gambles on a return to dictatorship,” he said in a statement as state television showed film of him signing the death warrant in red ink. “I urge ... followers of the ousted regime to reconsider their stance as the door is still open to anyone who has no innocent blood on his hands to help in rebuilding ... Iraq.”

Bush said that “Bringing Saddam Hussein to justice will not end the violence in Iraq, but it is an important milestone on Iraq’s course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain, and defend itself.”

The US death toll in Iraq is just two short of the emotive 3,000 mark and December is already the deadliest month for the Americans for more than two years. Bush has promised to unveil a new strategy in the new year.

The United Nations, the Vatican and Washington’s European allies all condemned Saddam’s execution on moral grounds. — Reuters



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