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Iraq On Alert On Anniversary Of Hussein's Execution

A video from Iraqi state television shows former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein moments before being hanged (epa) Supporters of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein gathered at the late president's graveside, north of Baghdad, to mark the first anniversary of his execution, with security tight in those areas where he drew his most fervent support. Hussein was hanged on December 30, 2006, after being convicted of the killings of nearly 150 Shi'a in a 1982 crackdown on the town of Al-Dujayl.

Dozens of Sunni Arabs, including tribal leaders, clerics, and students, were at Hussein's burial site in his birthplace of Awja on December 30, one year after Hussein was executed. Some read verses from the Koran.

Ali al-Nida, chief of the Baijat tribe to which Hussein belonged, said that the group was holding a ceremony to remember "the president who served and protected Iraq and its people and maintained their dignity."

Posters of Hussein were pasted on to walls while loudspeakers played verses from the Koran.

Police and troops patrolled the village and the nearby city of Tikrit, where fresh slogans such as "We will take revenge for President Saddam Hussein" were painted on walls.

Iraqi officials have warned that security forces were prepared to deal with any civil unrest in the heartland areas of Sunni Iraq north and west of Baghdad.

The village of Dawr, south of Tikrit, was reportedly put under indefinite curfew on December 29, the eve of the anniversary. That's where U.S. forces captured the Sunni leader in December 2003, after the March U.S.-led invasion toppled his regime.

Also on December 29, about 2,000 people peacefully commemorated the former Iraqi leader at a rally in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

Hussein's execution became a subject of global controversy after a videotape of it, filmed on a mobile phone and showing the former president being taunted by his executioners, was leaked and excerpts broadcast by international media.

U.S. President George W. Bush said the hanging resembled a sectarian "revenge killing" and had made it harder to end the violence plaguing Iraq.

Iraqi officials ordered that Hussein be buried at night next to his sons Uday and Qusay, who died in a gun battle with U.S. forces in the northern city of Mosul in July 2003.

Iraqi government officials say Hussein's execution contributed to the shift of loyalty of many Sunnis away from the insurgency toward the mainstream political process.

In the streets of Baghdad, some residents like Salaam al-Sudani, said the country had witnessed positive changes after Hussein's execution. "Iraq has witnessed considerable changes as we see colossal freedom in speech and in newspaper publishing," he said. Al-Sudani said all those changes have happened "despite terrorism and despite the tragic situations that Iraqi people lived in, and "have given [new] horizons for the future."

But Hussein remains revered by sympathizers of his regime and other Sunnis who see his downfall as the start of the chaos in Iraq.

Some observers say the killing of the 69-year-old leader worsened the rift with Shi'ite groups in Iraq. In February, suspected Al-Qaeda militants bombed a major Shi'ite shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad, in a provocative assault that roused tens of thousands of Iraqi Shi'a into angry protests and deadly clashes.

Another Baghdad resident, Ali Awis, said that "no changes have taken place in the political arena and on the Iraqi government." He said, "On the contrary, what happened was adding hatred among the Iraqi people as he was considered as a political symbol and has been killed."

Hussein's half-brother and former secret police chief Barzan Ibrahim and Awad Ahmad al-Bandar, the former head of Iraq's Revolutionary Court, were hanged two weeks after Hussein, for their role in the Al-Dujayl killings.

Former Defense Minister Sultan Hashim al-Tai and senior military chief Hussein Rashid al-Takriti are awaiting execution.

Ali Hassan al-Majid, nicknamed "Chemical Ali," is also on death row, after being convicted of ordering gas attacks against Kurds in 1987-88.

RFE/RL Iraq Report

RFE/RL Iraq Report

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