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Hanged: Saddam stays defiant till the end

Baghdad, Dec. 30: Led to the gallows, a shackled Saddam Hussein had his one final moment of defiance, refusing to have a hood pulled over his head.

A noose was placed around Saddam’s neck and a guard pulled a lever that swiftly ended his life and a chapter of Iraq’s history that saw the dictator leading the country through three decades of brutality, war and bombast.

Footage of Saddam’s chilling last stand was relentlessly beamed on televisions across the world — intended as proof of his death but guaranteed to grant him immortality in the minds of his admirers — though viewers were spared the sight of the actual hanging.

After a quarter-century of brutality that killed countless thousands and led Iraq into disastrous wars against the US and Iran, Saddam was executed before sunrise on Saturday.

“He dropped half a metre into the trapdoor. We heard his neck snap instantly and we even saw a small amount of blood around the rope,” Sami al-Askari, a prominent Shia politician, who witnessed the event, told Reuters.

The footage showed a group of guards dressed in civilian clothes and wearing ski masks helping Saddam up a small metal staircase where a cloth was put around his neck before stepping onto the trapdoor. A red metal barrier, like a witness box, surrounded the trapdoor in the low-ceilinged, grey concrete, cell-like room.

The hangman, wearing a beige leather jacket, placed the thick rope over Saddam’s head and tightened the noose on the left side of his neck. He exchanged a few words with Saddam, who nodded in return.

Saddam wore a black coat over a black V-neck jumper and a white shirt and had black trousers and black shoes. Askari said he was told to take off a woolly black hat before his execution.

Another official witness confirmed Saddam, 69, died instantly. “He seemed very calm. He did not tremble,” said the official, adding that Saddam recited: “There is no God but God and Mohammed is his Prophet.” He was carrying a Quran, which he asked to be given to a man he called Bander.

However, Ali al Massedy, who videographed the execution, told Newsweek he saw “fear” in Saddam. “I saw fear, he was afraid,” Massedy, the Iraqi Prime Minister’s official videographer, said.

The videographer quoted Saddam as saying: “Iraq without me is nothing.”

Askari said Saddam, executed for his role in the killing of 148 men and boys from the Shia town of Dujail after a failed attempt on his life in 1982, died at 6.10 am (8.40 am in India) at an Iraqi army base.

The base was the former headquarters of Saddam’s military intelligence where many of his victims were tortured and executed in the same dark gallows. Askari said Saddam was likely to be buried secretly in Iraq.

Reaction was muted in Iraq as people woke up on the holiest day of the Muslim calendar to begin a week of religious holidays for Id-ul Zuha.

No curfew was imposed in Baghdad. However, within hours of the execution, at least 70 people died in car bombings in Iraq.

President George W. Bush, who had gone to bed before the execution took place and was not awakened, conceded in a statement written in advance: “Bringing Saddam Hussein to justice will not end the violence in Iraq….”

The Indian government came out with a guarded response, expressing “disappointment” at the “unfortunate event”.

With Assembly polls approaching, specially in Uttar Pradesh that has a significant minority population, many parties attacked the government for the lukewarm reaction.

Protests were also held in several states, including Bengal, prompting the Centre to issue an advisory to keep vigil on foreigners in India and beef up security around embassies and consulates.

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