- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 31, 2006

BAGHDAD — As Iraqis awoke yesterday to television images of Saddam Hussein’s neck twisted by a hangman’s noose, Shi’ites cheered, Sunnis vowed revenge and at least 80 persons died from bombings and death squads — not far from the daily average.

In Baghdad’s Shi’ite neighborhood of Sadr City, victims of Saddam’s three decades of autocratic rule took to the streets celebrating, dancing, beating drums and hanging Saddam in effigy.

Celebratory gunfire erupted in other Shi’ite neighborhoods across the country.

Outside the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, west of the capital, loyalists marched with Saddam pictures and waved Iraqi flags.

Defying curfews, hundreds took to the streets vowing revenge in Samarra, north of Baghdad, and gunmen paraded and fired into the air in support of Saddam in Tikrit, his hometown.

“He’s gone, but our problems continue. We brought problems on ourselves after Saddam because we began fighting Shi’ite on Sunni and Sunni on Shi’ite,” said Haider Hamed, 34, a candy store owner in east Baghdad whose uncle was killed in one of Saddam’s many brutal purges.

The U.S. military announced the deaths of three Marines and three soldiers, making December the year’s deadliest month for U.S. troops in Iraq, with 109 service members killed.

There was no immediate sign of a feared Sunni uprising in retaliation for Saddam’s execution.

But the London Sunday Telegraph reported that 400 to 500 Shi’ites had been kidnapped in the past two months and messages to relatives said they would be killed if Saddam died.

The responses within Iraq to Saddam’s death echoed the larger reaction across the Middle East, with his enemies rejoicing and his defenders proclaiming him a martyr.

Iranians and Kuwaitis welcomed the death of the leader who led wars against each of their countries.

Some Arab governments denounced the timing of the 69-year-old former president’s hanging just before the start of the most important holiday of the Islamic calendar, Eid al-Adha.

Libya announced a three-day official mourning period and canceled all celebrations for Eid.

In Baghdad, 12 bodies bearing signs of torture were found in various parts of the city, police said.

Two car bombs detonated one after another in a religiously mixed neighborhood of northwest Baghdad, killing 37 civilians and wounding 76, police said.

Thirty-one persons died and 58 were injured when a bomb planted on a minibus exploded in a fish market in Kufa, a mostly Shi’ite town south of Baghdad, said Issa Mohammed, director of the morgue in the neighboring town of Najaf.

The man blamed for parking the vehicle in Kufa, about 100 miles south of the Iraqi capital, was cornered and killed by a mob as he walked away from the explosion, police and witnesses said.

Shoppers had crowded into the market to buy supplies for the four-day Eid al-Adha

The new deaths announced by the U.S. military included three Marines and a soldier killed in combat in Iraq’s volatile western Anbar province, and two soldiers killed by roadside bombs in Baghdad.

The total U.S. death toll in Iraq teetered on the brink of 3,000 at a crucial time, as President Bush seeks to craft a new Iraq policy in the new year. Mr. Bush issued a statement from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, warning of more challenges ahead for American troops.

“Many difficult choices and further sacrifices lie ahead,” he said in the statement released Friday night. “Yet the safety and security of the American people require that we not relent in ensuring that Iraq’s young democracy continues to progress.”

Saddam was hanged early yesterdayafter his conviction last month for crimes against humanity in connection with the 1982 executions of 148 Shi’ites following a failed assassination attempt.

Saddam was buried shortly before sunrise today in a family plot next to the graves of his two sons, witnesses said.

Those who saw the ceremony said only a few people were present for the burial in Ouja, a small town outside Tikrit, Saddam’s power base 80 miles north of Baghdad.

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