- The Washington Times - Monday, January 1, 2007

BAGHDAD - Thousands of Iraqis flocked to Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Ouja yesterday, where the deposed Iraqi leader was buried in a religious compound 24 hours after his execution.

Dozens of relatives and other mourners, some of them crying and moaning, attended the interment shortly before dawn near Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad. A few knelt before his flag-draped grave. A large framed photograph of Saddam was propped up on a chair nearby.

Police on Saturday blocked the entrances to Tikrit and said nobody was allowed to leave or enter the city for four days. Despite the security precaution, gunmen took to the streets, carrying pictures of Saddam, shooting into the air and calling for vengeance.

Um Abdullah, a Sunni and teacher in Tikrit, said she would wear black to mourn the city’s favorite son.

“Saddam will be a hero in our eyes,” she said. “I have five kids, and I will teach them to take revenge on Americans.”

Saddam was captured in an underground hideout near Ouja on Dec. 13, 2003, eight months after he fled Baghdad ahead of advancing American troops.

His burial place is about two miles from the graves of his sons, Uday and Qusai, in the main town cemetery. The sons and a grandson were killed in a gunbattle with American forces in Mosul in July 2003.

On Saturday, Iraqis awoke to television images of a noose being slipped over Saddam’s neck and his white-shrouded body, the pre-dawn work of black-hooded hangmen. Iraqis went to bed as new video emerged showing Saddam exchanging taunts with onlookers before the gallows floor dropped away and the former dictator swung from the rope.

In Baghdad’s Shi’ite neighborhood of Sadr City on Saturday, victims of his three decades of autocratic rule took to the streets to celebrate, dancing, beating drums and hanging Saddam in effigy. Celebratory gunfire erupted across other Shi’ite neighborhoods in Baghdad and other predominantly Shi’ite regions of the country.

There was no sign of a feared Sunni uprising in retaliation for the execution, and the bloodshed from civil warfare on Saturday was not far off the daily average 92 from bombings and death squads.

Outside the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, west of the capital, loyalists marched with pictures of Saddam and waved Iraqi flags. Defying curfews, hundreds took to the streets vowing revenge in Samarra, north of Baghdad.

Still, authorities imposed curfews sparingly in contrast to the several-day lockdown put in place after Saddam was sentenced to death Nov. 5.

By several accounts, Saddam was calm but scornful of his captors, engaging in a give-and-take with the crowd gathered to watch him die and insisting he was Iraq’s savior, not its tyrant and scourge.

“He said, ‘We are going to heaven, and our enemies will rot in hell,’ and he also called for forgiveness and love among Iraqis, but also stressed that the Iraqis should fight the Americans and the Persians,” Munir Haddad, an appeals court judge who witnessed the hanging, told the British Broadcasting Corp.

While Iranians and Kuwaitis welcomed the death of the leader who led wars against each of their countries, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the execution prevented exposure of the secrets and crimes the former dictator committed during his brutal rule.

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. (The holy day concludes the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, and recalls Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son at God’s command.) Libya announced a three-day official mourning period and canceled all celebrations for Eid.

There were cheers at the cafeteria of a U.S. outpost in Baghdad as soldiers having breakfast learned Saddam had been hanged.

But members of the Army’s 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment, on patrol in an overwhelmingly Shi’ite neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, said the execution wouldn’t get them home any faster and therefore didn’t make much difference.

“Nothing really changes,” said Capt. Dave Eastburn, 30. “The militias run everything now, not Saddam.”

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