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Saddam Compliant, Calm in Final Moments

December 30, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ The scene was at once macabre and riveting.

One of the most notorious dictators of the late 20th century, his hands bound, was led to the gallows by masked men in leather coats.

Notorious tyrants are rarely executed. Perhaps because of that, the footage from Saddam Hussein’s hanging, carried on Iraqi television and broadcast to the world, had a surreal quality.

This was not a Hollywood version of an execution: the fallen dictator did not plead for his life, nor did he violently resist the executioners who slipped the rope around his neck.

The most striking thing about the images, perhaps, was how calmly and cooperatively the tyrant faced death.

Saddam had reportedly asked that, as Iraq’s commander in chief, he be sent before a firing squad. Instead, he was condemned to die on the gallows _ like a garden variety Iraqi criminal or thug.

When the time came, before dawn in Baghdad, Saddam did not wear his familiar military uniform with its jaunty beret but a black coat over a white shirt, black trousers and black shoes.

His jet black hair was carefully combed, his salt-and-pepper beard neatly clipped. He carried a Quran.

The 69-year-old Saddam struggled briefly when U.S. military guards handed him over to his Iraqi executioners, said Sami al-Askari, a political adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But it was his last effort at physical resistance.

Saddam was taken to a former military intelligence headquarters in Baghdad’s Shiite neighborhood of Kazimiyah, in northern Baghdad. During his regime, he had numerous dissidents executed in the facility.

Munir Haddad, an appeals court judge who witnessed the hanging, told the British Broadcasting Corp. that Saddam was not sedated.

``Not at all, Saddam was normal and in full control,″ Haddad said. ``He was aware of his fate and he knew he was about to face death. He said ’This is my end, this is the end of my life, but I started my life as a fighter and as a political militant so death does not frighten me.‴

After his captors brought Saddam into the execution chamber, his hands _ which were tied in front of him _ were untied, then tied in the back, Haddad told the BBC.

``They put his feet in shackles and he was taken upstairs to the gallows,″ Haddad said. ``He was reciting, as it was his custom, ‘God is great’ and also some political slogans like ‘down with the Americans’ and ‘down with the invaders.’

``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.″

By the time the one-minute broadcast video was aired without sound, Saddam appeared quiet. His eyes seemed lost in a 1,000-yard stare.

Four or five burly men guided him gently but firmly toward a red metal railing marking the trap door. A thick rope hung like a sinister vine from the low ceiling. An unseen photographer’s flash created fleeting stark shadows.

With a blank expression, Saddam refused a black hood _ but he did so with a shake of his head that seemed more distracted than defiant.

Then he appeared to agree to let one of his executioners tie a black scarf around his neck _ presumably to prevent injuries that might disfigure his corpse.

In the video, Saddam appeared silent as the noose is slipped over his head. But al-Askari, who was present, says at about that time Saddam shouted: ``God is great. The nation will be victorious, and Palestine is Arab.″

Haddad told the BBC that Saddam began reciting verses from the Quran.

``Some of the guards started to taunt him by shouting Islamic words,″ he said.

``A cleric who was present asked Saddam to recite some spiritual words,″ he said. ``Saddam did so but with sarcasm - these were his last words and then the noose tightened around his neck and he dropped to his death.″

Iraqi TV did not broadcast the moment of Saddam’s execution but officials said his death was recorded on video.

Asked if Saddam suffered, Haddad told the BBC: ``He was killed instantly, I witnessed the impact of the rope around his neck and it was a horrible sight.″

The television footage included a shaky image of the aftermath: a shot of what appeared to be Saddam’s corpse, laid out on a hospital gurney, his head wrenched grotesquely to the right. His neck appeared to be bruised.

Saddam’s half-brother Barzan Ibrahim and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, the former chief justice of the Revolutionary Court, were originally scheduled to be hanged along with their former leader.

Iraqi officials, though, decided to reserve the occasion for Saddam alone.

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