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Iraq on alert for anniversary of Saddam's execution

30 December, 2007

Iraqi Sunni Arabs pray at the grave of executed former president Saddam Hussein in his home village of Awja, January 2007. Saddam's loyalists gathered
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AWJA, Iraq (AFP)-Saddam Hussein loyalists gathered at the ousted dictator's graveside on Sunday for the first anniversary of his execution, with security tight in the regions of Iraq where he drew his most fervent support.

Dozens of Sunni Arab tribal leaders, clerics and students stood at Saddam's burial site in his birthplace of Awja in central Iraq, and read verses from the Koran, an AFP reporter said.

"We are holding a simple ceremony to remember the president who served and protected Iraq and its people and maintained their dignity," Ali al-Nida, chief of the Baijat tribe to which Saddam belonged, told AFP.

Several posters of Saddam were pasted across the village while loudspeakers played verses from the Koran. Civilian volunteers guarded the hall which houses Saddam's grave, while police and troops patrolled the small village.

In the former dictator's onetime powerbase Tikrit, security personnel were on alert to monitor any rallies for Saddam, who was hanged for crimes against humanity on December 30, 2006 over the killing of Shiites in the 1980s.

"We will take revenge for president Saddam Hussein," read one of the slogans freshly painted on walls in Tikrit.

Iraqi security officials said they were ready to deal with any civil unrest in the Sunni heartland north and west of Baghdad, the homeland of most of Saddam's senior regime officials.

"There are men who used to support him, and there are still some of his loyalists left," interior ministry spokesman Abdul Karim Khalaf said Saturday.

"If we see any criminal acts aimed at harming our fellow citizens, there are preparations and procedures in place to make certain that such attempts fail."

The village of Dawr, just south of Tikrit, where Saddam was captured hiding in a hole by US forces in December 2003, was under indefinite curfew, an AFP correspondent reported.

In northern Baghdad's strongly Sunni district of Adhamiyah, posters of Saddam were pasted on to walls to mark the execution anniversary.

Saddam and his three aides were sentenced to death for the killing of around 140 Shiites from the village of Dujail after an attempt on his life there in 1982.

The ousted dictator -- who had ruled with an iron fist since 1979 -- was hanged at the age of 69 in Baghdad.

During the final minutes of his life, Saddam's executioners taunted him in scenes at the gallows captured on a mobile phone camera which triggered outrage around the world and embarrassed Iraq's Shiite-led government.

Even US President George W. Bush, who hailed Saddam's capture in December 2003 after the March US-led invasion toppled his regime, said the execution resembled sectarian "revenge killing".

Iraqi officials ordered Saddam buried in the dead of night without the lying in state traditionally accorded to presidents.

The hanging further deepened the rift between Sunnis and Shiites that was inflamed by the bombing of a revered Shiite shrine by suspected Al-Qaeda militants in February last year.

The graves of Saddam's sons Uday and Qusay, who were key figures in his regime and were killed in a gunbattle with US forces in the main northern city of Mosul in July 2003, lie in the garden outside the hall that houses the former leader's grave.

Saddam's half-brother and former secret police chief Barzan Ibrahim and Awad Ahmed al-Bandar, the ex-chief of Iraq's Revolutionary Court, were hanged two weeks later over the Dujail case.

Barzan's execution was particularly gruesome with his head ripped from his body as he fell through the metal trap door.

Others close to Saddam await the same fate as their leader, with Ali Hassan al-Majid, nicknamed "Chemical Ali", sentenced to die for ordering gas attacks against Kurds in 1988.

Former defence minister Sultan Hashim al-Tai and Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti, former armed forces deputy chief of operations, are also on death row.

Thousands of former Saddam loyalists have now turned into allies of US forces, making them targets of Al-Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden, who in a message on Sunday warned them against supporting the American military.

Saddam Hussein

Executed former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is seen here in 2006. Saddam loyalists gathered at the ousted dictator's graveside for the first anniversary of his execution, with security tight in the regions of Iraq where he drew his most fervent support.

End.

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