Saddam Hussein Executed

Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was executed by hanging after three years in U.S. custody, CBS News has confirmed. He died before dawn Saturday in Iraq, which was just before 10 p.m. Friday EST.

Saddam was convicted of murder in the killings of 148 Shiite Muslims from an Iraqi town where assassins tried to kill Saddam in 1982.

Clutching a Quran and refusing a hood, Saddam Hussein went to the gallows before sunrise, executed by vengeful countrymen after a quarter-century of remorseless brutality that killed countless thousands and led Iraq into disastrous wars against the United States and Iran.

In Baghdad's Shiite enclave of Sadr City, people danced in the streets while others fired guns in the air to celebrate the former dictator's death. The government did not impose a round-the-clock curfew as it did last month when Saddam was convicted to thwart any surge in retaliatory violence.

Ali Hamza, a 30-year-old university professor, said he went outside to shoot his gun into the air after he heard the news.

"Now all the victims' families will be happy because Saddam got his just sentence," said Hamza, who lives in Diwaniyah, a Shiite town 80 miles south of Baghdad.

"We are looking for a new page of history despite the tragedy of the past," said Saif Ibrahim, a 26-year-old Baghdad resident.

But people in the Sunni-dominated city of Tikrit, once a power base of Saddam, lamented his death.

"The president, the leader Saddam Hussein is a martyr and God will put him along with other martyrs. Do not be sad nor complain because he has died the death of a holy warrior," said Sheik Yahya al-Attawi, a cleric at the Saddam Big Mosque.

It was a grim end for the 69-year-old leader who had vexed three U.S. presidents. Despite his ouster, Washington, its allies and the new Iraqi leaders remain mired in a fight to quell a stubborn insurgency by Saddam loyalists and a vicious sectarian conflict.

CBS News correspondent Randall Pinskton confirmed Saddam's death from his defense attorney. It had been reported by Arab television stations in Iraq.

On his last night alive, Saddam sat alone on death row with his Koran, the Muslim holy book, Pinkston reports. As his time waned, Saddam received two of his half brothers in his cell and was said to have given them his personal belongings and a copy of his will.

The execution took place during the year's deadliest month for U.S. troops, with the toll reaching 108.

State-run Iraqiya television initially reported that Saddam's half-brother Barzan Ibrahim and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, the former chief justice of the Revolutionary Court, also were hanged. However, three officials later said only Saddam was executed.

"We wanted him to be executed on a special day," National Security adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie told state-run Iraqiyah.

The Pentagon said that U.S. fighting forces in Iraq are ready for any escalation of violence there.

"U.S. forces in Iraq are obviously at a high state of alert anytime because of the environment that they operate in and because of the current security situation," said spokesman Bryan Whitman.

A statement from President Bush issued by the White House Friday night acknowledged Saddam's execution, calling it "the kind of justice he denied the victims of his brutal regime."

"Bringing Saddam Hussein to justice will not end the violence in Iraq, but it is an important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain, and defend itself, and be an ally in the War on Terror," the statement said.

CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports that until being turned over to Iraqi control, Saddam remained in a jail cell in U.S. custody. The U.S. military had been prepared since early Friday morning to hand over Saddam to the Iraqi government, which wanted to execute the deposed dictator as soon as possible.

The downfall of a dictator
Anticipation built around Saddam's hanging after an advisor to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said it would happen some time before 6:00 a.m. Baghdad time. Official witnesses to the execution gathered in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone in final preparation for his hanging, as state television broadcast footage of his regime's atrocities.

The Iraqi government had readied all the necessary documents, including a "red card" — an execution order introduced during Saddam's dictatorship.

Saddam had been in U.S. custody since he was captured in December 2003.

A member of Saddam's legal team said U.S. authorities were maintaining physical custody of Saddam to prevent him from being humiliated before his execution. He said the Americans also want to prevent the mutilation of his corpse, something that has happened to other deposed Iraqi leaders.

"The Americans want him to be hanged respectfully," al-Nueimi said. "If Saddam is humiliated publicly or his corpse ill-treated," it could cause an uprising and the Americans would be blamed, he said.

Mariam al-Rayes, a legal expert and a former member of the Shiite bloc in parliament, told Iraqiya television that the execution "was filmed and God willing it will be shown. There was one camera present, and a doctor was also present there."

Al-Rayes, an ally of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, did not attend the execution. She said Al-Maliki did not attend but was represented by an aide.

Najeeb al-Nueimi, a member of Saddam's legal team in Qatar said he had requested a final meeting with the deposed Iraqi leader. "His daughter in Amman was crying, she said, 'Take me with you,'" al-Nueimi said late Friday.

Leading up to the execution, there was a religious issue that complicated the timing. The Muslim holy period of Eid begins this weekend, and there is some question whether Iraqi law permits a Muslim to be executed on a holy day. Martin reports that the Iraqi government reportedly consulted Muslim clerics.

Munir Haddad, a judge on the appeals court that upheld Saddam's death sentence, said he was ready to attend the hanging and that all the paperwork was in order, including the red card.

"All the measures have been done," Haddad said.

In the United States, just more than an hour before Saddam was executed, a judge rejected a request by his lawyers to delay the Iraqi leader's execution.

The attorneys had sought an emergency restraining order from a federal court in Washington to block Saddam's handover to Iraqi control. Earlier, a similar request made on behalf of Saddam's former chief justice was rejected by an appeals court. An appeal of the latest ruling is possible, but it's unclear if that will happen.

Saddam's lawyers issued a statement Friday calling on "everybody to do everything to stop this unfair execution." The statement also said the former president had been at the time transferred from U.S. custody, though American and Iraqi officials later denied that.