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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 November 2006, 16:16 GMT
Iraqis happy and irate at verdict
People cheering in Baghdad's Shia Sadr City district
There were jubilant scenes in Baghdad's Shia Sadr City district
Thousands of Iraqis are celebrating the death sentence handed to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein following his conviction for crimes against humanity.

Iraqi state television showed footage from several cities of people dancing in the streets, some carrying pictures of Shia Muslim leaders.

In Baghdad, there were celebratory bursts of gunfire in parts of the city as people defied a security curfew.

But there has been anger in Saddam Hussein's home town of Tikrit.

Saddam Hussein was sentenced over his role in the killing of 148 people in the town of Dujail during a crackdown which followed a failed attempt to assassinate him in the town.

In Dujail, after the verdict was given, images of the ex-president were burned in delight at the prospect of his death.

The BBC's Hugh Sykes in Baghdad says that across the capital, Shia Muslims, for so long oppressed by Saddam Hussein, have been driving around in their cars delightedly hooting their horns.

The violence will only rise in the area after the hanging of Saddam, but the Americans care nothing about spilled Iraqi blood
Tikrit resident Mohammed Abbas
In the Shia stronghold of Sadr City crowds shouted "Deliver him to us, we'll execute him ourselves".

"This is an unprecedented feeling of happiness," local resident Abu Sinan, told the Associated Press news agency. "The verdict declares that Saddam is paying the price for murdering tens of thousands of Iraqis."

Many held up posters of radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr, the leader of the Mehdi Army militia, who enjoys massive support in the Shia suburb.

'Fair verdict'

Members of the Mehdi Army were enforcing a ban on celebratory gunfire in Sadr City and in a statement issued by his office, Mr Sadr called for peaceful celebrations.

Mr Sadr's statement - relayed to the three million residents of Sadr City by loudspeakers in the mosque - called upon them to "perform a thanksgiving prayer".

Saddam Hussein supporters demonstrating in Tikrit
In Tikrit Saddam Hussein supporters vowed vengeance
There was also jubilation in the holy city of Najaf. "This is what we hoped for, and this is the day when we achieved our hope and it is fair punishment for the tyrant Saddam Hussein," one resident joining the cheering crowds said.

In the southern city of Basra, a resident said the verdict was "pretty insignificant" because Saddam had committed many crimes.

The celebrations were in sharp contrast to the reaction in Saddam Hussein's hometown, Tikrit, where a large crowd of protesters, many carrying pictures of Saddam Hussein, marched through the streets denouncing the verdict.

Sheikh al-Nadawi, the head of the Baigat group of tribes to which Saddam Hussein belongs, said "Saddam lived a hero and will die as a hero. The court was set up by his rivals... It is a historical farce," AFP news agency reported.

Many vowed to avenge the former leader.

"The violence will only rise in the area after the hanging of Saddam, but the Americans care nothing about spilled Iraqi blood," retired school teacher Mohammed Abbas said.

Masked gunmen

One Sunni politician, Salih al-Mutlaq told the al-Arabiya satellite television station that the conviction was likely to trigger more violence.

"This government will be responsible for the consequences, with the deaths of hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands, whose blood will be shed," he said.

It was a similar scene in Samarra, where Saddam Hussein's portrait was carried around the town by police, while a crowd shouted "Hail to Jihad. Hail to al-Qaeda. Hail to Islam," according to AFP.

The verdict was reportedly met with violence in Falluja, where masked gunmen attacked the US military's headquarters with machine guns - though no-one was hurt, AP said.

Our correspondent in Baghdad says that Sunni Arabs there are sullen and dejected.

Even an Iraqi Kurd told our correspondent that he was unhappy at the verdict, saying that the death of Saddam Hussein would bring with it the end of what he called the "Iraqi tent" - the unity of the country.

He said the Kurds killed by the former president were only those who supported Iran during the Iran-Iraq war.

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