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Last Updated: Saturday, 13 January 2007, 00:53 GMT
Witness tells of Saddam's last moments
By Magdi Abdelhadi
BBC Middle East analyst

Saddam Hussein at the gallows
A scarf was used when Saddam refused to wear a hood
Saddam Hussein was executed at dawn on the first day of the Eid al-Adha, just as Sunni Muslims were preparing to make their sacrificial offering by killing a sheep to celebrate the end of the pilgrimage season.

The crass symbolism did not escape them. Many were outraged. And there was further outrage when a new video of the execution was posted on the internet - this one taken with a mobile phone, and with a soundtrack.

For Arab public opinion, which had long believed that the trial was unfair, filming the execution was triumphalist and in bad taste.

The shouting of Shia religious slogans and hurling of abuse at Saddam Hussein as he was stepping up to the gallows was, for many, evidence that this was closer to a lynching than the orderly execution that the government had described.

The barrage of questions that followed centred on the timing of the execution.

Coming from a predominantly Shia government, widely seen as sectarian and hostile to Sunni Muslims, the decision appeared like rubbing salt in the wound.

He was carrying the Holy Koran - I took it from him and he said: 'Keep it until you meet a member of my family and give it to him'
Munqith al-Faroun
Prosecutor and execution witness
There was another piece of symbolism that many found vindictive and distasteful. Saddam Hussein was executed at an especially constructed gallows at a compound that once served as the military intelligence headquarters of the former regime.

This was the building where those accused of aiding Iraq's former foe, Iran, were brought during the Sunni ascendancy.

A member of the prosecution team, Munqith al-Faroun, told the BBC how the execution was carried out.

Fourteen people were present, he says, "including me who was there for the prosecution and the judge, who represented the court".

"I don't know the names of the officials who attended the execution except Dr Mowaffaq al-Rubaie [Iraq's national security adviser] - I'd seen him on television," he added.

'Sat cowering'

"We were divided into two parties - seven in each helicopter which took us to the site of the execution."

For security reasons they were searched, to check if they had arms, or cameras. They waited for about 10 minutes in a small room.

Then Saddam Hussein came in with two policemen from the ministry of justice. A third policeman came in behind them.

"Saddam Hussein came in and his movement was strange - uncontrolled. He was wearing the uniform you've seen in the pictures, with a woollen head cover. He looked around so often and moved his hands often too."

It was a horrible moment, and most of us have not seen an execution before, so we were completely silent
Munqith al-Faroun

Saddam Hussein said nothing until Munqith al-Faroun told him to have a seat.

He sat cowering until the judge began to read the sentence. Then he started to pay attention.

He was shouting the same shouts heard in the court: "Long live the people, long live the nation, down with the traitors."

After the sentence was read, the group moved to the execution room next door.

"The room was very small, and it had the stage for the gallows with a small trap door. The 14 original witnesses were there, in addition to four executioners from the justice ministry police," said Mr Faroun.

"Saddam's hands were cuffed in front. When the plastic ribbon was cut, he was carrying the Holy Koran. I took it from him and he said: 'Keep it until you meet a member of my family and give it to him.'"

Unofficial footage

After that, his hands were tied behind his back, his feet were bound, and he said: "How can I climb the steps to the gallows." The police offered to help.

"The executioners wanted him to wear the hood for the execution. He refused, so they brought a piece of cloth and the executioner said it would protect his neck. He agreed to that.

"When they put the rope around his neck, there were some guards at the door, not inside the room - they were the site guards. They said prayers to Muhammad. He prayed with them, and one of them shouted: 'Moqtada, Moqtada, Moqtada'. I told them there was no need for that."

Protest in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's home town
Saddam Hussein's death sparked angry protests

By now, six or seven of these site guards were in the room.

Two official cameras recorded the scene, so that the images would scotch rumours that the execution had been faked.

But what of the unofficial video footage shot by the mobile phones?

Munqith al-Faroun says he saw who was taking the pictures, but did not know their names.

"Even if I saw them today, I wouldn't be able to recognise them," he says.

Asked why he did not stop the pictures being taken, the prosecutor said: "They weren't breaking the law. The execution is not secret but in public. And in Iraq, they would bring people to watch - because it's a deterrent to others, and there would be a camera filming it."

After the hanging and a doctor had made sure of Saddam Hussein's death, the executioners descended from the scaffold and put the body in a bag.

"It was a horrible moment, and most of us have not seen an execution before, so we were completely silent," the prosecutor said.

Gaping wound

Ten days after the execution, more video footage - also shot on a mobile phone - was published. It showed Saddam Hussein's body on a trolley, wrapped in a shroud.

The pictures showed a gaping wound at Saddam Hussein's neck, and what looked liked bruises on his cheeks.

Those marks fuelled further claims by one of his lawyers, Ziad al-Najdaoui, that Saddam Hussein had been beaten - both before, during and after the execution.

We asked Peter Hodgkinson, an academic expert on methods of capital punishment, whether this could be true.

After examining the pictures he said: "I think scarring to tissue on the neck can be explained by not wearing a hood, by the scarf being improperly placed - that could explain blood on the neck.

"As to the bruising on the face, that could be explained by fact that a hood was not worn, so could have been some connection between head and rope following the drop, but the cause of the bruising is speculation."

Munqith al-Faroun denies the claims of Saddam Hussein's lawyers that the body was abused in any way when it was cut down from the gallows.

"I swear before God - I did not see anything like that. Because I was there as a supervisor, I was really watching what was going on, and I did not see any such thing," he says.

The Iraqi government says it wanted to get the execution over and done with before the start of a New Year - it wanted to turn a new page.

Instead, the circumstances surrounding the execution and the controversy it triggered confirmed for many that far from being heralded into a new era, Iraq remains caught in the clutches of violence and vindictiveness for some time to come.

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