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Hours after Saddam's burial, U.S. announces 3,000th death

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Saddam Hussein, the deposed dictator hanged Saturday for the murder of 148 fellow citizens, was buried at sunrise in his hometown Sunday, not far from the graves of his two sons. Hours later, on the final day of 2006, the U.S. military announced the death of the 3,000th American soldier to die in Iraq.

The death of Spc. Dustin Donica, 22, of Spring, Texas, by small arms fire Thursday in Baghdad, brought the December toll to 111, the deadliest month of the year for U.S. troops. Donica was assigned to a parachute infantry regiment at Fort Richardson, Alaska.

The milestone was reached at a time when President Bush is considering an overhaul of American policy in Iraq—a review that could result in tens of thousands more U.S. troops serving in this strife-torn country.

Bush spokesman Scott Stanzel said that the United States "will be fighting violent jihadists for peace and security of the civilized world for years to come." He said Bush would see to it that the sacrifice of U.S. troops "was not made in vain."

Saddam's burial in his hometown of al Awja, near the northern city of Tikrit, drew about 100 people for a dawn service. The flag draped over his body was that from his regime. The flag's inscribed words, "God is Great," were written in his own hand, not in formal script as it now appears on the official Iraqi flag.

Officials at the province, who took control of Saddam's body from the Iraqi government, said they were grateful the body was treated in an Islamic way. And, on a national television station, they thanked American officials for providing a helicopter to take the body to the burial site.

Meanwhile, on a quiet day marked by the observance of the religious festival of Eid, Iraqis were transfixed by a video that showed Saddam's final moments. Some said the video showed a composed Saddam killed by a Shiite government settling personal scores, not an example of justice; others said it was a fair end for a man who tortured and brutalized innocent Iraqis for more than two decades.

The latest video disputed some initial accounts of what happened in the seconds before execution. Captured on a cell phone camera, it appeared on several Web sites, and picked up where the government-released video released Saturday had cut off—after the tightening of the noose. Not every word spoken was audible.

Five executioners wearing black ski masks surrounded Saddam, who wore a long black coat. As they put the rope around his neck, Saddam called out, "O God."

After tightening the noose, men—both the executioners and witnesses—chanted part of a common Shiite Muslim saying, followed by Muqtada al-Sadr's name, the firebrand cleric who leads one of the most powerful militias in Iraq, the Mahdi Army.

"God's prayer upon the (Prophet) and his family ... May God bring closer his release (referring to the 12th Imam, who Shiites believe will appear again) and curse his enemy. Muqtada, Muqtada Muqtada!" the men chanted in unison, their voices more powerful with each passing word.

It appears more dialogue occurred here, but the words are not clear. Saddam is next heard saying: "Thank God. Is this manhood?"

Someone in the room snapped at Saddam: "Go to hell."

"The hell that is Iraq?" Saddam said.

Another voice then shouted the name Mohammed Bakir Sadr, a relative of Muqtada and the intellectual brains behind the Dawa Party, one of the fiercest Saddam opposition parties. Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is a member of the party, and thousands of people were either exiled or killed for being suspected members.

Another man appealed for calm: "I beg you no. This man is being executed."

But the crowd became more emboldened. Saddam then began reciting one of the most important Islamic sayings, the Shadada, which Muslims say to prove their faith: "I testify there is no god but God and (Prophet) Muhammad is the messenger of God." As he repeated it, and reached the word "Muhammad," the shaft opened from under him. The picture goes dark, breaking only for flashes from cameras photographing Saddam dead, his eyes open, his body dangling.

The witnesses erupted.

"The tyrant has fallen," one man said as others debated how long Saddam should be kept on the rope.

The Iraqi Special Tribunal convicted Saddam and two co-defendants on Nov. 5, charging that they ordered the execution of 148 people after an unsuccessful assassination attempt against the dictator in Dujail in 1982. Last week an appeals court upheld the conviction; under Iraqi law, Saddam had to be executed within 30 days.

On Saleh al Din channel, based in Saddam's hometown province, music designated for mourning and recitations of the Koran played all day.


(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.