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AWJA, Iraq (Reuters) - Hundreds of Iraqi schoolchildren were brought to the modest mausoleum of Saddam Hussein on Monday to celebrate the birthday of the executed dictator in the village where he was born.
Saddam, who was hanged in late 2006 for crimes against humanity, is hated in much of Iraq. But in parts of his native Salahuddin Province, especially among his fellow Sunni Arabs, he is still revered.
"Bush, Bush you low-life! Saddam's blood is not cheap!" a crowd of pupils in white uniforms from a nearby girls' school chanted while standing around Saddam's grave in the mausoleum where he is buried among displays and photos of his reign.
"There are two things we will never give up: Saddam and Iraq!" the girls chanted. Several of them wept.
They entered the building carrying a banner which read: "We will not forget you, Papa Saddam," and kissed the dictator's grave.
"There is no martyr like Saddam. We are here to celebrate his birthday. Happy birthday, and God willing he will go to paradise," a girl named Tiba, 11, told Reuters.
Faten Abdel Qader, one of the organizers, said Saddam's legacy was the memory of a time of peace.
"The children who lived during the age of this man had security. They didn't know anything about murder, violence or sectarianism," she said. "An Iraqi woman could hold her head high."
Saddam, who was born in Awja on April 28, 1937, was executed for his role in the deaths of Shi'ite villagers slain after an assassination attempt on him.
At the time of his execution he was also standing trial for genocide for the killing of hundreds of thousands of Kurds.
Iraq's government says he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of others buried in mass graves during decades of oppression.
His supporters say his harsh rule prevented the sectarian killing that has been rampant since he was ousted in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Dominic Evans