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World News

Graffiti, flowers on anniversary of Saddam execution

TIKRIT, Iraq (Reuters) - Black graffiti lauding Saddam Hussein appeared overnight in his home town and small groups of mourners turned out at his grave on Sunday, the first anniversary of the former Iraqi leader’s execution.

A woman cries near the tomb of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on the first anniversary of his execution, in al-Awja village near Tikrit, 175 km north of Baghdad, December 30, 2007. REUTERS/Sabah al-Bazee

“There is no life without the sun and no dignity without Saddam,” read one painted slogan in his home town, Tikrit, north of Baghdad. “Paradise for the hero Saddam,” read another.

The graffiti appeared on buildings including the town’s police station and its agriculture and electricity directorates.

Saddam was hanged for crimes against humanity in a rushed execution criticised by the international community. Fellow Sunni Arabs were also angered by illicitly filmed footage that showed Shi’ite officials taunting him on the gallows.

In Awja, the village near Tikrit that is Saddam’s birthplace and his final resting place, Reuters Television filmed men, women and children crowding around his flower-covered tomb in a hall attached to a mosque.

Seven poets recited poetry praising Saddam near his grave, and a group of about 25 men sat talking about life under Saddam and how Iraq had changed since his execution.

“A year has passed since the death of the leader but no positive changes have taken place. Things are worse -- we are ruled by Iran and America. The leader has been killed to satisfy Iran,” said Adnan Jassim, 38, from Tikrit.

At the time of Saddam’s execution Iraq was racked by sectarian violence that pushed the country to the brink of civil war. One year on, violence has dropped sharply, in part because of a new counter-insurgency strategy adopted by U.S. forces and a rebellion by Sunni tribes against al Qaeda.

STEPPED-UP SECURITY

Security was stepped up in predominantly Sunni Arab provinces, witnesses and security officials said, in anticipation of possible attacks by die-hard supporters of the former Iraqi leader and his Arab nationalist Baath Party.

The head of the security committee in Saddam’s native Salahuddin province, Ahmed Saleh al-Jubouri, said Iraqi security forces were on alert.

Curfews were enforced in Tikrit and the oil refinery city of Baiji to the north, although the curfew in Tikrit was later lifted. Residents also reported more checkpoints in the town and Iraqi security forces were protecting government buildings.

But the potential for violence appeared slight given that many former pro-Saddam Sunni Arab insurgents have joined forces with the U.S. military in the months since his execution to fight Sunni Islamist al Qaeda.

“We have not seen any increased violence associated with his death,” U.S. military spokesman Rear Admiral Greg Smith said.

Saddam, toppled in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, was convicted of killing scores of Shi’ite men in the town of Dujail after an attempt on his life there in 1982.

His half-brother, Barzan al-Tikriti, former judge Awad al-Bandar and Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan followed him to the gallows earlier this year.

His feared cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majeed, known as “Chemical Ali” for his use of poison gas against Iraq’s minority Kurds, and two other former regime officials have been convicted of genocide in a separate trial and are awaiting execution.

Their execution, however, has been delayed by a legal wrangle between Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite-led government, President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd who opposes the death penalty, and Sunni Arab Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi.

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