Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has been executed by hanging after three years in U.S. custody. He died before dawn Saturday in Iraq, which was about 10 p.m. Friday EST.
Saddam was convicted of murder in the killings of 148 Shiite Muslims from an Iraqi town where assassins tried to kill Saddam in 1982.
On his last night alive, Saddam sat alone on death row with his Koran, the Muslim holy book, CBS News correspondent Randall Pinkston
reports. As his time waned, Saddam received two of his half brothers in his cell and was said to have given them his personal belongings and a copy of his will.
Najeeb al-Nueimi, a member of Saddam's legal team in Doha, Qatar, said he too requested a final meeting with the deposed Iraqi leader. "His daughter in Amman was crying, she said, 'Take me with you,'" al-Nueimi said late Friday. But he said their request was rejected.
The Pentagon said that U.S. fighting forces in Iraq are ready for any escalation of violence
"U.S. forces in Iraq are obviously at a high state of alert anytime because of the environment that they operate in and because of the current security situation," said spokesman Bryan Whitman.
CBS News national security correspondent David Martin
reports that until being turned over to Iraqi control, Saddam remained in a jail cell in U.S. custody. The U.S. military had been prepared since early Friday morning to hand over Saddam to the Iraqi government, which wanted to execute the deposed dictator as soon as possible.
As anticipation built around Saddam's expected time of hanging, due to an announcement by an advisor to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, official witnesses to Saddam's impending execution gathered in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone in final preparation for his hanging, as state television broadcast footage of his regime's atrocities.
Also to be hanged at that time were Saddam's half-brother Barzan Ibrahim and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, the former chief justice of the Revolutionary Court, the adviser said.
The Iraqi government had readied all the necessary documents, including a "red card" â€” an execution order introduced during Saddam's dictatorship.
Saddam had been in U.S. custody since he was captured in December 2003.
A member of Saddam's legal team said U.S. authorities were maintaining physical custody of Saddam to prevent him from being humiliated before his execution. He said the Americans also want to prevent the mutilation of his corpse, something that has happened to other deposed Iraqi leaders.
"The Americans want him to be hanged respectfully," al-Nueimi said. "If Saddam is humiliated publicly or his corpse ill-treated," it could cause an uprising and the Americans would be blamed, he said.
Leading up to the execution, there was a religious issue that complicated the timing. The Muslim holy period of Eid begins this weekend, and there is some question whether Iraqi law permits a Muslim to be executed on a holy day. Martin
reports that the Iraqi government reportedly consulted Muslim clerics.
Munir Haddad, a judge on the appeals court that upheld Saddam's death sentence, said he was ready to attend the hanging and that all the paperwork was in order, including the red card.
"All the measures have been done," Haddad said
In the United States, just more than an hour before Saddam was executed, judge rejected a request by his lawyers to delay the Iraqi leader's execution.
The attorneys had sought an emergency restraining order from a federal court in Washington to block Saddam's handover to Iraqi control. Earlier, a similar request made on behalf of Saddam's former chief justice was rejected by an appeals court. An appeal of the latest ruling is possible, but it's unclear if that will happen.
Saddam's lawyers issued a statement Friday calling on "everybody to do everything to stop this unfair execution." The statement also said the former president had been at the time transferred from U.S. custody, though American and Iraqi officials later denied that.
The governments of Yemen and Libya also made eleventh hour appeals that Saddam's life be spared. Yemeni Prime Minister Abdul-Kader Bajammal wrote to the U.S. and Iraqi presidents, warning in his letter to George W. Bush that Saddam's execution would "increase the sectarian violence" in Iraq, according to the official Yemeni news agency Saba.
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi made an indirect appeal to save Saddam, telling Al-Jazeera television that his trial was illegal and that he should be retried by an international court.
Al-Maliki said opposing Saddam's execution was an insult to his victims. His office said he made the remarks in a meeting with families of people who died during Saddam's rule.
"Our respect for human rights requires us to execute him, and there will be no review or delay in carrying out the sentence," al-Maliki said.
As the execution neared, state television ran footage of the Saddam era's atrocities, including images of uniformed men placing a bomb next to a youth's chest and blowing him up in what looked like a desert, and handcuffed men being thrown from a high building.
Meanwhile, leaders in one of the United States' largest Arab-American communities
said Saddam's execution will increase violence overseas and will not help the Iraqi people. Osama Siblani, publisher of The Arab American News, said Saddam's death sentence is one more casualty in a war that has killed thousands, and it will not solve the power struggle among Iraqi religious groups.
About 10 people registered to attend the hanging gathered in the Green Zone before they were to go to the execution site, the Iraqi official said.
Those who were cleared to attend the execution included a Muslim cleric, lawmakers, senior officials and relatives of victims of Saddam's brutal rule, the official said. He did not disclose the location of the gallows.
An Iraqi appeals court upheld Saddam's death sentence Tuesday for the killing of 148 people who were detained after an attempt to assassinate him in the northern Iraqi city of Dujail in 1982. The court said the hanging should take place within 30 days.
Saddam was born in 1937 in a village near Tikrit. As a teenager he was fashionably anti-British and anti-Western. He joined the Baath party but fled when his part in a plot to kill the prime minister, Abdel Karim Qassem, was discovered.
The ruthless Saddam gained a position on the ruling Revolutionary Command Council and for years he was the power behind the president, Ahmed Hassan Bakr.
During the 1970s oil boom, Saddam's Baath Party envisioned a country ruled by Arab socialism.
As deputy chairman of the ruling Revolutionary Command Council, Saddam headed an economic planning council that oversaw the building of vast industrial plants, huge housing projects, eight-lane highways, bridges, airports, universities and communication systems.
By 1979 Saddam had achieved his ambition. He became president and set the tone of his rule immediately by putting to death dozens of his rivals. Even outsiders who met him were quickly aware of the "Saddam fear factor" and its effects, CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey
"I think its fair to say that the intimidation, the fear that he caused reached into the inner circle of his regime and that deprived him of contradictory points of view," said former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy.
Under Saddam, imprisonment or summary execution of political foes was common. Political parties, unions and civic groups not controlled by Baathists were banned. Traditional bonds were reshaped to support a one-party state.
Millions of Iraqis, though, were able for the first time in their lives to wear designer clothes and vacation in London, Madrid or Paris. Others started tasting imported foods and driving Japanese, German or French cars â€” all at government subsidized prices.
Within a year he made the first of several major miscalculations: A lightning attack to seize a waterway turned into the Iran-Iraq war, an 8-year bloodbath.
His 1980 invasion of Iran, portrayed as a fight against the Persians on behalf of all Arabs, set off an eight-year war that drained Iraq's economy and killed hundreds of thousands on both sides.
In 1990 Iraq's invasion of Kuwait would turn out to be another miscalculation, but in the months before the Gulf War of 1991, Saddam's stock in the Arab world rose considerably. Many Arabs saw Saddam as a man willing to stand up to the U.S., Israel and the West.
As years of sanctions ground down his people, Saddam refused to comply with weapons inspectors and remained the arrogant dictator, loved and hated in equal measure, isolated from his people and reality. Even he may not have known that he did not possess the weapons of mass destruction that were the pretext for the U.S.-led invasion, Pizzey