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Sunnis protest hanging of Hussein

Mob marches in Shi'ite shrine

BAGHDAD -- Enraged crowds protested the hanging of Saddam Hussein across Iraq's Sunni heartland yesterday, as a mob in Samara broke the locks off a bomb-damaged Shi'ite shrine and marched through carrying a mock coffin and photo of the dictator.

The demonstration in the Golden Dome, shattered in a bombing by Sunni extremists 10 months ago, suggests that many Sunni Arabs might now more actively support the small number of Sunni militants fighting the country's Shi'ite-dominated government. The Feb. 22 bombing of the shrine triggered the current cycle of retaliatory attacks between Sunnis and Shi'ites, in the form of daily bombings, kidnappings, and murders.

Also yesterday, the US military killed six Iraqis during a raid on the offices of a prominent Sunni political figure, who was suspected of giving sanctuary to Al Qaeda in Iraq fighters.

Sunnis were not only outraged by Hussein's hurried execution, just four days after an appeals court upheld his conviction and sentence. Many were also incensed by the unruly scene in the execution chamber, captured on video, in which Hussein was taunted with chants of "Moqtada, Moqtada, Moqtada."

The chants referred to Moqtada al-Sadr, a firebrand Shi'ite cleric who runs one of Iraq's most violent religious militias. He is a major power behind the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite.

Many Sunnis are also upset that Hussein was put to death the day that Sunni celebrations began for Eid al-Adha, a major Muslim festival. The judge who first presided over the case that resulted in Hussein's death sentence said the former dictator's execution at the start of Eid was illegal according to Iraqi law, and contradicted Islamic custom.

The law states that "no verdict should be implemented during the official holidays or religious festivals," said Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin, a Kurd.

Rizgar presided over Hussein's trial on charges he killed 148 Shi'ite men and boys in Dujail, north of Baghdad, after a botched assassination attempt in 1982. The judge was removed from the case after Shi'ite complaints that he was too lenient.

In a Sunni neighborhood in northern Baghdad, hundreds of demonstrators mourned the executed leader. Some praised the Ba'ath Party, the outlawed nationalist group that under Hussein cemented Sunni Arab dominance of Iraq.

"The Ba'ath Party and Ba'athists still exist in Iraq, and nobody can marginalize it," said Samir al-Obaidi, 48, who attended a Hussein memorial in the Azamiyah neighborhood.

In Dor, 77 miles north of Baghdad, hundreds took to the streets to attend the dedication of a giant mosaic of Hussein. Children carried toy guns and men fired real weapons into the air.

Mourners at a mosque in Hussein's hometown of Tikrit slaughtered sheep as a sacrifice for their former leader. The mosque's walls were lined with condolence cards from tribes in southern Iraq and Jordan who were unable to travel to the memorial.

In the midst of the protests, US forces continued operations in Iraq.

Six Iraqis were killed in a US-led raid on the Baghdad offices of a top Sunni politician, Saleh al-Mutlaq. The US military and Iraqi police said they suspected the offices were being used as an Al Qaeda safe house.

Mutlaq is a senior member of the National Dialogue Front, which holds 11 of the 275 seats in Iraq's parliament.

It was unclear whether the deaths resulted from the ground assault or fire from US helicopters.

The US death toll, meanwhile, climbed to at least 3,002 by the final day of 2006 as the American military reported the deaths of two more soldiers in an explosion Sunday in Diyala Province, northeast of the capital. With the announcement, the Associated Press count of fatalities showed that at least 113 US service members died in December. That makes it the bloodiest month of 2006.

Iraqi authorities yesterday reported that 16,273 Iraqis -- including 14,298 civilians, 1,348 police, and 627 soldiers -- died violent deaths in 2006. The total exceeds the AP count by more than 2,500.

On the first day of the new year, Iraqi police reported finding 40 handcuffed, blindfolded, and bullet-riddled bodies in Baghdad. A police official, who refused to be named out of security fears, said 15 of the bodies were found in the mainly industrial Sheik Omar district of northern Baghdad.

An Iraqi worker for the Algerian Embassy in Baghdad was shot to death, police said.

Latest Iraq coverage:
 Iraq orders probe of Hussein execution ()
 JEFF JACOBY: More relief than regret ()
 PETER W. GALBRAITH: A regrettable rush to execution ()
 GLOBE EDITORIAL: Saddam's sectarian legacy ()
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