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Hussein buried in same cemetery as sons

Story Highlights

• NEW: Saddam Hussein buried in same cemetery as sons Uday and Qusay
• Hussein's final words mock Muqtada al-Sadr, says witness
• Former dictator held Quran, refused hood before he was hanged
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TIKRIT, Iraq (CNN) -- Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was buried Sunday in Awja, near Tikrit, according to a CNN journalist who witnessed the ceremony.

About 100 people, including the governor of Salaheddin, clerics, tribal leaders and relatives attended the event, which took place at 4 a.m. (0100 GMT).

Saddam Hussein's relatives, including sons Uday and Qusay, are buried in the same cemetery. His sons were killed in a firefight with U.S. forces in 2003.

Iraq's state-run television network, Al-Iraqiya, reported that the Iraqi government formally handed over Hussein's body to Sheikh Ali al-Nida, leader of the Bou Nasser tribe, and the governor of Salaheddin. It was transported by the U.S. military.

The body was then taken to Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, north of the capital, where members of the Bou Nasser tribe and clerics prayed over it, said a reporter for CNN who saw the body in Tikrit. (Watch as Hussein's body lies in a shroud -- graphic content, viewer discretion advised Video)

Hussein remained defiant to the end, arguing with guards and mocking Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr moments before he was hanged, a witness said Saturday.

The Iraqi government executed Hussein before dawn as punishment for his role in a massacre of his own people more than two decades before he was toppled by a U.S.-led invasion.

A video of the execution broadcast on Al-Iraqiya showed Hussein, dressed in a black overcoat, being led into a room by three masked guards. (Watch noose placed around Hussein's neck -- graphic content, viewer discretion advised Video)

A witness, Iraqi Judge Munir Haddad, said that one of the executioners told Hussein that the former dictator had destroyed Iraq, which sparked an argument that was joined by several government officials in the room.

As a noose was tightened around Hussein's neck, one of the executioners yelled "long live Muqtada al-Sadr," Haddad said, referring to the powerful anti-American Shiite religious leader.

Hussein, a Sunni, uttered one last phrase before he died, saying "Muqtada al-Sadr" in a mocking tone, according to Haddad's account.

The judge said Hussein appeared "totally oblivious to what was going on around him. I was very surprised. He was not afraid of death."

But Haddad's description of Hussein's demeanor before his execution contrasts markedly with that of another witness, Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie. "He was a broken man," al-Rubaie said. "He was afraid. You could see fear in his face." (Watch al-Rubaie describe Hussein's final moments Video)

Hussein's death came in "a blink of the eye" after his executioner activated the gallows just after 6 a.m. (10 p.m. Friday ET), said al-Rubaie.

"This dark page has been turned over," al-Rubaie said. "Saddam is gone. Today Iraq is an Iraq for all the Iraqis, and all the Iraqis are looking forward. ... The [Hussein] era has gone forever."

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who didn't attend the execution, pleaded for national unity to ward off deadly sectarian violence that is straining Iraq's fledgling government.

"In the name of the people I call on all men of the past regime and manipulated by it to reconsider their stances," al-Maliki said in a written statement released after the execution.

"The door is still open for every person who does not have blood of innocents on his hands to join in rebuilding of Iraq, which will be for all Iraqis without exceptions or discrimination." (Watch what Hussein's death could mean in Iraq Video)

Deadly car bombs Saturday struck a mainly Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad and the southern Shiite town of Kufa, officials said. (Full story)

Executioner 'joined dancing'

Word of Hussein's execution was followed by Iraqi street celebrations. (Full story)

Al-Rubaie said that while the execution was carried out with due respect to Hussein -- and following "all international and Islamic standards" -- some witnesses and the executioner could not resist celebrating by dancing around the body after the hanging.

"It's a very ordinary action of a number of people -- some of them officials, some of them ordinary people, even the executioner as well, because they have lost their loved ones -- their fathers, brothers, sisters -- this is a natural reaction," he said.

The execution took place outside the heavily fortified U.S. Green Zone, al-Rubaie said, and no Americans were present.

"It was an Iraqi operation from A to Z," he said. "The Americans were not present during the hour of the execution. They weren't even in the building."

He added that "there were no Shiite or Sunni clerics present, only the witnesses and those who carried out the actual execution were present."

On Al-Arabiya television, al-Rubaie said the execution took place at the 5th Division intelligence office in Qadhimiya.

In the United States, Iraqi-Americans celebrated in the street in Dearborn, Michigan, home to the nation's largest concentration of Iraqis. (Watch Iraqi-Americans dancing, kissing and singing in the streets Video)

Bush: Hussein received fair trial

White House deputy press secretary Scott Stanzel said President Bush was asleep when the execution took place and was not awakened. The president had been briefed by national security adviser Stephen Hadley before retiring and was aware the hanging was imminent, Stanzel said.

The White House issued a statement praising the Iraqi people for giving Hussein a fair trial.

"Fair trials were unimaginable under Saddam Hussein's tyrannical rule," Bush's statement read. "It is a testament to the Iraqi people's resolve to move forward after decades of oppression that, despite his terrible crimes against his own people, Saddam Hussein received a fair trial." (Full story)

Hussein was hanged for his role in the 1982 Dujail massacre, in which 148 Iraqis were killed after a failed assassination attempt against the then-Iraqi president. (Watch what happened in Dujail Video)

Two other co-defendants -- Barzan Hassan, Hussein's half-brother, and Awad Bandar, the former chief judge of the Revolutionary Court -- were also found guilty and had been expected to face execution with Hussein, but al-Rubaie said their executions were postponed "because we wanted to have this day to have an historic distinction."

CNN's Aneesh Raman, Arwa Damon, Ryan Chilcote, Sam Dagher, Jomana Karadsheh and Ed Henry contributed to this report.

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