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Witness: Saddam Hussein argued with guards moments before death

Story Highlights

• Iraqi TV shows pictures of Saddam Hussein's body after his execution
• Former Iraq dictator hanged for crimes during his rule
• Hussein to be buried in the "next few hours," official says
• Hussein's final words mock Muqtada al-Sadr, says witness
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Defiant to the end, Saddam Hussein mocked 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 state television 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)

The former dictator refused to wear a hood as he was hanged, al-Rubaie said.

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, used it as an opportunity to plead for national unity to ward off deadly sectarian violence which 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)

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

Burial place undecided

Hussein, 69, will be buried somewhere in Iraq "in the next few hours," although talks are still under way to decide where, al-Rubaie said.

"We will wash him, wrap him, put him in an Islamic coffin, someone from the Islamic community will read a death prayer over him and he will be buried with old Islamic rituals," he said.

The Shiite Iraqi channel Biladi TV broadcast video of what appeared to be Hussein's body wrapped in a white shroud with only his head exposed. (Watch as Hussein's body lies in a shroud -- graphic content, viewer discretion advised Video)

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.

"I would like to make this day a day of unity of Iraqis," al-Rubaie said. "We need to forgive, forget the past now and look forward and progress toward stability, security and prosperity of Iraq."

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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