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Top Iraqi source: U.S. tried to delay execution

Story Highlights

• NEW: Top U.S. official reportedly wanted two-week delay, Iraqi official says
• NEW: U.S. wanted assurance execution was legal, the Iraqi official says
• NEW: Iraq's national security adviser on Hussein: "He was frightened."
• Saddam Hussein executed 6 a.m. (10 p.m. Friday ET),
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. officials reportedly tried to delay last week's execution of Saddam Hussein, fearing it would fuel perceptions the death of the former Iraqi dictator was more about Shiite retribution and less about justice.

Those fears seemed borne out by an amateur recording of Hussein's last moments.

It was a caution that fell on deaf ears, however, as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite, was determined to put Hussein to death before the beginning of the Eid al-Adha holiday.

The holiday began at sunrise Saturday for Iraqi Sunnis on Sunday for Shiites.

Hussein, a Sunni, was executed 6 a.m. Saturday (10 p.m. Friday ET). (Watch Iraqis pass around footage of execution Video)

Official: U.S. wanted to wait two weeks

By midday Friday, amid reports and public denials that the United States had given Iraqis custody of Hussein, American officials were talking privately with al-Maliki, according to a member of the Iraqi parliament close to the prime minister.

At one point, the parliament member said, a top U.S. official suggested a delay of two weeks.

Al-Maliki and his aides rejected that, the Iraqi official said, citing security concerns and rumors of possible violence swirling around the capital.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi official said, the Americans asked for written documentation to make sure the execution was legal under the Iraqi constitution.

There was one final hurdle: Would President Jalal Talabani, a Sunni Kurd who opposes the death penalty, object to the execution?

A phone call later Friday between al-Maliki and the president ended with a decision that Talabani's signature was not needed.

No explanation for the decision was given.

Late Friday night, the parliament member told CNN, top U.S. officials met with al-Maliki's deputies to work out when the handover should take place, along with other logistical arrangements.

At that point, Iraqi officials told the media that al-Maliki had signed the last crucial document.

Conflicting accounts of Hussein's demeanor

Hussein's delivery to the gallows went by the book.

He was transported from his holding cell at Camp Cropper to the execution site, a building where Hussein's intelligence officers had hanged so many others.

There, he was handed over to Iraqi security.

Two witnesses have given conflicting accounts on his bearing as he walked to his death. Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, called him "a broken man."

"He was staring at me, and I was sort of looking at him as well, in a forceful way," he said. "And then he said -- he was telling me, don't be afraid. Of course, you know, this is -- he's afraid, so he was frightened."

But a top judge -- Munir Haddad of the Iraqi Supreme Appellate Court, which upheld the death sentence -- saw Hussein differently.

"I was very surprised," he said. "He was not afraid of death."

Cell-phone video

The official government video of the execution was released without sound and ends when the noose is put around Hussein's neck.

But a crude cell-phone video leaked less than 24 hours later goes much further -- showing bitter exchanges between Hussein and his Shiite guards.

After Hussein offers prayers, the guards shout praise for Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric whose father is believed to have been murdered by Hussein's regime.

They chant, "Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada!"

Hussein smiles.

"Is this how you show your bravery as men?" he asks.

"Straight to hell," someone shouts back at him.

"Is this the bravery of Arabs?" Hussein asks.

A sole voice is heard trying to silence the taunts.

"Please, I am begging you not to," the unknown man says. "The man is being executed."

Another shout, "Long live Mohammed Baqir Sadr" -- referring to Muqtada al-Sadr's father-in-law and a founder of the Shiite Dawa movement who was executed by the Hussein regime. Dawa is al-Maliki's party.

The taunts continued, and the trapdoor dropped shortly after 6 a.m. Saturday. Hussein was hanged. (Watch Hussein's last moments Video)

Immediately after, Shiite witnesses danced around his body, chanting celebratory slogans.

On Sunday, the U.S. military transported Hussein's body for burial at his home village of Awja near Tikrit, where Sunnis took to the streets loudly calling the former Iraqi president a hero and a martyr.

The grainy, dark video has outraged Sunnis, while Shiites have scrambled to see for themselves that Hussein was dead.

"It's something amazing," said Abbas Mansour, owner of a mobile-phone store in Baghdad. "No one really believed that Saddam would be executed because the people were so scared of him and his regime.

"So anything of him, on TV or on mobile phones, they want to see it. It's like a thirst that cannot be quenched. Even little kids are looking for it."

Mahmoud Askar, a Kurd who believes Hussein deserved to be hanged for his crimes, does not agree with the way it was carried out.

"The way the whole thing was filmed was a bad decision by the government, and ultimately helped Saddam because people sympathize with him," he said.

U.S. military officials would not comment for this story, saying the execution proceedings were matters handled by the Iraqis.


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