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Iraq probes Hussein execution

Story Highlights

• NEW: Aide to al-Maliki: Probe launched into leak of execution video
• NEW: Chief prosecutor: Two execution witnesses had cell phones
Top U.S. official reportedly wanted two-week delay, Iraqi official says
U.S. wanted assurance execution was legal, the Iraqi official says
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq has launched an investigation into who recorded and distributed images of the execution of Saddam Hussein, as well as the taunting of the former leader just prior to his death, according to a government spokesman.

The announcement of the investigation follows reports of U.S. officials who tried to delay Hussein's execution, fearing it would deepen a civil divide in Iraq.

There are conflicting reports on who smuggled a cell phone into the execution chamber. Sami al-Askari, an aide to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, attended the execution and told CNN it was one of the four masked guards who recorded the hanging. (Watch how the cell-phone video is causing concern in Iraq Video)

However, chief prosecutor Munqith Faroon -- who also was among the 14 people inside the chamber -- told Danish television that he knew of two senior officials in the chamber who had cell phones, despite security measures in place to prevent such devices from being brought into the room.

"How they took them in, I don't know," Faroon said.

"We were searched one by one before going into the room. They had a box to place phones in," he added.

Early Saturday morning, Hussein 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.

Cell-phone video

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. (Full story)

Official: U.S. wanted to wait two weeks

U.S. officials reportedly tried to delay last week's execution of Hussein, fearing it would fuel perceptions the death of the former Iraqi dictator was more about Shiite retribution and less about justice.

It was a caution that fell on deaf ears, however, as Prime Minister 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 how Iraqis react to cell-phone footage Video)

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, al-Askari said, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad suggested a delay of two weeks. But al-Maliki and his aides rejected that, citing security concerns and rumors of possible violence swirling around the capital. (Watch what transpired in the days before the execution Video)

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.

CNN's Arwa Damon, Jomana Karadsheh, Aneesh Raman and Brian Todd contributed to this report.



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