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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Saddam Hussein Sentenced to Hang

BAGHDAD -- Saddam Hussein was convicted and sentenced Sunday to hang for crimes against humanity in the 1982 killings of 148 people in a single town, as the ousted leader, trembling and defiant, shouted "God is great!"

Russian politicians criticized the verdict as an attempt to influence U.S. midterm elections this week, while the Foreign Ministry issued a more cautious official comment warning against outside influence in the trial.

Baghdad and two restive Sunni provinces were locked under 24-hour curfew Monday, and officials said the clampdown would continue indefinitely.

As Hussein, his half brother and another senior official in his regime were convicted and sentenced to death, the former dictator yelled out, "Long live the people and death to their enemies. Long live the glorious nation, and death to its enemies!"

Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's Shiite prime minister, declared the verdicts as history's judgment on a whole era.

"The verdict placed on the heads of the former regime does not represent a verdict for any one person. It is a verdict on a whole dark era that has was unmatched in Iraq's history," Maliki said.

Some had feared the verdicts could intensify Iraq's sectarian violence after a trial that stretched over nine months in 39 sessions and ended nearly 3 1/2 months ago. But an Interior Ministry spokesman credited round-the-clock restrictions with curbing violence, despite raucous street celebrations among Shiites and defiant counter demonstrations by Hussein supporters in his hometown of Tikrit.

Hussein and seven co-defendants were on trial for a wave of revenge killings carried out in the northern city of Dujail following a 1982 assassination attempt on Hussein. Maliki's Islamic Dawa party, then an underground opposition, has claimed responsibility for organizing the attempt on Hussein's life.

The death sentences automatically go to a nine-judge appeals panel, which has unlimited time to review the case. If the verdicts and sentences are upheld, the executions must be carried out within 30 days. A court official said the appeals process was likely to take three to four weeks once the formal paperwork was submitted.

In Moscow, the Foreign Ministry issued a carefully worded statement warning against outside influence in Hussein's trial. "We believe that the trial of a citizen of any country, whatever post he once held, is an internal matter of that state and must be conducted and concluded without prompting from outside," ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in the statement.

Kamynin did not name the United States or any other nation and stopped short of even stating that the trial was influenced from outside.

Liberal Democratic Party of Russia's leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who had ties with Hussein's government, called the verdict an attempt to produce positive news on a divisive, unpopular war two days before Americans vote.

"It is purely for the election of Republicans, the elections are Tuesday and Bush must show that he has at least achieved something in Iraq, since he frightened all America [by saying Hussein was] a horrible dictator, while in fact under him there was quiet and calm, order -- no terrorists, no Islamists," Zhirinovsky told Ekho Moskvy radio.

Kremlin-connected political analyst Vyacheslav Nikonov also suggested the timing was no coincidence. "The Iraq issue will be central in the elections and [the verdict] will be the Bush camp's last argument that the war ... has not been a wasteful effort and that the main culprit will be punished," Nikonov said, Interfax reported.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said: "Hussein was tried by occupation authorities, not by an Iraqi court," and called the verdict an example of the United States "settling scores with those who did not want to obey the White House," Interfax reported.

"This verdict raises a mass of questions, the first and most serious of which is: 'Who benefits?'" Mikhail Margelov, head of the Federation Council's International Affairs Committee, said on Channel One television.

White House spokesman Tony Snow decried as "absolutely crazy" any notion that the verdict was linked to the vote.

Snow, however, did not entirely set politics aside, asserting that U.S. voters "ought to be heartened" by the verdict and its broader implications about the progress the administration insists is evident in Iraq.

U.S President George W. Bush called the verdict "a milestone in the Iraqi people's efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law."

Many European nations voiced opposition to the death sentences in the case, including France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden. A leading Italian opposition figure called on the continent to press for Hussein's sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment.

Hussein was found hiding with an unfired pistol in a hole in the ground near his hometown in December 2003, eight months after he fled Baghdad ahead of advancing U.S. troops.

Barzan Ibrahim, Hussein's half brother and intelligence chief during the Dujail killings, was sentenced to join him on the gallows, as was Awad Hamed al-Bandar, head of Iraq's Revolutionary Court, which issued the death sentences against the Dujail residents.

Former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan was convicted of premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison, while three other defendants were given up to 15 years in prison for torture and premeditated murder. A local Baath Party official Mohammed Azawi Ali, was acquitted for lack of evidence.

If the verdicts are upheld, those sentenced to death would be hanged despite Hussein's second, ongoing trial on charges of murdering thousands of Iraq's Kurdish minority.