(Photo: AP / Rajesh Nirgude)
Saddam Hussein has been executed by hanging at a secure facility in northern Baghdad for crimes against humanity.
The execution took place just before 6:00 a.m. local time (3:00 GMT), according to Iraqi TV. A representative of the prime minister and a Sunni Muslim cleric were present.
Footage of him being led to the gallows was later shown on Iraqi state TV, and clips of these have now been broadcast around the world.
Two co-defendants, Saddam Hussein's half-brother and a former chief judge, are to be executed at a later date. All three were sentenced to death by an Iraqi court on Nov. 5 after a yearlong trial over the 1982 killings of 148 Shias in the town of Dujail.
The execution of the former Iraqi President was a "tragic" event, the Vatican said on Saturday.
In addition, the Vatican warned that the execution risked fomenting a spirit of vendetta and sowing fresh violence in Iraq.
"A capital punishment is always tragic news, a reason for sadness, even if it deals with a person who was guilty of grave crimes," said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi.
"The position of the Church (against capital punishment) has been restated often," he said.
Meanwhile the Bush administration welcomed the death penalty. But the European Union and the United Nations stayed opposed to the execution.
Hussein shouldnt have been hanged for crimes against humanity, stated Human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
According to the groups, his trial had been flawed and was marred by political interference by the Iraqi government.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has previously expressed opposition to the death penalty on Saddam on principle.
But the deputy White House press secretary, Scott Stanzel, struck a different note. "Today marks an important milestone in the Iraqi people's efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law," he told reporters aboard Air Force One. "Saddam Hussein has received due process and legal rights that he denied the Iraqi people for so long."