Baghdad (CBS/AP) Iraq's High Tribunal on Sunday found Saddam Hussein guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to hang for the 1982 killing of 148 Shiites in the city of Dujail. The visibly shaken former leader shouted, "God is great!"
His half-brother and former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, head of the former Revolutionary Court, were sentenced to join Saddam on the gallows.
After the verdict was read, a shaken Saddam yelled out, "Life for the glorious nation, and death to its enemies!"
Some 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.
Clashes immediately broke out in north Baghdad's heavily Sunni Azamiyah district where police were battling men with machine guns. At least seven mortar shells slammed to earth around the Abu Hanifa mosque, the holiest Sunni shrine in the capital. There was no immediate word on casualties.
Sunni political leader Salih al-Mutlaq condemned the court decision.
"This government will be responsible for the consequences, with the deaths of hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands, whose blood will be shed," al-Mutlaq told the al-Arabiya satellite television station.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said Saddam Hussein's trial was fair, but won't comment on the verdict or death sentence for security reasons.
During Sunday's hearing, Saddam initially refused the chief judge's order to rise; two bailiffs lifted the ousted ruler to his feet and he remained standing through the sentencing.
Saddam and seven co-defendants were on trial for killing 148 Shiites in a wave of revenge in the city of Dujail following a 1982 assassination attempt.
Saddam's half brother Barzan Ibrahim was also sentenced to hang. Former Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan got life in prison for premeditated murder.
Three others were found guilty of murder and sentenced to 15 years behind bars. One, a Baath Party official, walked free because of insufficient evidence.
Celebratory gunfire rang out elsewhere in Baghdad, and the people in Sadr City, the capital's Shiite slum, celebrated in the streets, calling out, "Where are you, Saddam? We want to fight you."
A jubilant crowd of young men carried pictures of radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and handed out candy to children.
But Saddam supporters rallied in his hometown of Tikrit. One thousand people defied the curfew and carried pictures of the city's favorite son through the streets, chanting "Saddam, we'll give our blood for you."
"Saddam Hussein's conviction and sentence to death by hanging for crimes against humanity is unlikely to bring the hoped-for national reconciliation in Iraq but it will bring some closure to the majority Shiite population who suffered under Hussein's dictatorship," said CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk, an international lawyer.
"The trial was plagued from the beginning, just over a year ago, by security problems and violence against lawyers, witnesses and judges, and the Tribunal was accused at times of being an occupation court and victors' justice, but the evidence presented was gripping and a tragic record of the methods and brutality of Saddam's rule," Falk added. "The conviction and sentence of Saddam Hussein is unlikely to calm the sectarian violence that mires U.S. forces in Iraq, but it is a reminder that the divisions in Iraq are deep-set and pre-date coalition involvement in the region."
The United States Embassy issued a statement under the name of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who said the verdicts "demonstrate the commitment of the Iraqi people to hold them (Saddam and his co-defendants) accountable."
"Although the Iraqis may face difficult days in the coming weeks, closing the book on Saddam and his regime is an opportunity to unite and build a better future," Khalilzad said.
Saddam faces additional charges in a separate case over an alleged massacre of Kurdish civilians. It wasn't clear when a verdict would be announced in that other case, or when Saddam's sentence would be carried out.
Before the trial began, one of Saddam's lawyers, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, was ejected from the courtroom after handing the judge a memorandum in which he called the Saddam trial a travesty.
Judge Raouf Abdul-Rahman pointed to Clark and said in English, "Get out."
Clark had said earlier the way Saddam's trial was perceived would set important precidents in Iraq.
"And unless it is seen as absolutely fair and is absolutely fair in fact, it will irreconcilably divide the people of Iraq," he said.
Clark also said that the trial would never be fair unless the defense was protected. It was a prophetic warning: three defense lawyers were murdered as the trial progressed, along with a judge and a lawyer working for the court.
In the wake of the verdict and sentencing, Baghdad was placed under a total curfew, with shops shuttered and pedestrians and vehicles almost completely absent from the streets of the city of six million people. Iraqi security forces and U.S. troops mounted additional patrols, but no major incidents had been reported.
"There is close cooperation between Iraqi and coalition forces in maintaining the curfew," said police Maj. Mahir Hamad Mousa of the al-Khansa station in Baghdad's Jadeeda district. "We have fully prepared for this duty," he said.
The guilty verdict for Saddam is expected to enrage hard-liners among Saddam's fellow Sunnis, who made up the bulk of the former ruling class. The country's majority Shiites, who were persecuted under the former leader but now largely control the government, will likely view the outcome as a cause of celebration.
Even with the verdict imminent, Saddam's lawyers and some Sunni politicians had called for the court proceedings to be suspended.
"It has become clear to the Iraqi people and the whole world that this court is politicized 100 percent," al-Mutlaq told the Doha-based al-Jazeera satellite channel.
Al-Mutlaq accused the U.S. and Iraqi governments of interfering with the work of the court and said a verdict would further polarize Iraqi society, already traumatized by sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunnis.
"This verdict will be the last nail in the coffin of the national reconciliation plan and the political process," al-Mutlaq said. "I call upon Arab leaders ... to interfere for the sake of Iraq's unity."
The head of another prominent Sunni group, Harith al-Dhari, said any verdict should be delayed until after the departure of U.S. forces, who toppled Saddam following their March 2003 invasion of the country.
"If this court issues the verdict, I would consider it to be illegal, illegitimate and political," al-Dhari told al-Arabiya, a satellite television channel viewed throughout the Arab world.
Echoing those sentiments, the Association of Muslim Scholars, a hard-line Sunni clerical group, demanded that Saddam's trial be postponed until "the occupation leaves."
"I do believe that this process is politically motivated and not a judicial one," Harith al-Dhari, the association's leader, told the Pan Arab al-Arabiya satellite channel.
One of Saddam's lawyers, Najeeb al-Nu'aimi, said Saddam and his co-defendants had not been given sufficient time to present their cases.
"The court is not neutral. It lacks legitimacy," said al-Nu-aimi, a former justice minister of the gulf state of Qatar.
The curfew, which also covers two provinces neighboring Baghdad where Sunni insurgents are battling U.S. troops and the Iraqi government, was only lightly observed in Baghdad's sprawling Shiite slum of Sadr City, a stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia led by radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Local police commander Col. Hassan Challoub said quick reaction teams made up of the Iraqi police, army and the Interior Ministry commandos units were patrolling the area.
"No incident and nothing abnormal is reported so far," Challoub said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called on Saturday Iraqis to accept the verdict Saddam without violence, but in the next breath declared that the former dictator must get "what he deserves."
A Shiite who was forced into years of exile during Saddam's Sunni-dominated rule, al-Maliki had called for Saddam to be sentenced to death.
In the United States, President Bush's chief spokesman underscored on Saturday that Saddam's trial was being conducted by an independent Iraqi judiciary, what he called an important component of the country's development.
"These are things that are absolutely vital to building a democracy that will not only sustain itself, but have the faith and support of the populace," said Tony Snow.
In advance of the verdict, vacationing soldiers were recalled to duty in one of the heaviest security crackdowns in Baghdad since the bombing of an important shrine in the city of Samarra in February that unleashed rampant sectarian violence.
New checkpoints popped up on major roads, including within the heavily fortified Green Zone that houses Iraqi government offices and the U.S. and British embassies. A heavy police presence and larger than normal numbers of U.S. troops patrolled the streets.
A nine-judge panel will review the evidence to determine if the convictions and sentences were just. There is no time limit on how long the appeals judges can consider the appeal, but a court official told The Associated Press that the appeal deliberations are likely to take three to four weeks, once the formal paperwork is submitted.
Some facts about the next steps in the Saddam Hussein case now
that he's been sentenced to death for the killings of 148 Shiite
Muslims in Dujail:
If the appeals court upholds the sentences, they must be ratified by President Jalal Talabani and the two vice presidents, one a Sunni Arab. Talabani opposes the death penalty but has, in the past, deputized a vice president to sign an execution order on his behalf — a substitute that has been legally accepted.
Once those steps have been taken, Saddam and the others are to be hanged within 30 days.
Saddam is also on trial for his crackdown against Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s, the so-called Anfal case. Other cases also are being prepared against him. Chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi said the Anfal trial against Saddam will continue while the appeals court considers the verdict of death against him in the Dujail case.
If the appeals court upholds the death sentence against Saddam in the Dujail case and the sentence is ratified, all other cases against him would cease, and he would be hanged within 30 days.