By Robert Kellaway
IT WAS the Mother of all Executions...for the Mother of all Tyrants.
Evil Saddam Hussein was justly consigned to the pit of hell — dangling from his own noose.
The butchering Iraqi despot was led mumbling and stumbling towards his doom in the same execution chamber where he eliminated THOUSANDS of political enemies.
REPORT: 300,000 innocents can now rest in peace
ANALYSIS: Col Tim Collins - This death will heal Iraq
REPORT: President Bush - Good Riddance
COMMENT: Fraser Nelson - Our Columnist looks to the future
Saddam, who ruled his nation through utter terror for 24 years, shuffled towards the hangman's rope muttering to himself: "Do not be afraid, do not be afraid."
Filmed scenes of the dictator's last moments were flashed around the world hours after the execution but stopped short of the actual drop to his death.
But late on Saturday chilling fresh footage — believed to have been filmed on a mobile phone — emerged on the internet showing Saddam plunging through the trapdoor and then swinging at the end of the rope.
The video, sent to the News of the World, is taken from the foot of a wrought iron staircase leading to the crudely-built scaffold.
Saddam is seen being led on to the death platform by hooded executioners. The waiting noose hangs from a pulley bolted to the gallows' rough concrete ceiling.
The dark room is lit by the flare of flashbulbs as onlookers photograph the gruesome spectacle.
There is a rising chant from the crowd as the grim scene unfolds, which we have had translated:
ONLOOKERS: "May God bless Prophet Mohammed and his family, and curse his enemy."
The chant changes...
ONLOOKERS: "Muktada! Muktada! Muktada!"
This refers to Muktada al-Sadr, a Shia cleric leader and a direct opponent of Saddam. It would have been a galling taunt to the dictator.
ANOTHER VOICE: "Go to hell!"
ONLOOKERS (still chanting): "Long live Mohammed Bakir al-Hakeem."
This is another Shia leader who was killed in a car bomb attack outside a mosque in Najaf in 2003.
SADDAM (With the rope around his neck, he twice repeats this phrase): "I too bear witness that there is no God but Allah, and I too bear witness that Mohammed is his prophet."
By this time the dictator has been kept standing on the platform with the noose tight round his neck for 45 seconds before suddenly, mid-prayer, the trapdoor springs open and he plunges to his death.
ONLOOKERS (chanting): "May God bless prophet Mohammed and his family, and curse his enemy.
Again, the chant changes...
ONLOOKERS: "The tyrant is dead! May God curse him!"
Then there is a voice in the background from someone who appears to be one of those in charge.
OFFICER: "Leave him for three minutes. Everybody move to the back."
As the world shuddered with relief at his historic execution, a witness revealed: "We heard his neck snap instantly and we even saw blood on the rope."
Sami al-Askari, a prominent politician close to the Iraqi Prime Minister, added: "In fact, they left him hanging for 10 minutes before a doctor confirmed his death and they untied him and placed him in a white body bag."
Before the corpse was taken away, officials took DNA samples to convince sceptics that they'd rid the world of the right man. Another witness—who lost 26 family members to Saddam's regime—said: "Now he is in the garbage of history."
Jawad Abdul-Aziz, there as a representative of all the tyrant's victims, added: "When I saw the body in the coffin, I cried. I remembered my three brothers and my father who he had killed. I approached the body and told him, ‘This is the well-deserved punishment of every tyrant'".
Iraqi national security adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie told in astonishing detail how he stared into Saddam's eyes as the fallen dictator muttered reassurance to himself.
Mr al-Rubaie, one of a handful of witnesses, said: "He was very, very broken. He looked really, really weak. He looked at the gallows not believing what was going to happen. He kept on staring at me. I couldn't see any remorse in his look.
"They tied his hands at the back and it was a little bit tight so I instructed the guard to loosen it up. He was offered a hood but he said, ‘There is no need for that.'
Then the rope went around his neck, tightened, and the executioner started to read rituals from Koran.
"He went down in no time. It was so, so quick and totally painless. It was over in a second.
"We took the body and it was respected. We put him in plain white clothes and carried him to the ambulance and then to the helicopter."
Appeal court judge Munir Haddad, who also watched, said: "I witnessed the impact of the rope around his neck and it was a horrible sight."
He revealed that one of the guards had asked close to the end: "Why did you destroy Iraq?" But unrepentant Saddam replied: "I destroyed the invaders. I destroyed the enemies of Iraq and turned Iraq from poverty."
The execution took place at 3am British time Saturday — around dawn in Iraq — just 30 minutes after Saddam, 69, was released by US Forces into the hands of the Iraqis at the former military prison in Kadhamiya on the outskirts of Baghdad.
Earlier he had been woken in his permanently-lit whitewashed cell in the US Army's Camp Cropper in the city, where he had been held as HVD1 (High Value Detainee One) since he was sentenced to death earlier this year for the massacre of 148 Shia Muslims in 1982.
He was offered a traditional Arab breakfast of yoghurt, toast and tea or his favourite cereal Raisin Bran before being handcuffed and flown out by helicopter.
On arrival at the execution chamber he launched into an anti-West rant. Security adviser Mr al-Rubaie said: "He started his rhetoric of long live Islam, down with Persia, down with the West, down with this, down with that.
"He was shouting his head off. He was broken but he was trying to put up his old rhetoric."
Officials explained to him everything he had been convicted of. Then Saddam—wearing a black woollen overcoat, black trousers and white shirt all stitched by his personal Turkish tailor—was bundled upstairs to the gallows by SIX burly guards.
A black cloth was placed around his neck to stop the rope cutting his flesh. Saddam frowned as two hangmen helped him shuffle forward and positioned him in the centre of the right-hand trapdoor.
They placed the enormous noose over his head and around his neck. The eight-coil, five-inch wide hangman's knot was tied from hemp rope one and a quarter inches thick.
The hangman to Saddam's left held it in place with his right hand and twice pulled hard to tighten the noose. Another pulled the gallows lever sending him through the trapdoor. His neck broke instantly.
Around 15 official witnesses saw his body fall, blood clearly visible on his neck where the rope had sliced through, despite the black cloth.
The Iraqi government decided to act before dawn because of Eid, one of Islam's holiest days. It was important to finish the execution before the day began at sunrise.
Saddam's half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti and ex-judge Awad al-Bander also face hanging but their executions were delayed until after the week-long religious celebrations.
Ironically, the prison at Kadhamiya where the execution took place—now dubbed Camp Justice by the Americans—was the former hellhole HQ of Saddam's military intelligence.
He ordered thousands of his enemies to be tortured there and executed on the same gallows.
In effect, the vile tyrant, who threated the West with "the Mother of all Battles" in the first Gulf War, was hanged by his own rope that he used to slaughter so many.
Saddam's lawyers issued a statement of empty bravado. It said: "Saddam Hussein fell a martyr after he tried his judges before they convicted him. The martyr remained fearless, honest and clear-minded."
But the country he ruled with murderous brutality was last night finally able to plan for a future free of fear.