DEBBIE ELLIOTT, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

Dignitaries are gathered this evening at the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol for the state funeral of former President Gerald Ford. We'll hear the sounds of that ceremony later in the program.

But first, the other top story we're following today, the aftermath of the execution of Saddam Hussein. The reality of the dictator's death has been sinking in for Iraqis and the world. Saddam was hanged before dawn this morning for just one of the many crimes he was accused of during his long years in power. An Iraqi court had found him guilty in the 1982 killings of 148 men and boys in the town of Dujail.

Today, television channels around the world showed Saddam with a noose around his neck, followed by the grainy cell-phone video of his corpse. U.S. and Iraqi forces brace for violence from Saddam's supporters, and violence came in the form of car bomb attacks in mostly Shiite areas. But it's not clear the violence was in retaliation for the execution. Most Iraqis got word of Saddam's death at home today, as they were celebrating one of Islam's most important holidays.

NPR's Corey Flintoff has this report from Baghdad.

COREY FLINTOFF: Muna al-Arazak(ph) is close to tears.

MUNA AL: (Through translator) We loved him from the beginning. He was devoted to his people, and in his time there was security, and peace, and stability.

FLINTOFF: Muna is a Sunni Muslim who wants to believe the best about the man who ruled her country for more than half her life.

AL: (Through translator) Even if there really were crimes, the ministers under his authority were to blame.

FLINTOFF: Muna is married to a Shiite who despises Saddam. She says the sectarian strife helped widen the rift that led their estrangement. Muna's devotion shows the depth of Sunni commitment to Saddam, who made the Sunnis the most powerful sect in Iraq, although they're by far a minority in the population. In Saddam's hometown of Tikrit today, Saddam loyalists played this song showing their fierce devotion to their now dead leader.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FLINTOFF: It says a hundred arrows in the eyes of the enemy, God and the prophet protect Saddam.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHANTING)

FLINTOFF: The ferocity of Saddam's most ardent followers is matched by militant Shiites who called for Saddam's execution yesterday at Friday prayers, where they were alerted that the hanging was imminent.

SADIR AL: (Through translator) We won't have to be patient long now, only a few hours left for hanging Saddam. God willing.

FLINTOFF: This is Sadir al-Din al-Kubanchi, a cleric who's also a leader of SCIRI, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. He told his congregation that Saddam was like cancer.

AL: (Through translator) If he is not killed, it will spread in the body. He is a cancer in prison. Root out this cancer from the Iraqi body. The greatest happiness you can present to the Iraqis is to execute Saddam. God is great. God is great.

FLINTOFF: Among those who learned the news this morning was this man, who gives his name only as Walid(ph), and though he identifies his religious sect as Iraqi, he acknowledges coming from Sadr City, the area that it was even called Saddam City was still a slum and still virtually all Shiite. Although he says he's a peaceful man, a chef who likes feeding people, Walid says it was time for Saddam to die.

WALID: (Through translator) The whole world knew him as a criminal. He killed people from north to south. And he deserves this punishment, even without a trial.

FLINTOFF: Walid and Muna are co-workers and friends, Shiite and Sunni, despite the unbridgeable gap in their feelings about Saddam. Walid says life will be more secure because Saddam's death brings an end to his supporters' dreams of returning him to power. Muna says Saddam's death won't bring stability as long as the two sides can't get together.

AL: (Through translator) With his execution or without it, it makes no difference, because there's no reconciliation.

FLINTOFF: Today, car bombs killed more than 70 people, mostly Shiites in Baghdad and in the religious center of Kufa. Because high levels of violence had become routine in Iraq, it's to soon to tell whether this is the revenge that some Saddam supporters have threatened.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Baghdad.

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