Iraq's toppled dictator Saddam Hussein has been executed by hanging in Baghdad according to Arab news agencies.
The former Iraqi president ousted in April 2003 by a U.S.- led invasion was convicted in November of crimes against humanity over the killings of 148 Shi'ite villagers from Dujail after a failed assassination bid in 1982.
An appeals court upheld the death penalty on Tuesday. Iraq'a government has kept details of its plans to conduct the execution completely secret amid concerns it could spark a violent backlash from his former supporters.
Today the Iraqi government readied all the necessary documents, including a "red card" - an execution order introduced during Saddam's dictatorship. As the hour of his death approached, Saddam received two of his half brothers in his cell on Thursday and was said to have given them his personal belongings and a copy of his will.
As American and Iraqi officials met in Baghdad to set the hour of his death, Saddam's lawyers asked a U.S. judge for a stay of execution.
Hussein's attorneys argued that because the former Iraqi president also faced a civil lawsuit in Washington, he had rights as a civil defendant that would be violated if he is executed. He has not received notice of those rights and the consequences that the lawsuit would have on his estate, his attorneys said.
"Petitioner Hussein's application for immediate, temporary stay of execution is denied," U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said after a hearing over the telephone with attorneys.
The physical transfer of Saddam from U.S. to Iraqi authorities was believed to be one of the last steps before he was to be hanged.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said opposing Saddam's execution would insult his victims. His office said he made the remarks in a meeting with families of people who died during Saddam's rule.
"Our respect for human rights requires us to execute him, and there will be no review or delay in carrying out the sentence," al-Maliki said.
State television ran footage of the Saddam era's atrocities throughout the day, including images of uniformed men placing a bomb next to a youth's chest and blowing him up in what looked like a desert, and handcuffed men being thrown from a high building.
Those cleared to attend the execution included a Muslim cleric, lawmakers, senior officials and relatives of victims of Saddam's brutal rule, the official said. Aides to al-Maliki were waiting for U.S. representatives to arrive at his office to set the hour for the execution, the official said.
U.S. forces will be on high alert for a surge in violence.
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