Baghdad, Iraq Hundreds of supporters of Saddam Hussein broke curfew Sunday to pay respects at the tomb of the toppled Iraqi president, who was buried before daybreak in the small northern town where he was born.
At the funeral in Al Auja and across the Sunni Arab world, Saddam's co-religionists expressed outrage at his chaotic final moments, revealed in grainy footage circulated widely on the Internet and on television showing his execution at dawn on Saturday here.
The video, which appears to have been recorded with a cell phone, showed onlookers taunting Saddam with chants of "Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada," a reference to radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi militia is accused of hunting down Sunni Arabs and killing them. As the trap door snapped open beneath Saddam, some in attendance cheered: "The tyrant has fallen!"
The shocking spectacle appeared to deepen the deadly sectarian divide between Sunni Arabs and the Shiite majority that now leads Iraq's government.
"Today they proved themselves that the trial and the execution were mere retaliation and not justice," said a mourner from Saddam's home town of Tikrit, who gave his name only as Abu Mohammed, a customary nickname. "It is clear now against whom we should retaliate."
As the images ricocheted across the Arab world, they drew angry comment in newspapers, on television and on Internet blogs in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and other heavily Sunni countries that are allies of the United States.
"Saddam appears like a hero to the Iraqi people now," Saleh Mutlak, leader of the second-largest Sunni group in parliament, said by telephone from Dubai. "Even those who hated Saddam love Saddam now."
Hisham Melhem, the pro-American spokesman for the Arabic satellite news station Al-Arabiya, called the execution a total disaster in an interview on CNN and described the future for Iraq as "descending into a black hole."
Many blamed the United States, which had had custody of Saddam, for handing him over to the Iraqi government to be humiliated before his death. U.S. officials in Baghdad had no comment, and at the White House, a spokesman had no further comment beyond a written statement by President Bush on Friday night in which he called the execution "an important milestone" that came after a "fair trial."
Others vented their anger against Iran, which has close ties with the Shiite parties that dominate the current Iraqi government.
Iran's former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, a senior cleric, called the hanging "divine justice" in a sermon at Tehran University, according to the state-run news agency.
Saddam was convicted of crimes against humanity for ordering the executions of 148 men and boys in the Shiite town of Dujail where he was the target of a failed 1982 assassination attempt. He was hanged days after an appeals panel upheld the sentence.
The timing of the execution, which coincided for Sunnis with the beginning of the holiday of Eid al-Adha that marks the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, was considered particularly offensive. Shiites began celebrating the holiday one day later."Those who committed this act are no Muslims. ... They will be damned throughout history," said Kareem Numan, a retired 60-year-old in Ramadi, a center of the Sunni-driven insurgency west of Baghdad.
Scores of demonstrators carrying Saddam's picture marched through Ramadi and Hawija to vent their anger Sunday, and funeral tents were erected in a number of Sunni Arab towns to receive mourners.
After the hanging, the body of Saddam, 69, was washed and wrapped in a white shroud according to Islamic tradition and transported in a U.S. military helicopter to Tikrit.
The provincial governor and the head of Saddam's Albu-Nassir clan then loaded Saddam's coffin onto the back of a white police pickup truck and drove it to his birthplace in nearby Al Auja, an unusually grand village surrounded by impoverished farmland.
Clan leader Sheikh Ali Nidawi said on Iraqi television that the body showed no signs of mistreatment.
It was placed in what was described as a temporary grave prepared in a religious hall about two miles from the cemetery where Saddam's sons, Uday and Qusay, were buried after they died in a gunfight with U.S. forces in Mosul in 2003. U.S. forces discovered Saddam hiding in a hole in the ground just outside the village in December 2003, months after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
It is not yet known where a permanent grave may be situated. Elders did not want to bury Saddam with his sons in the less-centrally-located cemetery for fear that the grave would be desecrated.