Taha Yassin Ramadan, who was Saddam's vice president when the regime was ousted after the U.S.-led invasion that began four years ago Tuesday, was the fourth man to be executed in the killings of 148 Shiites following a 1982 assassination attempt against the former leader in the town of Dujail north of Baghdad.
Bassam al-Hassani, an adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said precautions were taken to prevent a repeat of what happened to Saddam's half brother and co-defendant Barzan Ibrahim, who was inadvertently decapitated on the gallows during his January execution.
Ramadan, who was nearly 70, was weighed before the hanging and the length of the rope was chosen accordingly, he said.
The execution took place at 3:05 a.m. at a prison at an Iraqi army and police base, which had been the headquarters of Saddam's military intelligence, in a predominantly Shiite district in northern Baghdad. Ramadan had been in U.S. custody but was handed over to the Iraqis about an hour before the hanging, according to al-Hassani, who witnessed the hanging.
Al-Maliki has not attended any of the executions, but a committee made up of officials from his office, a judge and a prosecutor attended the hanging, along with representatives of the justice and interior ministries and a physician.
The prosecutor read out the verdict of the appeals court upholding the death sentence along with al-Maliki's decision to carry it out, the adviser said, adding that a defense lawyer who attended the execution received Ramadan's written will. The contents were not revealed.
Al-Hassani said the execution went smoothly, although Ramadan appeared frightened and recited the two shahadahs - a declaration of faith repeated by Muslims - "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet."
Ramadan was convicted in November of murder, forced deportation and torture and sentenced to life in prison. A month later, the appeals court said the sentence was too lenient, and returned his case to the High Tribunal, demanding he be sentenced to death. The court agreed to turn it to a death sentence.
Besides the four executed, three other defendants were sentenced to 15 years in jail in the case, while one was acquitted.
One of the highest-profile figures remaining to be tried for Saddam-era atrocities is Ali Hassan al-Majid, one of six defendants facing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from Baghdad's military campaign in which more than 100,000 Kurds were killed. Al-Majid, who is Saddam's cousin, also is known as "Chemical Ali" for allegedly ordering poison gas attacks.
Ramadan, who became vice president in March 1991 and was a Revolutionary Command Council member - Iraq's highest political body under Saddam - maintained his innocence, saying his duties were limited to economic affairs, not security issues.
Human Rights Watch and the International Center for Transitional Justice have said the evidence against him is insufficient for the death penalty. U.N. human rights chief Louise Arbour also filed an unprecedented legal challenge last month with the Iraqi High Tribunal against imposing the death sentence on Ramadan, saying she recognized "the desire for justice of victims" but the trial had "failed to meet the standards of due process."
Saddam was executed on Dec. 30 for his role in the killings. Two of his co-defendants in the Dujail case - his half brother Ibrahim who was former intelligence chief, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, former head of Iraq's Revolutionary Court - were executed in January.
Ibrahim plunged through the trap door and was beheaded by the jerk of the thick rope at the end of his fall, causing a furor; the Iraqi government said the decapitation was an accident. Saddam's Dec. 30 execution drew international outrage after a clandestine video showed the former president being taunted on the gallows. Another leaked video showed Saddam's corpse with a gaping neck wound.
Yahya Ibrahim, a Sunni cleric and a member in the Association of Muslim Scholars in Tikrit, said Ramadan's body will be received by members of Saddam's tribe in Tikrit later Tuesday and will be buried near Ibrahim and al-Bandar as he had requested in his will.
The graves, along with those of Saddam's sons Odai and Qusai and a grandson Mustafa, are in the courtyard of the building in nearby Ouja in which the former leader is buried. Ibrahim also said three days of mourning would be held for Ramadan.
Ramadan was No. 20 on the U.S. most-wanted list issued shortly after the invasion began. He was captured on Aug. 20, 2003. He was widely considered to be as ruthless as Saddam. He once headed a court that executed 44 officers for plotting to overthrow the regime.
Born in 1938 in the northern city of Mosul, Ramadan joined the underground Baath Party in 1956 and became close to Saddam. After the 1968 coup by the party, he held several ministerial posts and became a member of the regional command in 1969, the AP said.
During the 1980s, he was deputy prime minister and was for a time considered the second-most powerful man in Iraq after Saddam.
He was said to have presided over many purges carried out by Saddam to eliminate rivals and strengthen his political control.
He lauded the execution of Iraqi officials found guilty of bribery as necessary "lessons for the others" and often took a harder line than Saddam in denouncing the United States, Israel and other states deemed hostile to Baghdad.
He once described the U.S. Congress as little more than an extension of Israel's Knesset, or parliament.
At the height of the standoff leading up to the war, Ramadan also suggested in 2002 that Saddam and U.S. President George W. Bush fight a duel to settle their differences and spare their people the ravages of war.