Hundreds of people, including many children, chanted slogans praising Saddam Hussein as they tossed flowers on to his tomb one year after he was executed.
The muted one-year anniversary of Saddam’s death yesterday saw little violence, a far cry from the blood spilled on the day the former Iraqi leader was hanged and the horrific wave of killing that ensued until the surge of US troops six months later.
However, there were a number of operations carried out by American and Iraqi forces. The US military said coalition forces killed six insurgents and detained another 14 on Saturday and yesterday during operations targeting al -Qaida in Iraq in central and northern parts of the country.
“We realise that security in Iraq is very fragile and tenuous,” said US Navy Rear Admiral Gregory Smith. He added that although much progress had been made since thousands of extra US troops deployed in June, “there is no place in Iraq today that is safe from terrorism”.
Most of the al Qaida activity has been pushed east out of Anbar province and to the north of Baghdad, into Diyala province and the northern city of Mosul.
“Diyala has been one of the tougher fights,” Rear Admiral Smith said.
In Saddam’s home town of Tikrit, supporters gathered at his burial site to pay homage. Some gave fiery speeches while others just stood quietly by the tomb, in a large mausoleum in the Tigris River village of Ouja – the small hamlet just outside Tikrit where Saddam was born.
“With our blood, with our souls, we sacrifice for you Saddam!” the children chanted, AP Television News footage showed. The tomb was covered in Iraq flags and flowers and flanked by large pictures of a smiling Saddam.
He is buried next to his sons Uday and Qusay, who died in a gun battle with US forces in a 2003 in the northern city of Mosul.
Saddam was hanged on December 30 in Baghdad. Footage of the execution, filmed on a mobile phone and showing Saddam being taunted just before he died, was leaked to the media and shown across the world.
It provoked an outcry, particularly among many of Iraq’s Sunni Arabs, and sparked a horrific day of violence that left 80 people dead in bombings and other attacks.
Iraq then plunged into its bloodiest cycle of violence since the US-led invasion in 2003, and American officials at the time feared the country was on the brink of civil war. The violence forced them to rethink their strategy and they sent 30,000 troops back into the country.
The surge, combined with a ceasefire declared by radical Shiite extremist Muqtada al-Sadr for his Mahdi Army militia and the growth of mainly Sunni tribal groups that turned against al Qaida in Iraq, has reduced violence by 60%, according to the US military.