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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Death of a Dictator

Aired December 29, 2006 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.
As Larry just said, it could happen any moment, the latest chapter, Saddam Hussein's final chapter, the "Death of a Dictator."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Final moments. Final words. A march to the gallows. A new era for Iraq. Saddam Hussein's execution -- how we got here, what happens next.

Rise to power, brutal rule -- how Saddam Hussein became the butcher of Baghdad.

And unfinished business -- what does Saddam Hussein's death mean to the war? What will it mean for Americans, with the death toll approaching a grim new milestone?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Across the country and around the world, this is a 360 special report, "Death of a Dictator."

Reporting tonight from the CNN studios in New York, here's Anderson Cooper.

COOPER: Want to welcome our viewers here in America and watching around the world right now on CNN International.

It is early morning in Baghdad, the dawn of an especially holy day for Sunni Islam, almost certainly the last day on earth for Saddam Hussein. Everything we are hearing points to it, perhaps within minutes.

Monitoring events in Baghdad for us is our Aneesh Raman and Arwa Damon.

Aneesh, we know the final preparations are under way. Perhaps, we're talking about minutes now. What are you hearing?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, exactly, Anderson. This is a minute-by-minute situation.

Arab-language networks have said final preparations are under way. The Shia-backed channel in Iraq said the execution set to take place within minutes. We had heard from Iraqi officials, really throughout the day, that this executive would happen by 10:00 p.m. Eastern. There had been some suggestion it would happen before the holy period of Eid for Sunni Muslims began. That has already passed, with dawn breaking in Baghdad a short time ago.

But we are waiting for official confirmation we expect to come on Iraqi state-run television, the announcement that Saddam Hussein has been executed. We don't know what sort of time lag there might be between the execution and the announcement -- Anderson.

COOPER: Arwa Damon, who is on the street in Baghdad, Arwa, is it possible that it has already, in fact, happened, and word has not just been released?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, that is one likely scenario.

In fact, before -- in discussions in the past, we did hear that it is -- was going to be very likely that the execution would take place; we would hear about it afterwards -- that, of course, because of security concerns. But here, in the streets of Baghdad, it is early morning, and Iraq has pretty much been awake all night, awaiting any word about this execution. Right now, people are huddled around their radios, glued to their television sets, really just waiting for any word.

COOPER: Aneesh, how will we find out? You -- you referenced Iraqi state television. Do we know the process for finding out the information?

RAMAN: We don't. We don't know how it will come, whether the prime minister will make a statement. There are a number of channels in Iraq, sectarian channels, Shia-backed channels, Sunni-backed channels.

We are assuming it will come on the Iraqi state-run channel. But, again, we're not sure. We're also not sure what images, if any, will be released of this execution. We heard from a member of the Iraqi High Tribunal that it will not be broadcast live. But other Iraqi officials have suggested evidence of some form, some kind, will be put forth to debunk any rumors that could spread on the ground that this execution in fact did not take place.

But our staff are monitoring all of these channels. And we are expecting this word any minute now -- Anderson.

COOPER: Aneesh, it is not uncommon. I know, recently, they have actually shown executions on Iraqi television; is that correct?

RAMAN: Yes. Thirteen executions were shown a short time ago, video, essentially, of what we expect Saddam Hussein to see in his final moments.

Another tidbit to mention: Saddam Hussein will be presented with a red card signed by the minister of justice, condemning him to death. That is laced with emotional and historic import for Iraqis, because, during Saddam's regime, Anderson, red cards were handed out to individuals prior to their executions. Emotions are incredibly high, not just among the people, but among the politicians themselves, who have been eager for swift justice. Iraq's prime minister, earlier, just a few months ago, said he thought this execution would happen by the end of the year. Clearly, that seems to now be taking place -- Anderson.

COOPER: That -- that -- and I say it with no glee -- that would be an extraordinary moment, Saddam Hussein being handed the very card that his henchmen used to hand to those who he had condemned to death.

RAMAN: Yes, these politicians are not -- not lost to them is the historical impact of this era of Saddam Hussein's dictatorial rule finally, for them, coming to an end.

This is an explicitly political phase, the execution of Saddam Hussein. All the legal -- legal recourses are done. And it is in this phase where we have seen really, especially, the Shia politicians rushing towards this judgment.

When I mentioned Iraq's prime minister saying Saddam would be executed by the end of the year, that was before the appellate process had even ended in the Iraqi High Tribunal. For them, one can only imagine what it is like within these gallows, those who are present, seeing the man that many of them, he tried to kill them. Many of them are exiles coming back, running this country now, and seeing this man face justice.

Saddam will be hung, as well, with two others, including his half-brother, who was sentenced to death in this trial -- Anderson.

COOPER: Gentlemen, and -- and Aneesh and Arwa, stand by.

I also want to bring in Michael Scharf to this conversation. He's a law professor from Case Western Reserve University. He actually helped train some of the Iraqi judges who took part in this trial.

Michael, we appreciate you joining us.

What do you make -- there was a last-minute attempt by Saddam's attorneys to stay this execution. It -- it failed within the last hour. Were you surprised by that? It seemed kind of a last-ditch effort.

MICHAEL SCHARF, PROFESSOR, CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY: No, I wasn't surprised.

I mean, the legal case they presented in D.C. was very weak. Their theory was basically that Saddam Hussein was a POW, and that the Geneva Conventions say you can't turn a POW over to their enemy. First of all, Saddam was no longer a POW. He hasn't been since 2004, when sovereignty shifted to Iraq. And, secondly, the Iraqi is not an enemy state, like Iran. It is his own government. They had a trial. And it's perfectly acceptable for him then to face the consequences of that.

So, I wasn't surprised at all.

COOPER: Aneesh, do we know where this is taking place exactly, where Saddam Hussein is right now? Do we know the circumstances, what the minutes before this execution will be like?

RAMAN: Yes, just before that, Anderson, Al-Hurra Television in Iraq is now reporting that the execution of Saddam Hussein was carried out 10 minutes ago. Again, that is only on Al-Hurra Television in Iraq at the moment.

In terms of the site of where this execution took place, we had heard on Iraqi state television earlier in the day that two sites were being prepared, one inside the highly fortified Green Zone, one outside, for security purposes. We don't know which site was used. Some Arab-language networks have said this took place outside the Green Zone.

A Shia member of parliament, though, told us he had visited the gallows in the Green Zone. There, a cleric, a judge and a doctor were on standby. One can assume that was the case outside the Green Zone.

But, again, Al-Hurra Television in Iraq reporting, the execution of Saddam Hussein took place 10 minutes ago -- Anderson.

COOPER: That would -- it is now 10:07 Eastern Standard Time. You're saying that Al-Hurra Television -- what is Al-Hurra Television? And what exactly have they said, Aneesh?

RAMAN: Yes, it's one of the channels here, as I understand it, the U.S.-backed channel. They are simply reporting that the execution took place 10 minutes ago. We're awaiting further detail.

Another important lingering question in all of this is what, if any, image will be broadcast of Saddam Hussein's execution. We understood, from court officials, no live broadcast would take place. If this happened 10 minutes ago, obviously, that wasn't the case.

But we have understood that some evidence will be put forth, perhaps in the coming minutes, to show Iraqis that this has happened. We also can say Al-Arabiya, another Arab network, is saying the end of the Saddam Hussein. It seems this execution has now taken place -- Anderson.

COOPER: Arwa Damon, standing by in the street, if, in fact, this is true, as these two, now, Arab networks are reporting that Saddam Hussein was in fact executed some 10 minutes ago, which would have been right before 10:00 East Coast time, right before 6:00 a.m. in Baghdad, what is the significance of the timing? Why is there this push to have this happen now?

DAMON: Well, Anderson, we are entering Eid al-Adha. That Eid holy religious holiday begins today for Muslims; 6:00 a.m. is right around the time when prayers were first beginning. That was signaling the beginning of that religious period.

Presumably, perhaps, the Iraqi government wanted to finish the task of executing Iraq's former leader before that began.

What I can tell you, though, from the streets of Baghdad is that, if that execution has indeed taken place, as those two Arab networks are reporting, the word has not trickled down here just yet.

Behind me, a few Iraqis are huddled around a radio. They are trying to pick up any sort of news about the execution. They have been waiting up all night to hear something. And word has not reached them just yet.

COOPER: If you are just joining us, Aneesh Raman reporting, Al- Arabiya and Al-Hurra Television, two Arabic-language stations, both are now reporting that Saddam Hussein has been executed. They say those -- that execution took place within the last 10 minutes or so.

CNN has not been able to independently confirm that. We are working on doing that, as just about every other network in the world is trying to do at this time.

For the last several hours, it has been very difficult exactly pinning down correct information. We are being very careful in what we can tell you that we have been able to confirm. We do not want to go too far out. We do not want to enter the realm of speculation.

But Al-Hurra and Al-Arabiya, two Arabic-language stations, are reporting that Saddam Hussein has been executed.

Aneesh standing by for us in Baghdad. So is Arwa Damon.

Aneesh, what happens to Saddam Hussein's body after he is executed, if, in fact, he's already been executed? I ask this not just for curiosity, but, obviously, there's great political importance and significance some would place to the remains of Saddam Hussein. Would they bury him in a -- in a public grave?

RAMAN: Yes, as far as my understanding of Muslim tradition, Hussein, the deceased, would have to be buried within 24 hours.

A reported interview with one of Saddam Hussein's daughters said she wants the body buried in Yemen, and then, when the situation in Iraq comes under control, brought back here. As you just suggested, down the line, that would create, undoubtedly, controversy on the streets of Baghdad.

The -- the relatives of Saddam Hussein, there was some back-and- forth as to whether any of them would be there, his wife, perhaps his eldest daughter. The hitch was, both of them are on Iraq's most- wanted list for embezzlement and funding terrorism. Unlikely they were present.

What we understand, perhaps, is that the only person present on behalf of Saddam Hussein was the sole lawyer that exists here in Baghdad, the rest of his lawyers outside of Iraq.

If no one claims the body, though, the Iraqi government will simply do with it as they please. In terms of burying it, we saw with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi a secret burial to try and prevent any sort of martyrdom from emerging from this grave site -- Anderson.

COOPER: Arwa Damon, have there been -- I'm sure there have been extra security precautions. What kind of precautions have you been seeing?

DAMON: Well, actually, Anderson, interestingly, we are still in the period of the -- actually, that would have just ended the regular curfew that is put in place in the capital, that ends actually at 6:00 a.m.

As of now, we have not heard about any extra precautions that the Iraqi government is taking. Presumably, once the official announcement of the execution does take place, there will be some sort of curfew that is put into effect. That is what we have seen in the past.

But, right now, the streets of Baghdad perhaps eerily quiet, to a certain degree -- again, many Iraqis still indoors, awake all night, glued to their television sets, awaiting any kind of word as to when this execution will have taken place.

COOPER: And, again, just repeating, Al-Arabiya and Al-Hurra, Arabic-language stations, have now reported and are continuing to report that Saddam Hussein has been executed.

They say that execution took place in the minutes before 10:00 Eastern time in the United States, just before 6:00 a.m. Baghdad time. Again, CNN has not been able to independently verify that. We are working on that, and we are continuing to monitor all the other networks and all the other Arabic-language stations in the region.

I'm also joined now by -- in addition to -- to Michael Scharf, I'm also joined by Jon Alterman with the Center For Strategic and International Studies in D.C., and by Vali Nasr, author of the remarkable book "The Shia Revival," also with the Council on Foreign Relations. He joins me from Salt Lake City.

Vali Nasr, if this is, in fact, true, if Saddam Hussein has been executed, your thoughts?

VALI NASR, ADJUNCT SENIOR FELLOW FOR MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, I think it's an end of an era. It is unfinished business from the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

But it will have very little bearing on what is happening in Iraq today. We put a lot of emphasis on Saddam all along in curing the -- all the problems in the Middle East, problems in Iraq, once he was removed, once he was captured.

But none of -- none of that has happened. And, in fact, now his trial and his execution, if anything, is likely to divide Iraqis. Iraqis are deeply divided on what his rule meant, what justice means, and what his execution means.

COOPER: Jon, do you agree with that? JON ALTERMAN, MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I do.

It wouldn't surprise me, by the way, that this is reported by Al- Hurra, a U.S.-operated Arabic-language station, and Al-Arabiya, the Arab -- the pan-Arab station that is closest to the U.S. government. It seems to me that they're probably dribbling out the news to the guys who have been working most closely with them.

But -- but the real issue, as Vali suggests, is not so much Saddam. He is the history. The real issue is what lays ahead, and the fact that so many Iraqis really fear for their lives when they leave their homes.

COOPER: Does Saddam matter anymore, Jon?

ALTERMAN: I don't think he really does.

I think this is all part of an Iraqi past that is past. And what really matter going forward is, how do you begin to put Iraq back together? And Saddam did it through brutality and blood. And it is not clear how somebody else might do it a different way right now.

COOPER: Vali, of course, in your book, which is a -- is a remarkable work -- and, if someone has not read it, they really should, in -- in -- in sort of getting an understanding of this region, and also what is happening in Iraq specifically, though the book talks more than just that.

Obviously, Sunnis and Shia see this man, see this event, very differently. Does this deepen the divide?

NASR: Yes, it does, in particular, because Saddam is not being executed for the most heinous crimes that he committed, particularly against the Kurds, but for killing of 150 Shias in a Shia village after an uprising against him.

It comes across as if the Shiites got to carry out vengeance against an act by him. And it's likely to make it much more of a sectarian verdict and a sectarian execution. I think it would have been much better for Iraq if Saddam had been executed on charges of having killed over 200,000 Kurds in the Anfal campaign.

COOPER: Aneesh Raman, we're continuing to monitor the situation in Baghdad.

Aneesh, there -- there -- there were other trials. There was a genocide trial that Saddam would have to had to face justice in. Will that continue? Can he be tried in absentia?

RAMAN: As far as we're told, essentially, the charges are dropped, now that Saddam Hussein, according to these two Arabic- language networks, has executed.

As you mentioned, the trial of Anfal, where he faced, for the first time, genocide, was to resume, and is to resume, on January 8. Obviously, Saddam Hussein will not be there.

There will undoubtedly, especially among the Kurds, who suffered greatly in that Anfal campaign, perhaps be a sense of remorse that Saddam didn't sit in the docks to see that trial through. The assumption that had existed for some time during this year was that, really, the execution of Saddam Hussein would not come until the end of that trial.

Relatively speaking, this first trial, where Saddam faced crimes against humanity, after a failed assassination attempt, was relatively smaller, in terms of numbers that were executed, 148 young men and boys, vs. what you saw in Anfal, easily over 100,000.

So, there was thought, an assumption, essentially, that the -- the execution of Saddam Hussein would wait until the end of Anfal.

But keep in mind that, when we entered the execution phase, this was essentially a political phase. And I can recall a number of moments from Iraqi politicians who bear the same anger, the same emotions against Saddam Hussein as many of the people coming up to us and expressing that whenever Saddam Hussein essentially hijacked the court.

The minute they were handed this docket, the minute it became political, everyone essentially figured that it was just a matter of time for Saddam.

COOPER: We are also joined by Michael Scharf, law professor at Case Western Reserve University, helped train Iraqi judges who -- who tried Saddam Hussein.

Professor Scharf, was the trial fair?

SCHARF: Well, Anderson, before the judgment was published, and the English translation was available for people to read, there was a lot of criticism about things that occurred during the trial.

And, clearly, this will go down in history as one of the messiest trials of all time. And it was televised gavel to gavel. So, people saw the trial unfold, warts and all.

But I have had a chance now to read the 298-page, single-space, small-font judgment of this tribunal. And it is really an extraordinary document. And what you get from reading the judgment is the fact that the judges really dealt with all of the legal challenges in a lot of detail. And their legal analysis is above board.

I couldn't find any major problems with it. And the findings of fact in this judgment are very, very intricate. They're -- the minutia, the details, are going to create a record that shows that Saddam Hussein and the other defendants actually convicted themselves on the strength of their own documents, much like the Nazis did at Nuremberg 60 years ago.

COOPER: Again, we're getting viewers who are just joining us. I just want to bring you up to date on what we know and what we do not know, what we cannot confirm at this point.

Al-Hurra, which is an Arabic-language, U.S.-backed television network, as well as Al-Arabiya, another Arabic-language network, a pan-Arab network, both are reporting that Saddam Hussein was executed, that Saddam Hussein is dead. They say the execution took place shortly before 10:00 Eastern time in the United States. That's shortly before 6:00 a.m. in Baghdad.

CNN has not been able to independently verify that. We are monitoring this situation very closely. And we are trying to verify this on our own, as well as checking out any other networks who may be able to -- to verify this. We will bring that all to you as we know it.

Aneesh Raman is standing by, as well as Arwa Damon, both in Baghdad.

Aneesh, again, for our viewers who are just joining us, let's just bring us up to speed, where Saddam Hussein was executed, how we knew it was going to take place. He was executed not by himself. Who else would have been alongside him?

RAMAN: Yes, just one note to update you with as well, Anderson: Iraqi TV, the state-run television network, is, as we speak, reading a section of the Koran that traditionally is read when you announce the death of someone. They have not confirmed the execution of Saddam Hussein, but that is taking place right now on state-run television.

Throughout the day, there was great speculation about Saddam Hussein's impending execution. It centered on whose custody Saddam was in. Was he in U.S. custody or Iraqi custody? That handover, one of the final steps to take place before the execution -- it was sparked by Saddam's own defense lawyers, who suggested early today that that handover had already happened. U.S. officials emphatically denied that.

We heard, though, from justice officials -- court officials -- that that handover could have happened just before moments before the execution took place. Saddam Hussein, as far as we understand, if we believe these reports, was hung with two of his other co-defendants in this first trial, among them, his half-brother, Barzan Hassan al- Tikriti, who was head of intelligence at the time of this failed assassination attempt in July 1982, and Awad al-Bandar, the former chief judge of the Revolutionary Court, who sentenced many of those 148 men and boys from the village of Dujail to death, without any legal proceeding whatsoever.

Many of them didn't have lawyers. They simply didn't have any moment in court to state their case. As far as we understand, all three of them will have been hung at -- hanged at the same time.

And, again, we're still awaiting a firm confirmation from Iraqi state-run television. But, as you mentioned, two Arabic-language networks have confirmed that Saddam Hussein has been executed -- Anderson.

COOPER: Arwa Damon, we are going to go to her shortly to look at any reaction, and when there is reaction, in the streets of Baghdad.

But we want to show you the streets in the United States right now in Dearborn, Michigan, a heavily Muslim community, where you see people waving Iraqi flags. Large crowds have already gathered in the streets. The mood is celebratory, I'm told.

There, the pictures, you see some people clapping, some people dancing.

We are joined by a number of distinguished guests, Jon Alterman with the Center For Strategic and International Studies, Vali Nasr, author of the remarkable work "The Shia Revival." He's also on the Council on Foreign Relations. Also joining us is Michael Scharf, a law professor from Case Western Reserve University.

Vali Nasr, as we look at these pictures of -- of Muslims in Dearborn, Michigan, what -- what is the reaction among Sunnis in Iraq, among Sunnis? How will they read this? And -- and does it matter to the Sunni-based insurgency?

NASR: Yes, it does.

I mean, first of all, symbolically, Saddam is the last time when Sunnis held power in Iraq. Whether he was good or bad, it nevertheless is -- his passing and execution is symbolic to them.

Secondly, the insurgency has a large Baathist, a nationalist component to it, the very component that the United States is trying to break off from al Qaeda and bring in from the cold into the political process in Iraq. And the execution of Saddam, at this moment in time, will make it much more difficult to have real reconciliation and national unity government in Iraq.

In some ways, it is unfortunate that, at the time period when President Bush is thinking of a new strategy, that there is so much on the table, that the trial of Saddam is once more playing the role of a spoiler. It's more likely to divide Iraqis along sectarian lines than to bring them together in order to heal the sectarian wounds in that country.

COOPER: What is -- and, obviously, it's -- it's the topic of an entire book, so there's a lot you could say about it. What is the Shia revival? And why is it important to what's happening now in Iraq?

NASR: Well, there are many Shias who live in Arab countries in the region, but they have never held power. In Iraq is the very first time that Shias have come to power. And they have been the winners, in many ways, from the elections, from U.S. occupation, from all the changes that have happened in Iraq.

And there have been -- their -- their coming to power has been resisted, by and large, by a Sunni insurgency. And what we are seeing in Iraq, in many ways, is a formative phase of a civil war between a triumphant Shia community that has gained power and a Sunni minority that used to rule, and is not reconciled to giving up power. And the fact that Iraq has not been able to deal with this has the potential to create more trouble in the region. We're already seeing tensions between Shias and Sunnis and Christians in Lebanon. We're seeing rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf. And Iraq is -- the shockwaves from Iraq is -- is impacting the entire region.

COOPER: Jon Alterman, I think I read it in -- in Vali's book that -- that, really, this is the first time the U.S. had close relationships with a Shia-based government, the Iraqi government. Traditionally, it is -- it is Sunni rulers that -- that we have relations with.

Sunni dictators watching this execution, are they scared tonight?

ALTERMAN: You know, the fact is that there aren't a lot of Shia majorities that are ruled by -- by Sunni minorities. Iraq was one case. Bahrain is another. I'm not sure, honestly, that there's a third.

The -- the real issue is that, as people think about what they belong to, Sunnis say, we built this state, and the state was stolen from us. And now we're -- we're on the brink of extinction.

And there are surrounding countries, Sunni-led countries, which want to protect the Sunni minority -- Sunni minority in Iraq. You have other Shia majorities who say, look, this is our time. This -- we have suffered, and now it is our time to exact retribution.

The Kurds say, it's our time to exact retribution.

And they see this as their moment, finally, to get back at Saddam. The question how these two groups, people who felt they were oppressed by Sunnis for 80 years, and people who feel like, we are on the verge of extinction, we have to protect ourselves by any means necessary, how they can get together in the same state.

COOPER: I want to bring in Arwa Damon, who is on the streets in Baghdad.

Arwa, what we know at this point, Al-Arabiya and Al-Hurra, a U.S.-backed Arab-language station, both are reporting that Saddam Hussein was executed shortly before 10:00 on the East Coast of the United States. Also, I -- I understand that Iraqi state-run media is -- is running Muslim prayers on their television, an indication that -- that he has, in fact, been executed.

Is there any reaction at this point on the street that you are seeing?

DAMON: Well, Anderson, the word has not trickled out just yet to the Iraqi street.

Again, they are hearing the same stories that we are hearing. Essentially, they're turning to us, the few people that are out and about at this hour. Remember, a lot of people are still in their homes, glued to their TV sets, monitoring especially Al-Arabiya that you just mentioned right there.

But, here on the streets, people are coming up and asking us if we have heard anything. We are relaying whatever information we do have.

And what we are hearing from the people here is the word inshallah. God willing, they're saying, Saddam Hussein will have been executed.

COOPER: Arwa, you have been covering the story for -- for years now. You have lived there probably longer than most people. What are your thoughts upon hearing this news?

DAMON: Well, Anderson, I mean, this is undoubtedly, undeniably, a hugely historic moment in Iraqi history.

You know, a lot of what has come to mind right now is, you think about the reality that, for decades, Iraqis lived under the rule of Saddam Hussein. His image was everywhere. And just his image was enough to install fear.

And, for a lot of Iraqis that I have been speaking to today, when you really ask them what their thoughts are about the execution of Saddam Hussein, for or against, it really is such a huge moment for them to think that the man who, at one point, was so feared right now was facing justice, like any other common criminal. For many of them, it was truly something that was, to a certain degree, unimaginable.

And, to some others, it also came with a certain level of relief, relief, perhaps, that this era was over, relief that, finally, Iraq would, hopefully, they are saying, be able to put this behind them and move forward to a certain degree.

But a lot of people are also reemphasizing the fact that they live with this violence that happens on a daily basis that's so indiscriminate. And that really is their main goal. And what they really want the opportunity to be able to do, as Iraqis, is work through their problems together.

COOPER: We should tell our viewers what we are -- are waiting for.

We're trying to independently confirm that, in fact, Saddam Hussein has been executed, as Al-Hurra, U.S.-backed Arab-language network, is reporting, and Al-Arabiya, as well as some indications from state-run media in Iraq.

We are also -- Al-Arabiya, I'm just being told, has just reported that he died at -- at -- What -- What was the time? -- at 10:05, at 10:05 Eastern time. Al-Hurra had reported a few minutes before that -- so, again, some contradictory information. We have not been able to independently verify either the time or the fact that this execution has, in fact, taken place, as two other networks in -- in -- in the region are reporting.

We are also waiting for any pictures that will be released, still photos or videotape. We are going to be very judicious in -- in how we show those images. We are going to examine them. A lot of our executives and our -- our panelists here will be looking at the images, making sure they're not too graphic.

But we will try to bring you what we can, when we get it, of images of the execution of Saddam Hussein. Again, we will give you any warning about those images. And we will tell you what is in them before we show them to you, so you're not surprised by them.

But, clearly, these are images which will be seen around the world, and will be studied very closely, perhaps most closely in Iraq, where, as Arwa was saying, there still is sort of a level of -- of disbelief on the part of some people that -- that Saddam Hussein could, in fact, actually be dead.

Also standing by with us is John Roberts in Washington, and Elaine Quijano, who is in Crawford, Texas.

Let's start with Elaine.

For the White House, how important have -- have they -- how important has it for -- been for them to try to distance themselves from this event, to -- to make it not be an American-backed event?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

Well, Anderson, I can tell you, over the last couple of days, that certainly seems to be what has been happening -- Bush administration officials essentially saying, look, the United States is an observer in this, that this, in fact, is a decision and a process that is being carried out by the Iraqis themselves.

We heard that both publicly and privately from Bush -- Bush administration officials. Even today, when pressed about what the United States was hearing about a timeline, perhaps, on the Saddam Hussein execution, unlike yesterday, when a senior administration official said, look, we're hearing from our folks on the ground, from the Iraqi government, that this is going to be taken place likely in the next day or so, today, nothing.

Today, what the administration officials said is that this is something that the Iraqis are doing themselves -- in fact, a deputy White House press secretary saying earlier today to me that, look, Iraq is a sovereign government, and they will -- they're going to make their own decisions regarding this process -- so, a great deal of effort.

We did not see President Bush today. He had no public events on his schedule. And he doesn't have any public events until Monday, when he returns to Washington. And the -- the president, at this point, the last time we saw him, of course, was yesterday, when he huddled with his war cabinet, you'll recall, for some three hours to discuss something that the Bush administration is certainly feeling the political pressure on. And that is the overall strategy for Iraq, the overall policy for Iraq, what changes need to be made there. So, on the one hand, while this is certainly a significant marker, a significant point in history, for the Bush administration, there is still the political reality. There is a great deal of political pressure, with Democrats particularly taking control of Congress. The administration understands full well it needs to make some changes -- Anderson.

COOPER: On Iraqi state television right now, they are looking at an image we showed you moments ago. We'll show you that image again right now. Dearborn, Michigan. People dancing in the streets, displaying Iraqi flags.

This image -- you'll hear some of the announcers in the background speaking Arabic. This is taken from Iraqi state television, them showing Iraqis, Muslims in America, in Dearborn, Michigan.

John Roberts, as we watch these images, it is going to be hard for the U.S., for this administration to claim that they do not have a role in this execution. In the eyes of many people, in the Arab world, certainly, the U.S. fingerprints are all over this.

ROBERTS: Oh, yes. And to people in the Arab world, they believe that the U.S. was complicit in Saddam Hussein's trial. His conviction, his sentencing to death and the carrying out of the execution. In fact, it really didn't make sense.

Earlier this evening when we had heard that potentially he was going to be taken out of the Green Zone to be executed, because the only way to get Saddam Hussein safely out of the Green Zone to an outside execution point would be to take him in an American convoy with all of the security that an American convoy would provide, which would have made the U.S. complicit in the execution.

There is already enough perceived ties between this White House, the United States, and the fate of Saddam Hussein. So the White House is doing everything that it can to try to distance itself from this execution, from the trial itself.

That's why we heard when the death sentence was pronounced that American officials lauded the Iraqi criminal justice, saying it's a great demonstration of the fairness of justice, it's a great demonstration of what's possible in a democracy but standing well back from them saying see what we did? We did such a great job of setting Iraq up. They do want to be seen as being distant from this, Anderson.

COOPER: I want to bring in Matthew Chance, who is standing. He just spoke with one of Saddam Hussein's attorneys. He joins us now by video phone.

Matthew, what are you hearing?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson, we just had confirmation from one of the members of the legal team of Saddam Hussein, actually based in Doha, Qatar. That Najib al-Naimi, that he's spoken to the Iraqi authorities. He's been informed by them that, indeed, as has been reported on Arab media channels across this region, Saddam Hussein, the former dictator of Iraq has, indeed, been executed. That coming from the Iraqi officials patched through to CNN via his legal team.

He made the point that, as far as he understands, Saddam Hussein was executed about half an hour ago from now, at about 6 a.m. in the morning, approximately, local time in Iraq. So, that confirming what Arab television, Arabic language networks reporting that, again, some of them saying is confirmed to have executed now -- Anderson.

COOPER: Some information now also being reported on Iraqi state television. Let's go to Aneesh Raman for that.

Aneesh, what are you hearing?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, further confirmation, Iraqi state-run TV reporting that Saddam Hussein has been executed. We have been waiting for this channel specifically, because it is state run, to confirm the news reported previously on other Arab language networks. They have done so.

We also understand from other networks, Arab networks, that second in line to be executed is Barzan Hassan al-Tikriti, Saddam Hussein's half brother. Third will Awad Bandar, the former chief judge of the revolutionary court.

But Iraqi state-run television confirming that Saddam Hussein, once the dictatorial leader for decades of this country, has been executed -- Anderson.

COOPER: Aneesh, we should also point out that Barbara Starr, our Pentagon correspondent, has also confirmed from a senior military official that the execution has, in fact, taken place. It seems pretty clear that it has taken place from these multiple sources.

We are joined, Jon Alterman has been listening in and Vali Nasr, author of the book, "The Shia Revival".

Again, gentlemen -- Jon, your thoughts upon hearing what seems to be multiple confirmations?

JON ALTERMAN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: You know, it seems to be partly ironic that the two stations that are close to the U.S. government scooped Iraqi national television in reporting news to Iraqis. And I think that's -- that's been part of the problem with so much of what we've seen.

COOPER: What does that tell you?

ALTERMAN: Well, it tells me that the Iraqi national government is being -- is being scooped by the Americans, because the Americans are really running the show and the Iraqis have been unable to step up. That Iraqi national TV has been unable to compete with international networks and that they're just not able to operate. The trial was a mess in many, many ways. They're just not able to be at the level that they've needed to be. That's part of the reason why there have been so many problems. The U.S. certainly had a role in not setting things up, but they also haven't been able to step up, either.

COOPER: Vali Nasr, the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party released a statement on Tuesday, the day that Saddam's sentence was upheld. I just want to read part of it.

It says, "The American administration shall bear the primary responsibility for any harm to Mr. President. The American administration, not the puppet government in Baghdad, has the final say."

Is that true, do you think? I mean, is it still the United States running the show?

VALI NASR, AUTHOR, "THE SHIA REVIVAL": Well, the perception is clearly there. The United States even up to during this past month was talking about reshuffling the Iraqi government, of bringing in a new coalition. Various American officials from the ambassador to various military officials are deeply involved in matters that happen in the parliament, in security matters. And, much of the Iraqi government lives under the protection of U.S. security forces in the Green Zone.

This is a sovereign government who is operating on the basis of American support, and the United States is very involved in every decision this government makes about anything that really matters.

So it's very difficult for us to just all of a sudden say that the verdict and particularly the execution of Saddam at the critical time, which is during the holy period of the Hajj, is somehow divorced from any kind of an American involvement.

And I think Jon is very correct, the fact that the media outlets associated with the U.S. government have the scoop and also suggest that the U.S. not only is involved but is also much more eager to announce this to the world, that it has finally carried out the execution.

COOPER: And again, we have these pictures from Dearborn, Michigan, of people dancing in the streets here in the United States celebrating the news from what they have heard thus far. You're looking at live pictures.

Jon, it's interesting, Robert Baer, the former CIA field officer who's now an author, believes that Saddam Hussein will become to Sunnis an instant martyr. He wrote, and I quote, "As the current war grinds on, as Iraq's death toll starts to approach Saddam's deadly legacy, as the Sunnis lose more and more of their power, as memories fade, Iraq's Sunni will think of Saddam's rule as a golden era."

Do you think that is true? ALTERMAN: Has a ring of truth. First of all, Dearborn, Michigan has a large Iraqi-Christian expatriate community. I think that may be some of the pictures you were seeing, pictures you showed from Ottobiya (ph).

It seems to me that Saddam's role in the Arab world was he was a guy who resisted. And he was an attractive figure, especially as people said, "My government gives in to the United States. But Saddam Hussein is willing to resist. Saddam Hussein is willing to stand up."

As Arabs look around and are very, very dissatisfied with a lot that they see around them, very, very dissatisfied with their rulers, the idea of resistance is very attractive.

Saddam never really got blamed for killing hundreds of thousands of Arabs. I mean, the fact is Saddam Hussein killed lots and lots more Arabs than the Israelis ever did, but Saddam Hussein was never blamed for it.

COOPER: We're also getting word, John King, receiving word from a senior White House official that the execution has, in fact, taken place. Multiple now confirmations.

Aneesh Raman joins us now in Baghdad.

What are you hearing, Aneesh? Aneesh, go ahead.

RAMAN: Anderson, we're hearing from a witness who was at the execution who has just told CNN after the execution of Saddam Hussein, there was dancing around his body. Shia chants, as well, were being spoken in celebratory fashion. This has been confirmed now, as well, from the office of Iraq's prime minister.

One can only imagine the emotions within that room as Saddam Hussein was executed. A number of politicians were there. One lawyer, we think, from Saddam Hussein's defense team. We're unclear as to who else was present.

But you get the sense that immediately after this execution, celebrations broke out in that room. Reports that people ran, danced around the body, chanting Shia chants. It is unimaginable, perhaps, to imagine the emotions in that room -- Anderson.

COOPER: Aneesh, again, who was with -- who was in that room? You mentioned perhaps one of Saddam's lawyers, some politicians. Do we know exactly how many people? Do we know where an exactly the room was?

And two other people you said were to be executed along with him, one his half brother. Were they all executed at the same time, do we know, or was it one after the other?

RAMAN: It seems like it was one after the other. And one of the Arabic language stations here confirming that all three have been executed. In terms of the location, in terms of the people in attendance, this has been uncharacteristically, for the Iraqi government, a very close secret. We have not heard from Iraq's prime minister, really at all about the specifics of how this would take place.

No security plan was announced. No specifics of who would be in attendance. We assume that members of the government were there. We assume that there were witnesses of some sort. There were suggestions of perhaps an international witness, as well.

And again, we don't know, and we're waiting to hear from those who were inside that execution chamber who was exactly there. We essentially, are hearing these details as they come out, Anderson.

COOPER: And do we know what happens to his body now? You said people were dancing around it. Do we know where it goes from here?

RAMAN: It is unclear. Again, as far as I understand Muslim tradition, the deceased needs to be buried within 24 hours. From the lawyers of Saddam Hussein that we spoke to earlier in the day, they had been busily making arrangements to get Saddam Hussein's body to his family.

We saw reports earlier in an interview with one of Saddam Hussein's daughters who said they wanted to bury his body in Yemen until the situation in Iraq was under control. That is when they want to bring the body back here. One can only again imagine what sort of controversy that will spark.

But we're waiting for any details to come as to what happens next with Saddam Hussein's body. And again, more details about the environment, the room where this execution took place.

COOPER: And again, any pictures that may have been taken, if they were dancing around the body, it would seem pretty clear that someone at least had a camera in there. Whether it was a video camera or still camera.

They have released pictures in the past, in the recent past of a number of executions that were played on Iraqi state television. We anticipate some form of footage, whether it's video or whether it's still photos, to be released.

We're going to be very judicious in how we show them to you. We obviously will take great care in that. We will debate it internally before we show you those pictures, but we will get them to you very quickly after we get them. And we will give you fair warning as to exactly what is going to be seen in the pictures for you at home to decide whether or not you want to see. We obviously will be not showing anything too gruesome.

Allan Chernoff is in Dearborn, Michigan, where we've seen pictures of people celebrating in the streets.

Allan, what are you seeing? What are you hearing? ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the party has been going on here all night long. Hours before the actual execution, behind me, people here before the Karbala (ph) mosque have been dancing, cheering, throwing candy, kissing each other. A huge celebration here.

In fact, many of these people feel that they have a very personal connection here, that they feel it's a personal retribution. Many of these peoples' family members were killed, were jailed. And so as a result, you really do have a huge outpouring of celebration here in Dearborn.

And right with us is the imam of the Karbala (ph) mosque.

Imam, what have you been telling your followers here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I've been sharing with them the happiness and the celebration because tonight is a night of happiness, a night of justice, a night of relief, a night of revenge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight, millions of Iraqis feel relief, because they've been waiting for a night like tonight. Because as long as Saddam is alive, there is no hope for Iraq. There is no hope for the future of Iraq.

Now Saddam is dead, there is a bright future. And there is a hope and there is a good tomorrow. So I hope the whole world will help us to build a new Iraq, because Iraq without Saddam is much safer than Iraq with Saddam.

CHERNOFF: Thank you.

And Anderson -- and in fact, Anderson, many people here are saying that they feel this justifies the war in Iraq. They also feel that now perhaps, and they pray, that perhaps more peace will actually come to Iraq and that this will usher in a new era in Iraq -- Anderson.

COOPER: Allan, I'm just hearing now that Iraqi state television that the execution was, in fact, taped. Still photos and video of those pictures will be released shortly.

Let's stick with Allan in Dearborn. Maybe -- Allan, maybe if you could talk to some of the other people in the crowd just to get their thoughts upon hearing this news.

CHERNOFF: Absolutely. Sure. We have plenty of people here.

If you can just tell me what is your feeling about the execution this evening.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Feels so great. What goes around comes around. That's what Saddam got today. He deserved what he got tonight. CHERNOFF: And when said that, I mean, did you have family members who were impacted by his regime?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Half of my family got hurt by Saddam's regime, and everybody is so happy right now.

CHERNOFF: And you feel that this was some retribution?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's correct, yes, yes. Yes, that's true.

COOPER: Also, another person here. Some of the cheers here, Anderson, have been basically saying that-- thanking God for what has happened.

And also the flags that are -- everybody's waving here, the flags saying this is in honor of God. Thanks to God for what has happened in Iraq.

So certainly, people just joyous here. The entire area and we probably have a few hundred men here, all cheering. All men, of course. There are a few women, but they're actually in parked vehicles, not out here with -- with their relatives, with their husbands, with their friends.

So, again, a big celebration here in Dearborn -- Anderson.

COOPER: Allan, thanks very much for that. We'll check in with you shortly.

Again, as I said before -- it just bears repeating -- Saddam Hussein has been executed. Al Arabiya reporting that the execution took place at 10:05 Eastern Time in the United States, at five minutes past 6 a.m., just dawn in Baghdad.

We have been not been able to confirm independently what time the execution took place. We've heard from Aneesh Raman talking that Arab media reporting that there were people dancing who witnessed the execution, were actually in the room at the time of the execution, who were dancing around the body of Saddam Hussein.

And we have just heard from -- just crossing the wire from Iraqi state television, reporting that still pictures and video images were taken of the execution. And those will be released shortly.

Now, the process for that is we will be bringing those images to you as appropriate. We're going to look at them before we air you. We're going to give you very fair warning about what is in the images, and you can decide for yourself whether or not you want to see them.

We're not going to show you anything too graphic. Most likely, the moments before the actual execution takes place. But again, we have to look at the images first, both still and video, in order to determine what is appropriate to air. And that is a decision which will be made at the highest levels of CNN. But we will bring you those images as we think appropriate as soon as we get them. We have people standing by, really, across the world right now. Aneesh Raman is in Baghdad. So is Arwa Damon in the streets of Baghdad there. We have not seen in Baghdad the kind of reaction that we are seeing right now in Dearborn, Michigan. Obviously, the security situation very different in Baghdad.

Michael Sharp, the law professor who helped train some of the Iraqi judges, is also with us in Cleveland, Ohio, as is Jon Alterman with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And Vali Nasr, author of the remarkable book, "The Shia Revival". A very important work about the rift between Sunnis and Shia. So quite a panel assembled.

Let's just check in if we can with Aneesh Raman in Baghdad for just the latest.

Aneesh, if you can, kind of bring us up-to-date on what we know and what we are still trying to find out at this moment.

RAMAN: Anderson, what we know now by multiple sources is that Saddam Hussein has been executed. What we don't know is the exact time of death.

We know from people that are now speaking on Iraqi state-run television that there was dancing around the body of Saddam Hussein after his execution. Shia chants were shouted by those in attendance.

And adviser to Iraq's prime minister on Iraqiya, the state-run channel, has said, who was in attendance, it was a small gathering, representatives of the government on an appellate judge, part of the chamber that upheld the death sentence.

Interestingly, we are hearing that the prime minister, Nuri al- Maliki, did not attend the execution of Saddam Hussein. He was not present, that according to one of his advisers being interviewed on Iraqi state-run television.

As you've mentioning and cautioning viewers about, what we are waiting for next are what images will be released by the Iraqi government of this execution. We understand there was a camera there recording this event. We were told it would not be broadcast live. It is unclear exactly how these images will come about.

But it is important that these images come. The reason because if Iraqis do not see Saddam Hussein dead, as graphic as that might be, rumors will undoubtedly spread in this country that the execution did not happen.

You'll recall after both of his sons, Uday and Qusay, were killed, after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed, their photos were released showing them dead. That was an important moment for the people within Iraq to see that a final end, a period has come to the long tyranny of Saddam Hussein.

It is a historic moment, an immortal moment now that will live in the Iraqi history. The difficulty in the longer term that we're waiting to see is how the emotions of jubilance, undoubtedly that will be felt from Shia and Kurds, not by all but certainly some Sunnis as well, who aren't part of the insurgency, will that do anything to bring about a heightened sense of national identity.

Or, is the situation here of sectarian violence on the street level that is feeding on itself simply out of control for Saddam Hussein who led this country with a dictatorial rule in his death to have any impact on -- Anderson.

COOPER: Aneesh, I'm also joined right now in the studio by Ambassador Faisal al-Israbadi, the Iraqi deputy representative to the United Nations.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for being with us.

FAISAL AL-ISRABADI, IRAQI DEPUTY REPRESENTATIVE TO U.N.: My pleasure, thank you.

COOPER: A personal reflection, when you heard the news Saddam Hussein was dead, your thoughts?

AL-ISRABADI: Well, it's a very solemn moment for me. I can understand why some of my compatriots may be cheering. I mean, I have friends who -- particular people that I can think of who have lost 10, 15, 20 members of their family and more.

But for me, it's a moment really of remembrance of the victims of Saddam Hussein. I understand that the nature of the news, there has been a tremendous focus on Saddam himself today.

COOPER: You think it's important to remember...

AL-ISRABADI: Absolutely.

COOPER: ... those who lost their lives?

AL-ISRABADI: Absolutely. This is a man who history will record is responsible for the deaths of two million Iraqis. Not to mention people...

COOPER: You think it was that many, two million?

AL-ISRABADI: Yes. I mean, I could -- I mean, you count the -- you know, 250,000 Iraqis killed in the Iran-Iraq war; 200,000 Kurds killed in the Anfal campaign; 400,000 mostly Shia in the -- in southern Iraq.

I mean, you total these numbers by the multiples of 100,000, and you come up with a number of very close to two million.

As late as April 2003, as the regime was collapsing, we had -- there are mass graves of people who were murdered by the regime as late as April 2003.

COOPER: Will the full impact -- murderous impact, will the full death toll ever really be known? AL-ISRABADI: I mean, it's impossible to know. We found so far not quite 300. I think the number is 270 mass graves containing the remains of 400,000 people. But we will never know. There are people who have disappeared whose fates will never be known.

It is -- and keep in mind, Mr. Cooper, that this -- our total population now -- when Saddam came to power, our total population was about 14, 15 million. Now our total population is not quite 30 million, so two million, that's the equivalent of 20 million Americans.

COOPER: There are those who look at what is happening now in Iraq and see, you know, a hundred bodies a day being found in Baghdad with holes drilled into their legs and tortured to death with drills and in unspeakable ways and sort of wonder whether Iraqis are better off than they were under Saddam. Do you think it's a fair question to ask?

AL-ISRABADI: Well, whether it's a fair question to ask or not, it is being asked. I would say that -- and I've said this before. The now outgoing secretary-general of the United Nations made a remark to this effect at one point.

My response to that was that those who were making those comments have never lived under the tender mercies of Saddam Hussein. It is true that we are -- that he has left a legacy of distrust and of violence in our country.

And we are having to work through that violence now, unfortunately, in part, because of decisions that were made that, perhaps, had they not made, things would have gone somewhat differently. But we are where we are. And we're having to work through this.

But the one thing we have now, and I think it's essential for the human spirit, is we have hope that our future will not be the same as our past. We have -- we have hope that we can, in fact, overcome these difficulties.

There was no way that Iraqis were going to overcome Saddam Hussein. His grandson, who was killed fighting with his father and uncle, Saddam's two sons, was 14 years old. He was being groomed one day to rule us.

COOPER: And you realize that his grandson was killed, as well? Did you know that?

AL-ISRABADI: Yes, 14 years old, but he was already taking up arms and fighting and so on. We had no hope but for this intervention in 2003 to remove this regime. We -- our future well into the century was going to look very much like the last 30 years.

COOPER: I think back on that remarkable and horrific image of Saddam Hussein smoking a cigar soon after he assumed power, as he claimed that he had found evidence of a coup attempt or a coup plot. And one by one, the names of Iraqi officials are called in this auditorium, and they basically have to stand up. And they're yanked out, later to be executed. And whether the plot was real or not -- it seems like it wasn't and just seems to be an exercise in his power. And that coolness with which he's sitting there smoking his cigar, watching these people who will soon to be dying.

Do you think he was -- I mean, was he crazy? Was he just a -- a dictator? What -- as you look at him as a man, as a human being, what was he?

AL-ISRABADI: He falls into the pantheon of infamy that includes Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot.

COOPER: He was an admirer of Stalin. He collected a lot of books about Stalin.

AL-ISRABADI: In fact, if you look -- he was, indeed. You're absolutely right about that. And if you look at some of the statues, including the one that famously fell on April 9, if you look closely at the face, it actually resembles -- almost resembles Stalin more than it resembles Saddam. It's a remarkable thing.

He was, indeed, a student of Stalin's, and he emulated Stalin's methods, including the periodic purges. And was responsible, let us not forget, for the deaths of his own -- for the murders, in fact, of his own sons-in-law, the fathers of his grandchildren.

This was a horrible man.

It is for all of us Iraqis -- we are unable to, I think, yet come to terms with how a country with a potential of Iraq, with natural resources, with the human resources, with a very well educated population, how it is that we came to be ruled by a man such as this for so long, is, I think, something that we have not yet come to terms with and understood.

It's -- you know, the Nazis ruled in Germany for 12 years. Saddam Hussein ruled over us for 35 years, took us through three wars, devastated us, decimated our population, decimated our natural resources, squandered our wealth.

We should be -- Iraq should be and from beginning of the mid- 1950s was on its way to becoming one of the wealthiest countries in the Middle East. Instead, we're one of the poorest.

COOPER: If you can, just stand by one moment and want to talk to you about what impact you think his death is now going to have on the insurgency.

But before we do that, I just want to go to Arwa Damon, who's standing by in Baghdad on the streets, who's heard some reaction, some, I think, gunfire in the distance.

Arwa, what are you hearing? DAMON: Anderson, I do believe what we are hearing is the very beginning of the celebratory gun fire. It has been picking up over the last few minutes as word spreads throughout the capital that Saddam Hussein is dead, Iraq's former dictator has been executed.

The few Iraqis that we spoke to, they greeted this news with a certain kind of subdued reaction, a certain measure of relief. Now, they were out about in the streets. They hadn't seen the images just yet. They did have smiles on their faces.

They were slightly apprehensive in terms of what the next few hours, the next few days might bring when it comes to the violence. Any sort of spike in violence that we might see because of this execution.

They also said that they were very much looking forward to going home and seeing the images on their television sets so that they could believe, they are saying, once and for all, that Saddam Hussein was actually dead, that they would be able to put this era behind them and try to move forward towards what they are hoping is eventually, at some point in time, going to be a better future.

One of the gentlemen who I spoke to saying that he would be heading towards Sadr City, where he was expecting massive celebrations taking place. He wanted to be taking part in those.

But again, those individuals that we spoke were Shia. They did suffer the most under Saddam Hussein's regime.

And again, Anderson, word just getting out right now throughout the streets of Baghdad that Saddam Hussein is dead, and we are just beginning to hear the bursts of celebratory gun fire in the capital.

COOPER: Arwa, this is probably a stupid question and you certainly sent more time there than I or just about anybody. How do you know the difference between celebratory gun fire and not celebratory gun fire?

DAMON: Well, pretty much at this point, it's a lucky guess. But that is, again, the word of mouth, that it's spreading. You know, people are calling one another. The word is spreading throughout here. You tend to kind of just get a sense for what's happening.

If no one is running away standing next to you, you can pretty much assume it's either happening far away or it's just bursts of celebratory gun fire.

COOPER: I'll take your word for it. As I remember, going on patrol with Arwa and some U.S. troops in Baquba, any time we would hear gun fire, I would turn to Arwa for advice on whether or not it was near or far. So I'll take your advice that it is celebratory, in fact, and will assume you are staying safe.

Arwa, thanks. We'll check in with you very shortly.

Very briefly, what -- Mr. Ambassador, what do you think the impact of Saddam's death is going to have on the insurgency, anything?

AL-ISRABADI: There may be a spike in violence. I think that that's probably an easy prediction to make. But in the long term Saddam Hussein is a part of our grim past. But nonetheless, a part of our past.

And really, the job is now for us to come together as a nation. And to build a future together. And I think that's -- certainly as a government, that's what we're focused on.

COOPER: And is that possible? Are you at all optimistic?

AL-ISRABADI: Oh, yes. Look, I am well aware of the depth and maybe the breadth of our problems. But I also am aware that, for the overwhelming majority in Iraq's population, they want to do what people do all around the world, which is to live and breathe freely.

They want to raise their children. They want to secure a better future for their children than they had for themselves. They want to have opportunity for their children.

We are in the grips of the legacy of Saddam Hussein now. I'm confident, despite the difficulties, that we will overcome these problems and rebuild our country.

COOPER: Stay tuned with us. It is just now about 11 p.m. on the East Coast of the United States. Just want to bring our viewers watching here in the United States and around the world on CNN international what we know at this hour and what we don't know.

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