BAGHDAD, Iraq - The prime minister on Tuesday ordered an investigation into the conduct of Saddam Hussein's execution in a bid to learn who among the witnesses taunted the former Iraqi leader in the last minutes of his life and leaked a cell phone video.
The video contained audio of some witnesses taunting Saddam with chants of "Muqtada" and of the former leader responding that his tormentors were being unmanly. It surfaced on Al-Jazeera television and the Internet late Saturday, the day Saddam was hanged.
The taunts referred to Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric who is a main backer of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Shiite leader who pushed for a quick execution of Saddam.
Al-Jazeera said when it broadcast the video that it was exclusive to them. The pictures appeared on the Web at about the same time.
Sami al-Askari, a close al-Maliki political adviser, told The Associated Press that the Iraqi leader had "ordered the formation of an investigative committee in the Interior Ministry to identify who chanted slogans inside the execution chamber and who filmed the execution and sent it to the media."
The video was particularly inflammatory not only because the disrespectful chanting was clearly audible, but also because it showed Saddam's death as he dropped through the gallows floor and then swung by his neck, his eyes open and neck twisted dramatically to his right.
The clandestine video portrayed a much different scene than the official tape of the execution, which was muted and did not show Saddam dropping to his death.
Al-Maliki adviser Sadiq al-Rikabi told the U.S.-financed Al-Hurra television that he does not know who leaked the video and that such an act "is wrong and should be investigated, and I agree that cellular telephones were taken from witnesses before they boarded the helicopter" for the execution site.
"I am full of hope that the results of the investigation will be announced, and the person who did this act should pay a price," he said.
Munqith al-Faroon, an Iraqi prosecutor whose job was to convict Saddam Hussein of genocide, was one of the small group of witnesses at the hanging and he defended Saddam's right to die in peace.
He said he knew that "two top officials ... had their mobile phones with them" at the execution, although other witnesses had their phones taken away beforehand.
"I am certain that the chanting at the moment of the execution was not organized, and that those chanting were not being ordered to do so," al-Faroon said. "The guards made a decision to do so by themselves. This is the truth. I shouted at them and ordered them to keep silent, my voice is very clear in the recording."
In the leaked video, which could not be independently verified by the AP, one voice called: "Allah, bless those who pray for Muhammad and his descendants. Allah, pray for Muhammad and his descendants and may they bring us their help soon and curse their enemies and back their son Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada."
Saddam then asked, "Is this manly?"
A voice responded, "To hell."
Another voice called out, "Long live Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr" - a reference to the Dawa Party founder and Shiite cleric who was executed along with his sister by Saddam in 1980.
Then, a voice purportedly belonging to al-Faroon said: "Please no, this man is being executed, please no, I beg you no."
Saddam's execution and the way it was conducted have provoked anger among Sunni Muslims, who have taken to the streets in mainly peaceful demonstrations in Sunni enclaves across the country.
On Monday, a crowd of Sunni mourners in Samarra marched to a bomb-damaged Shiite shrine and were allowed by guards and police to enter the holy place carrying a mock coffin and photos of Saddam.
The protest took place at the Golden Dome, a Shiite shrine bombed by Sunni extremists 10 months ago. That attack triggered the current cycle of retaliatory attacks between Sunnis and Shiites in the form of daily bombings, kidnappings and murders.
Meanwhile, the military announced the death of a U.S. soldier by a roadside bomb southwest of Baghdad. The blast Monday wounded three others, including an interpreter, as they talked with residents about sectarian violence, the military said.
U.S. troops killed a suspected al-Qaida weapons dealer and two other people in Baghdad raids Tuesday, and Iraqi forces detained more than 60 suspects in the past week, the U.S. military said.
In Fallujah, a U.S. Marine fatally wounded an Iraqi soldier in an altercation at the guard post they shared, the U.S. military also said.
The confrontation took place Saturday between members of U.S. and Iraqi units assigned to combined security posts at the Fallujah Government Center. The Marine - assigned to the 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5 - has been assigned to administrative duties pending an investigation.
"This will not impact our mission to continue the transition of the security responsibility to the Iraqi army," said Marine Lt. Col. Bryan Salas. "Marines and Iraqis from the two units continue to live, eat, and fight alongside each other."
Gunmen attacked the car of a provincial councilman northeast of Baghdad on Monday night, killing the official and three relatives, police said.
The shootings occurred on a road in Diyala province, a stronghold of Sunni Arab insurgents. Ali Majeed Salboukh, a member of the Diyala provincial council, was slain along with his brother and two other relatives, police said.
A roadside bomb killed three Iraqis and wounded seven in a neighborhood of eastern Baghdad, police said. Police said the bomb was hidden in a pile of garbage in Camp Sara, a mixed area of the city with a large Christian population.
A string of blasts in Camp Sara's shopping district in October killed 16, wounded 87, destroying cars and collapsing part of a building.
Five mortar shells hit residential areas of western Baghdad, wounding four civilians, police said.
In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair said his country must carry through its commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007 while he continues a personal quest to revive the peace process in the Middle East.
"The threat of global terrorism menaces us as it does other nations," Blair said in his New Year's message, likely his last as prime minister. "That is one reason why it is so important that we see through the battles in Iraq and Afghanistan where the British forces show day after day why they are the finest in the world."
Hundreds of demonstrators Monday mourned Saddam in a Sunni neighborhood in northern Baghdad. Some praised the Baath Party, the outlawed nationalist group that under Saddam cemented Sunni Arab dominance of Iraq.
In Dor, 77 miles north of Baghdad, hundreds marched to a dedication of a giant mosaic of Saddam. Men fired weapons into the air and children carried toy guns.
Mourners at a mosque in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit slaughtered sheep as a sacrifice. The mosque's walls were lined with condolence cards from tribes in southern Iraq and Jordan who were unable to travel to the memorial.
The demonstrations came on a day that the U.S. military killed six Iraqis in a raid on the offices of a prominent Sunni political figure, where American forces believed al-Qaida fighters had taken refuge.
Iraqi authorities, meanwhile, reported that 16,273 Iraqis - including 14,298 civilians, 1,348 police and 627 soldiers - died violent deaths in 2006. The total exceeds the AP count by more than 2,500.
On Monday, police reported finding the 40 handcuffed, blindfolded and bullet-riddled bodies in northern Baghdad. A police official, who refused to be identified because of security fears, said 15 of the bodies were discovered in the mainly industrial Sheik Omar district.
Police said they found 15 more bodies in the north of the city Tuesday.