Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was executed by hanging this morning (Dec 30, 2006) at 6 am (3 am GMT). He was 69. According to the LA Times, before his death, Saddam released a letter through his lawyers, one he said he would have preferred to have read aloud in court. He called upon warring Iraqis to set aside their differences and depicted himself as gracefully resigned to his death. He now joins the list of 655,000 Iraqis estimated killed since the start of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

After a contentious, chaotic trial during which three defense lawyers were gunned down and a judge was removed for being too lenient toward the defense, the court, on Nov 5, 2006, convicted and sentenced Hussein to hang along with his half brother Barzan Ibrahim Hasan and former judge Awad Hamed Bandar. Saddam was convicted of crimes against humanity in the killings of 148 Shi’ite men in the town of Dujail in 1982.

The Australian The Age reported that the execution took place on one of the holiest days of the Muslim calendar as the call to prayer echoed across a dark and bitterly cold pre-dawn Baghdad. A cleric and other official witnesses – including, reportedly, a film crew – were called to an unidentified location for the execution. Barzan and Awad are also reported to have died by hanging.

Meanwhile in the United States, Reuters reported that thousands of James Brown fans have lined up in New York to bid farewell to the “Godfather of Soul” at a public viewing of his body on the Apollo stage in Harlem where the singer first made his mark more than 40 years ago.

The 73-year-old entertainer, whose voice, showmanship and bold rhythms brought funk into the mainstream and influenced generations of music, died on Christmas Day of congestive heart failure in Atlanta.

Click here to download a version of Black Sabbath’s War Pigs, performed by The Dresden Dolls, featuring Peaches, at Donaufestival Krems, Austria, April 30, 2006.