The U.S. military announced Sunday the deaths of two soldiers, pushing the number of Americans who have died in the Iraq war to the grim milestone of at least 3,000. On the final day of an exceedingly bloody year, Saddam Hussein was also buried in the town where he was born.
The White House said the president mourned each death but would not issue a statement in reaction to the 3,000th in a war now 46 months old.
Despite the momentous developments in a deeply troubled Iraq, bombers and assassins appeared to have taken the day off at the close of a brutal year when the country seemed near to unraveling along its sectarian seams.
Police reported finding 12 bodies dumped in Baghdad Sunday as well as 12 other violent deaths nationwide, both relatively low numbers by recent standards.
One day after Saddam was hanged, his body was interred in a special compound he built in Ouja and designed for use in mourning ceremonies by the people of the town where he was born 69 years and eight months before.
Those who saw the ceremony said the building was decorated in a Moroccan motif with teak wood walls. The domed burial chamber was about 20 feet tall and hung with a green chandelier. Incense perfumed the burial location where the raised grave covering was about 6 inches above floor level.
Ouja is a few miles south of Tikrit, the Tigris River city that is capital of Salahuddin province, 80 miles north of Baghdad. It was a major power base for the former leader who brutally ruled Iraq for nearly a quarter century.
Officials in Tikrit said the body was transferred by American helicopter to the U.S. military base at Tikrit from Baghdad, where Saddam dropped through the gallows floor and died shortly before dawn on Saturday.
At Saddam's funeral, dozens of relatives and other mourners, some of them crying and moaning, attended the interment shortly before dawn. A few knelt before his flag-draped grave. A large framed photograph of Saddam was propped up on a chair nearby.
"I condemn the way he was executed and I consider it a crime," said 45-year-old Salam Hassan al-Nasseri, one of Saddam's clansmen who attended the interment. Some 2,000 Iraqis traveled to the village as well.
Mohammed Natiq, a 24-year-old college student, said "the path of Arab nationalism must inevitably be paved with blood."
"God has decided that Saddam Hussein should have such an end, but his march and the course which he followed will not end," Natiq said.
Police on Saturday blocked the entrances to Tikrit and said nobody was allowed to leave or enter the city for four days. Despite the security precaution, gunmen took to the streets, carrying pictures of Saddam, shooting into the air and calling for vengeance.
Saddam was captured in an underground hide-out near Ouja on Dec. 13, 2003, eight months after he fled Baghdad ahead of advancing American troops. He was convicted and sentenced to death last month for crimes against humanity for his role in the killings of 148 Shiite Muslims from Dujail after a 1982 assassination attempt against him in the town.
His burial place is about two miles from the graves of his sons, Odai and Qusai, in the main town cemetery. The sons and a grandson were killed in a gunbattle with the American forces in Mosul in July 2003.
"We received the body of Saddam Hussein without any complications. There was cooperation by the prime minister and his office's director," clan chief Sheik al-Nidaa told state-run Al-Iraqiya television. "We opened the coffin of Saddam. He was cleaned and wrapped according to Islamic teachings. We didn't see any unnatural signs on his body."
The American death toll rose to at least 3,000 according to an Associated Press count with the announcement Sunday that a soldier was killed a day earlier in a roadside bombing in the capital. The soldier's name and unit were not given.
Shortly afterward, the Department of Defense said on its Web site that Spc. Dustin R. Donica, 22, of Spring, Texas, had been killed. Donica, assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, died on Thursday. His death was not announced by U.S. military authorities in Baghdad.
Their deaths raised to at least 111 the number of U.S. service members reported killed in December, the bloodiest month of 2006.
At least 820 U.S. military personnel died in Iraq in 2006, according to the AP count.
While not responding to the 3,000th death, President Bush did issue New Year's greetings that noted the continuing turbulence in Iraq.
"Last year, America continued its mission to fight and win the war on terror and promote liberty as an alternative to tyranny and despair," Bush said in the statement wishing Americans a happy new year.
"In the New Year, we will remain on the offensive against the enemies of freedom, advance the security of our country, and work toward a free and unified Iraq. Defeating terrorists and extremists is the challenge of our time, and we will answer history's call with confidence and fight for liberty without wavering."