BAGHDAD, Iraq – Jubilant Shiites marched by the hundreds Monday, celebrating Saddam Hussein’s conviction and death sentence as Sunnis held defiant counter-demonstrations.
The surge in violence expected after the Sunday verdict on Saddam’s trial for crimes against humanity still did not materialize. An Interior Ministry spokesman credited a round-the-clock curfew in Baghdad and two restive Sunni provinces.
Iraq’s relentless death toll continued: the bodies of 50 murder victims were discovered Sunday, the bulk of them in Baghdad, police 1st. Lt. Thaer Mahmoud said.
Baghdad, which has a mixed Shiite-Sunni population was relatively quiet Monday, with offices and the international airport closed and few cars or pedestrians on the streets.
Officials said the clampdown, which brought additional patrols and checkpoints in the capital, would likely be lifted by Tuesday morning.
“We need to keep on guard over any kind of response from Saddam supporters,” Brig. Abdel-Karim Khalaf said.
The U.S. military announced the deaths of two Marines and one soldier in fighting in Iraq’s Anbar Province, and said a helicopter crashed north of Baghdad, killing two American soldiers.
The deaths bring the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq this month to 18.
No gunfire was observed in the area at the time of the crash, the brief statement said. The incident occurred in Salahuddin province, which includes Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit and was under curfew.
In mainly Shiite Hillah, 60 miles south of Baghdad, around 500 people marched carrying placards and shouting slogans denouncing the former dictator, who is accused of killing tens of thousands of Shiites following a 1991 uprising.
“Yes, yes for the verdict, which we have long been waiting for!” chanted the crowd, largely made up of students and government workers.
Underscoring the widening divide between Shiite and Sunni, about 250 pro-Saddam demonstrators took to the streets in the Sunni city of Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. They were dispersed by Iraqi soldiers for breaking the curfew over the province. There were no reports of deaths or injuries.
Another 400 protesters marched through Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, denouncing the verdict against Saddam and demanding the ouster of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who had called for the former president’s execution.