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Iraqi security forces on alert on first anniversary of Saddam's execution
Iraqi children gather outside the tomb of Saddam Hussein near Tikrit, 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq on Sunday, Dec. 30, 2007 as mourners gathered to mark the one-year anniversary of the former dictator's execution. The sign, in Arabic, reads "we will never forget you, Sheik of Mujaheddin." - photo by Associated Press

BAGHDAD - Hundreds of people, including many children, chanted slogans praising Saddam Hussein on Sunday as they tossed flowers onto his tomb one year after he was executed.

The muted anniversary of Saddam's death saw little violence, a far cry from the blood spilled on the day the former Iraqi leader was executed and the horrific wave of killing that ensued until the surge of U.S. troops six months later.

But there were a number of operations carried out by American and Iraqi forces. The U.S. military said coalition forces killed six insurgents and detained another 14 on Saturday and Sunday during operations targeting al-Qaida in Iraq in central and northern parts of the country.

"We realize that security in Iraq is very fragile and tenuous," said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Gregory Smith. He added that although much progress had been made since thousands of extra U.S. troops deployed in June, "there is no place in Iraq today that is safe from terrorism."

Most of the al-Qaida activity has been pushed east out of Anbar province and to the north of Baghdad, into Diyala province and the northern city of Mosul.

"Diyala has been one of the tougher fights," Smith said. "Diyala is an area of significant interest for al-Qaida."

Police reportedly killed a group of four men just outside the city of Beiji, about 155 miles north of Baghdad. The men were thought to be connected to a Christmas Day bombing in Beiji that killed 25 people and wounded another 80.

The four men were later reported to be two Afghans, a Saudi Arabian and an Iranian, according to a police spokesman, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media. There was no way to independently confirm the incident. and the U.S. military said it did not have any reports about it.

In Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, supporters gathered at his burial site to pay homage. Some gave fiery speeches while others just stood quietly by the tomb, in a large mausoleum in the Tigris River village of Ouja — the small hamlet just outside Tikrit where Saddam was born.

"With our blood, with our souls, we sacrifice for you Saddam!" the children chanted, AP Television News footage showed. The tomb was covered in Iraq flags and flowers and flanked by large pictures of a smiling Saddam.

He is buried next to his sons Odai and Qusai, who died in a gun battle with U.S. forces in a 2003 in the northern city of Mosul.

Saddam was hung on Dec. 30 in Baghdad. Footage of the execution, filmed on a mobile phone and showing Saddam being taunted just before he died, was leaked to the media and shown across the world. It provoked an outcry, particularly among many of Iraq's Sunni Arabs, and sparked a horrific day of violence that left 80 people dead in bombings and other attacks.

Iraq then plunged into its bloodiest cycle of violence since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, and American officials at the time feared the country was on the brink of civil war. The violence forced them to rethink their strategy and they sent 30,000 troops back into the country.

The surge, combined with a cease-fire declared by radical Shiite extremist Muqtada al-Sadr for his Mahdi Army militia and the growth of mainly Sunni tribal groups that turned against al-Qaida in Iraq, has reduced violence by 60 percent, according to the U.S. military.

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