While Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called the death sentence passed against Saddam Hussain a verdict "all Iraqis are entitled to celebrate," European leaders were divided in their reaction to Sunday's verdict.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the court judgement of Saddam Hussein, but said that the European Union had "a scepticism and a rejection on principle of the death penalty", the sentence handed to the former Iraqi president.
Merkel affirmed that the death verdict was "a sound decision."
In a statement, released by the information department of the German Government, released early on Monday, Merkel said Saddam should "fully bear consequences of his acts like any other Iraqi citizen."
Great Britain, one of the main powers behind the invasion of Iraq, was among the few western countries to give an openly positive reception to Sunday's verdict.
"I welcome that Saddam Hussein and the other defendants have faced justice and have been held to account for their crimes," Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said in a statement after the Baghdad court's decision.
"Appalling crimes were committed by Saddam Hussein's regime. It is right that those accused of such crimes against the Iraqi people should face Iraqi justice.
"Today's verdict and sentences by the Iraqi Higher Tribunal come at the end of a trial during which evidence has been offered and challenged in the full glare of media scrutiny," she said.
A visibly shaken Hussein was sentenced to death for crimes against humanity for his role in ordering the deaths of 148 Shiite villagers in the town of Dujail in 1982, the verdict does not address alleged crimes committed by the former leader during campaigns against Iran, the Kurds or Kuwait.
Hussein's half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti and another aide will also hang if automatic appeals fail in the coming months.
General European opposition to death sentence
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said the former Iraqi dictator should be held accountable for his actions, but added that Spain remains firmly opposed the death penalty. The death penalty is illegal across the entire 25-member European Union.
Swedish Foreign Minister Bildt called Saddam verdict "deeply satisfying," while Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said he was pleased Hussein's "reign of terror" was brought to an end.
"Justice has been served for what he did," Balkenende told national public television, adding that the Netherlands also is opposed to the death penalty.
Questions remain on future of Iraq
France's Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy focused his remarks on Iraq's future, saying he hoped the already bloody sectarian strife in the country would not worsen as a result of the death sentence.
"I hope this decision will not lead to new tensions and that the Iraqis will show restraint, whatever community they belong to," he said.
Initial reactions in Iraq were split along religious lines with Shiites, the majority group now in power but oppressed under Hussein, celebrating the verdict while Sunnis, the group that held power under Hussein, condemned it as propaganda designed to serve US President George W. Bush before elections Tuesday in the United States.
Human rights organizations denounce verdict
Human rights groups slammed the trial for not providing victims with a clear record of facts of what occurred under Hussein's dictatorship and emphasized their rejection of the death penalty under any circumstances.
"It was a lost opportunity to give a sense of the rule of law and a loss for the victims in that the trial and verdict are unlikely to stand the test of time," Human Rights Watch director for international justice Richard Dicker told the AFP news agency.
Amnesty International condemned the sentence, describing the trial as a "shabby affair, marred by serious flaws."
The London-based human rights group said the trial should have helped the process of establishing justice and the rule of law in Iraq but was in fact "deeply flawed and unfair."
Three defense lawyers were killed in the course of the trial, and a previous chief judge resigned over government interference.
UN human rights chief Louise Arbour called for a moratorium on executions after former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death by an Iraqi court and expressed her wish that the rights of the defendants to a fair appeal to be "fully respected."