Musical tribute
Several poets gave recitals in praise of Saddam, while a group of children carrying roses and pictures of the leader sang along.
"We are celebrating the birth anniversary of president Saddam Hussein. It is our way of rejecting the occupation and the sectarianism that has come along with it," Shah Hamid al-Juburi, who heads a children's organisation in the province, said.

Mahmud al-Tikriti, 35, the caretaker of the hall which houses Saddam's tomb, said he wished he could hold daily celebrations.

"Our love for Saddam and our loyalty to him inspired us to celebrate. We wish that we could celebrate every day to remember him," he said.

In Tikrit, there were no ceremonies to mark the anniversary of Saddam's death.

However, residents put up two posters on the city's main mosque, which under Saddam's rule used to bear his name.

"April 28 reminds us of the birthday of Saddam, the Arabian knight," said one poster.

"Mercy and compassion be upon the heroic leader on his birthday," said the other.

Feelings of nostalgia

Sunni Arabs from the Tikrit region dominated Saddam's regime and there is widespread nostalgia in the area for the leader's rule.

The nostalgia is not shared by the country's Shia majority but five years after Saddam's overthrow the celebrations for him in Awja, the late president's home village, sparked little hostility.

"It is the sign of democracy in Iraq," Abbas Abdul Hussein, a Shia employee of a private sector company in Baghdad, said.

"People are free to celebrate the birthday of a man like Saddam who brutalised this country for decades."

Born poor in what was then just a mud-hut village on April 28, 1937, Saddam rose to Iraq's highest office, attaining a wealthy lifestyle.

He was hanged on December 30, 2006, after an Iraqi court found him guilty of "crimes against humanity" for ordering the execution of 148 Shia Muslims after an assassination attempt in 1982 against him in Dujail, north of Baghdad.