BAGHDAD -- Saddam Hussein's trusted personal secretary, once No. 4 on the U.S. most-wanted list in Iraq, was executed by hanging yesterday, the Iraqi Justice Ministry said.

Abed Hamid Hmoud was the latest in a series of former senior regime officials to be executed by Iraq's new rulers since the toppling of Hussein during the U.S.-led invasion nine years ago. Hmoud's body was to be handed over to his family, officials said.

Hmoud, a distant cousin of Hussein, was captured by U.S. forces in June 2003, three months after the invasion. He was No. 4 on the list of wanted regime officials, after Hussein and sons Qusai and Odai. He was known as the "ace of diamonds" on the U.S. deck of cards that ranked leaders of Saddam's government.

Hmoud, in his mid-50s, was executed for persecuting members of the Shia opposition and religious parties that were banned under Hussein, a court official said. Hmoud was also among 15 high-profile defendants tried for their role in the brutal crushing of a Shia uprising after the 1991 Gulf War.

As Hussein's secretary, Hmoud controlled access to the Iraqi president and was one of the few people he was said to have trusted completely, U.S. officials said in 2003. Like Hussein, who was executed in 2006, Hmoud was from the northern Iraqi town of Tikrit.

The last execution of a former regime official took place in January 2010, when Hussein's notorious cousin, known as "Chemical Ali" for his role in poison gas attacks, was put to death by hanging. Hussein's long-term foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, was sentenced to death in 2010 and awaits execution.

The toppling of Hussein's regime was followed by years of sectarian fighting and attacks by al-Qaida-linked Sunni insurgents trying to oust U.S. forces. Washington pulled its last soldiers out of Iraq last December.

Violence has dropped in recent years, though shootings and bombings are still common.

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