Baghdad - Joyous crowds in Baghdad celebrated Saddam Hussein's birthday in a brand new way on Monday, pasting photos of the former strongman on a donkey as they heaped scorn on his brutal 24-year reign.

"For the first time in my life, I won't be forced to attend Saddam's birthday ceremonies. He was a dictator, he was nothing but a donkey ruling over Iraq," said Ali, 24.

The young man, speaking in the Sadr city suburb formerly known as Saddam city and home to about two million Shiite Muslims, said most Iraqis had been "faking joy on Saddam's birthday each year because we were plain afraid".

"We'll bring the donkey flowers and a cake this afternoon," said Hassan al-Hussein, 27, who helped organize the ceremony here.

Crowds of young boys were clapping their hands in appreciation as a man planted a banner and a colorful plastic tree by the donkey.

"April 28, it's your birthday you loser!" read the sign. Saddam turned 66 on Monday although his whereabouts, if he is even still alive, are unknown.

Pictures of Saddam and his two equally feared sons, Uday and Qussay, were also on display.

"We won't kill the animal although he represents Saddam the criminal, because donkeys are as oppressed as we were for years," said al-Hussein.