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'Chemical Ali' awarded a death sentence

Saddam Hussein's cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majeed is sentenced to death for masterminding genocide against Iraq's Kurds in the 1980s.

world Updated: Jun 25, 2007 10:35 IST

Saddam Hussein's cousin, known as "Chemical Ali", was sentenced to death by hanging on Sunday for masterminding genocide against Iraq's Kurds in the 1980s, an Iraqi court said.

A tired-looking Ali Hassan al-Majeed, wearing traditional Arab robes, trembled as the judge read the verdict, one witness said. As Majeed left the courtroom, he said: "Thanks be to God."

Majeed, whose very name once sparked fear among Iraqis, directed a military campaign against the Kurdish north in which chemical weapons were used, villages demolished, agricultural lands destroyed and tens of thousands of people killed.

The court also sentenced to death Saddam's defense minister, Sultan Hashim, and a former military commander for their roles in the campaign. Two other commanders received life in prison. Charges were dropped against the former governor of Mosul.

Saddam was the seventh defendant, until his execution in December in a separate trial for crimes against humanity.

Kurds have long sought justice for the so-called Anfal or "Spoils of War" campaign that has left lasting scars on their mountainous region. Prosecutors say up to 180,000 people were killed in the seven-month "scorched-earth" operation in 1988.

"As soon as I heard Ali Hassan al-Majeed and Sultan Hashim had received the death sentence I was ecstatic and I began to scream. But the bigger joy would be to see Majeed executed in Kurdistan," said Shaheen Mahmoud, a Kurdish civil servant, in the northern city of Sulaimaniya.

Majeed was viewed as Saddam's main enforcer, a man with a reputation for brutality who was used by the president to crush dissent. He also played a leading role in stamping out a Shi'ite rebellion in the south after the 1991 Gulf War.

During Anfal, thousands of villages declared "prohibited areas" were bombed and razed. Thousands of villagers were deported, many executed.
Mustard gas and nerve agents were used to clear villages, earning Majeed his grim nickname "Chemical Ali". Many of those killed in the poison gas attacks were women and children.

Admission of guilt

"You issued orders to troops to use all weapons including chemical weapons that killed thousands, displaced thousands and detained many who later died of hunger, torture and diseases. Many disappeared," judge Mohammed al-Uraibi told Majeed.

"You committed crimes against humanity ... You committed genocide. There are enough documents against you."

Majeed, now in his mid-60s, admitted during the trial he ordered troops to execute Kurds who ignored orders to leave their villages but not to the use of poison gas.

The defendants have said Anfal had legitimate military targets -- Kurdish guerrillas who had sided with Iran during the last stage of the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war.

"We defended Iraq and we were not criminals," said Hussein Rashid, the Iraqi army's former deputy commander of operations, interrupting the judge as he read the verdict. He was also sentenced to death.

Historians say Saddam sought to make an example of the rebellious Kurds, who make up 20 percent of the population, to deter opponents of his regime and show them what happened to those who defied his authority.

It was the "logical if brutal conclusion of the policies pursued by the regime towards the Kurds", wrote historian Charles Tripp in his book, a "History of Iraq".

International human rights groups say the Anfal trial was marred by procedural flaws and political interference -- the government replaced the chief judge after he made remarks interpreted as favoring the defendants.

First Published: Jun 24, 2007 19:51 IST