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18 April 2024

Iraq approves execution of 'Chemical Ali'

By Agencies

Iraq's presidency on Friday approved the execution of Ali Hassan al-Majid, a top Saddam Hussein henchman known to the world as "Chemical Ali" for ordering gas attacks on Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s.


"The presidency has approved Chemical Ali's execution," a top Iraqi official told AFP on condition of anonymity.


He said no date had been decided for the execution by the presidency council, which comprises President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, Shiite Adel Abdel Mahdi and Sunni Tareq al-Hashemi.


Majid was sentenced to death for genocide in June last year along with two other Saddam cohorts Sultan Hashim al-Tai, Saddam's defence minister, and Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti, his armed forces deputy chief of operations.


The three were convicted after being found responsible for the slaughter of thousands of Kurds in the so-called Anfal campaign of 1988.


Under Iraqi law they were supposed to have been executed by October 4, 30 days after their sentences were upheld by the Iraq Supreme Court.


An estimated 182,000 Kurds were killed and 4,000 villages wiped out in the brutal campaign of bombings, mass deportation and gas attacks.


"Thousands of people were killed, displaced and disappeared," Iraqi High Tribunal chief judge Mohammed al-Oreibi al-Khalifah said after he had passed sentence in June.


"They were civilians with no weapons and nothing to do with war."


Majid, in his 60s, was the last of the six defendants to learn his fate in the Anfal case – the second trial of former Saddam cohorts on charges of crimes against humanity since the fall of the feared regime in 2003.


He muttered only "Thanks be to God" before being led from the court.


He and the other two had been on trial in a separate case for their alleged roles in brutally crushing a Shiite uprising in southern Iraq in 1991, but the charges against them were dropped.


Saddam's regime said the Anfal campaign was a necessary counter-insurgency operation during Iraq's bloody eight-year war with neighbouring Iran.


It involved the systematic bombardment, gassing and assault of areas in the Kurdish autonomous region, which witnessed mass executions and deportations and the creation of prison camps.

Saddam, driven from power by a US-led invasion in April 2003, was executed on December 30, 2006 for crimes against humanity in a separate case and charges against him over the Anfal campaign were dropped.


Saddam's former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan was hanged for crimes against humanity on March 20 last year, while the dictator's half-brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti and Awad Ahmed al-Bandar, the ex-chief of Iraq's Revolutionary Court, were hanged on January 15.


Over the course of the Anfal trial, which opened on August 21 last year, a defiant Majid said he was right to order the attacks.


"I am the one who gave orders to the army to demolish villages and relocate the villagers," he said at one hearing. "I am not defending myself. I am not apologising. I did not make a mistake."


Iraqi Kurds were jubilant following the verdicts but initial plans to execute Majid in the Kurdish town of Halabja were scrapped in case the hanging appeared motivated by revenge, an Iraqi government official said.


On March 16, 1988, Saddam's troops strafed Halabja with chemical gases, killing 5,000 Kurds in one of the biggest military operations against the people of the northern Kurdish region during the Iran-Iraq war.


Human Rights Watch has expressed concern that the Anfal verdicts were as "flawed" as in the previous trial of Saddam over the killing of Shiites from the village of Dujail in the 1980s. (AFP)