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Iraq to hang 'Chemical Ali'

Saddam Hussein's cousin, Ali Hassan Majid, faces death for his role in gassing Kurds.

By OMAR SINAN Associated Press
Published June 25, 2007


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BAGHDAD - The location was a secret. The timing was unannounced. The prosecutors were not identified as they stood silently in the chilly marble-and-granite courtroom, facing defendants secured in a steel pen.

For all the trepidation surrounding the televised conclusion Sunday of post-invasion Iraq's biggest trial, it was a stooped man with a cane on whom everyone fixated, and he needed no introduction as he appeared to hear his fate.

Ali Hassan al-Majid, dubbed "Chemical Ali" for his role in the gassing of tens of thousands of Kurds in 1987-88, was convicted of genocide and sentenced to death by hanging, the seventh associate of former President Saddam Hussein to face the gallows.

The trial once had captivated Iraqis and was seen as an opportunity to disclose the nation's violent past fully in the name of national reconciliation. Ten months and some 85 witnesses later, though, the rigorous security surrounding the sentencing and the reactions of people who followed the case showed how little reconciliation has been achieved.

Many Kurds want autonomy from the rest of Iraq and are demanding that a referendum be held despite resistance from Sunni Arabs and the Shiite-led government.

A proposal to allow members of Hussein's once-ruling Baath Party to return to government and military positions also is stalled. The Los Angeles Times reports that those involved in negotiating the issues, both of them White House benchmarks for bringing order to Iraq, say it is unlikely there will be agreements anytime soon.

The legacy of the Baath Party was clear inside the court, where two of Majid's co-defendants yelled objections as the judge announced the verdicts and sentences, and in the cafes and shops where Iraqis heard the news.

Majid was one of six defendants remaining from the al-Anfal trial. The seventh, Hussein, was hanged in December after being convicted in connection with a separate 1980s massacre against Shiite victims in the city of Dujayl. Hussein's execution left Majid, his cousin, the most infamous of the al-Anfal defendants.

Other defendants

The others were Hussein Rashid Mohammed, Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai, Sabir al-Douri, Farhan Mutlaq Saleh and Taher Tawfiq al-Ani. All were high-ranking military or intelligence officials under Hussein except for Ani, who was a northern governor.

The charges against them stemmed from an Iraqi military offensive in northern Iraq two decades ago dubbed al-Anfal, or "spoils of war" campaign, in which as many as 180, 000 Kurds were killed, according to prosecutors. During the trial, the defendants said they were acting under Hussein's orders to target Kurdish rebels allied with Iran during the Iran-Iraq war.

Prosecutors countered that the aim was to eliminate Iraq's Kurdish population and that the victims included women, children, and farmers whose orchards were destroyed and whose livestock were shot dead. Many victims died when Iraqi government aircraft dumped mustard gas and nerve gas on them. Others perished in detention camps or were gunned down and buried in mass graves. After Hussein's ouster in April 2003, many of the graves were uncovered.

One by one, each defendant was brought into the courtroom Sunday to hear the verdict and sentence.

The charges against Ani, as expected, were dismissed after the presiding judge said there was insufficient evidence presented against him. Prosecutors earlier had agreed to this.

Salah and Douri were each given life in prison for war crimes and received additional sentences for having forced Kurds off their land and seizing their property. Majid, Tai and Mohammed each were convicted of genocide and other crimes and sentenced to hang.

Kurds interviewed Sunday for the most part declared the outcome just, and many called on the government to hang the defendants in Halabja, a Kurdish town where about 5,000 people were believed gassed to death.

Those killings are to be the focus of another trial, which would have included Hussein and could include the al-Anfal defendants, if they have not been hanged. With the al-Anfal trial over, many Halabja residents fear they never will get their day in court.

Outcome welcomed

Members of Iraq's Shiite majority, who also were repressed by Hussein, welcomed the trial's outcome as well. Sabah Shayal Dalfi, a resident of the Shiite district of Sadr City in Baghdad, said there was so much evidence against Hussein's loyalists that no trials should be necessary.

Their reactions showed the raw hatred many Iraqis feel toward Hussein's regime.

But there was equally harsh vitriol coming from Sunnis who denounced the verdict.

At a tea shop in Baghdad, several men said that the trial was unfair and that the Kurds got what they deserved for not backing Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war.

"If I were in charge, I would have hit them with chemical weapons as well," said Abu Amir Saadi.

The trial was the second to be conducted by the special tribunal established in 2005 to hear human-rights cases arising from Hussein's rule.

Fast Facts:

Sentences handed down in Anfal trial

Specific sentences and charges against the six former Saddam Hussein regime officials in the so-called Anfal trial in Iraq, according to the International Center for Transitional Justice:

Ali Hassan al-Majid, Saddam Hussein's cousin, also known as "Chemical Ali." Five death sentences for genocide, willful killing, forced disappearances and extermination as crimes against humanity, and intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population as a war crime. Multiple prison terms ranging from seven years to life for other inhumane acts.

Sabir al-Douri, director of military intelligence. Three terms of life imprisonment for genocide, willful killing as a crime against humanity, and intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as a war crime. Ten years imprisonment for the destruction or seizing of the property of an adversary as a war crime.

Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai, the defense minister during the fall of Hussein's regime in 2003. Four death sentences for genocide, willful killing and extermination as crimes against humanity, and intentionally directing attacks against civilians as a war crime. Two terms of life imprisonment for forced disappearances and other inhumane acts as crimes against humanity, as well as four other prison terms for deportation as a crime against humanity and three counts of war crimes.

Hussein Rashid Mohammed, former deputy director of operations for the Iraqi Armed Forces. Sentenced to death for genocide, willful killing as a crime against humanity, and intentional attacks against the civilian population as a war crime. A term of seven years imprisonment for attacks against buildings dedicated to religious purposes.

Farhan Mutlaq Saleh, former head of military intelligence's eastern regional office. Sentenced to life imprisonment for genocide, and to life imprisonment and 10 years imprisonment for willful killing and deportation or forcible transfer as crimes against humanity.

Taher Tawfiq al-Ani, former governor of Mosul and head of the Northern Affairs Committee. Charges were dropped for lack of evidence, as requested by the prosecution.

Associated Press

 

[Last modified June 24, 2007, 23:37:28]


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