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June 26, 2007


'Chemical Ali' Is Sentenced To Death

Saddam Hussein's cousin led genocidal attacks against the Kurds in 1988

Lois R. Ember

Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as "Chemical Ali," was found guilty on June 24 of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity by the Iraqi High Tribunal and sentenced to death by hanging for his role in the slaughter of 180,000 Kurds during the Anfal campaign of 1988. Anfal is Arabic for "spoils of war."

Al-Majid was one of six defendants in the Anfal trial, including former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. Charges against Hussein, who was executed last December in a separate case, were dropped in this trial.

Al-Majid earned his nickname for his order to use mustard gas and the nerve agent sarin against the ethnic minority as part of Hussein's efforts to stamp out the Kurdish rebellion in northern Iraq. During the 1980s, Al-Majid, a cousin of Hussein's, was head of the Baath Party's Northern Bureau Command and led the Anfal offensive.

During his trial, which began in August 2006, Al-Majid repeatedly denied the charges for which he was found guilty. He claimed not to know who used chemical weapons against the Kurds or even if they were ever used.

The Anfal campaign began in February 1988 and ran through the autumn of that year. During the scorched-earth offensive, tens of thousands of Kurds were killed and more than 3,000 villages were destroyed.

Former defense minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai and former deputy director of operations for the Iraqi Armed Forces Hussein Rashid Mohammed were also sentenced to death by hanging by the tribunal. Two other high-ranking intelligence officials in Hussein's regime were sentenced to life in prison. Charges were dropped against a seventh defendant because of insufficient evidence.

As is usual under Iraqi law, sentences against all convicted defendants will be sent to Iraq's Appeals Court. That court is expected to act quickly to rubber-stamp the verdicts.

Iraqi officials are currently preparing 11 other trials. The most notorious will focus on the chemical weapons attacks against the Kurds in the northern Iraqi town of Halabja in March 1988. Those attacks, which garnered international attention, killed at least 5,000 Kurds.

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