'Chemical Ali' gets second death sentence

An Iraqi court on Tuesday condemned Saddam Hussein’s notorious hatchet-man “Chemical Ali” Hassan al-Majid to death for war crimes committed during the 1991 Shi’ite uprising, his second death penalty.

Abdelghani Abdul Ghafor al-Ani, the head of Saddam’s Baath party in southern Iraq at the time, was also sentenced to death.

The verdicts were issued after a trial which heard harrowing testimony from witnesses of Saddam’s crushing of the rebellion.

Witnesses told of mass executions and family members being thrown from helicopters.

First death sentence
Saddam’s cousin al-Majid was sentenced to death in June 2007 for genocide after ordering the deaths of tens of thousands of Kurds during the 1988 Anfal campaign, when Iraqi forces strafed villages with poison gas, the source of his grim nickname.

Iraq’s presidential council approved the death sentences of al-Majid and two other former senior military officials - Sultan Hashim al-Tai, another former defence minister, and Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti, former armed forces deputy chief of operations - in February, after months of legal wrangling.

But the three, who remain on death row in US custody, were later charged with committing similar war crimes in southern Iraq during the Shi’ite uprising that followed Saddam’s crushing defeat by US forces in the 1991 Gulf War.

Al-Tai and five other officials received 15 years in prison for their role in the crackdown, and Tikriti and three other officials received life sentences. Three defendants were acquitted.

It is thought that as many as 100 000 people were killed as troops carried out massacres around the Shi’ite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala and shelled towns and villages across the south in 1991.

Many Shi’ites who participated in the uprising say they had expected US forces to back them, but former US president George Bush instead ordered a halt at the Iraqi border, leaving the rebels at the mercy of Saddam’s forces.

Al-Majid, 68, who served as interior minister at the time of the uprising, was arrested by US forces in August 2003.

Execution master
In August 2007 an unidentified witness accused him of personally executing her two sons by tying bricks to their feet and throwing them out of helicopters into the Gulf after detaining them in March 1991.

Another witness, who also testified behind a curtain, said in September 2007 that al-Majid had overseen the execution of some 200 people in a sports stadium near the southern city of Basra, where troops shot them dead in batches of 25.

Majid has never denied or expressed remorse for his actions during the campaign against the Kurds, but he insisted he was not in Basra during the alleged massacre.

Since the March 2003 US-led invasion, experts have exhumed dozens of mass graves of victims killed in the two uprisings, and many Kurds and Shi’ites have expressed outrage that al-Majid has not yet been executed.

“I think it is silly to try someone whose crimes have been proven on more than one occasion,” said Sabah Ahmed, 32, a teacher in Najaf, one of the cities that bore the brunt of the crackdown in 1991.

“It should be enough that his nickname is ‘Chemical Ali’. Everyone knows where the name came from.”

Saddam was hanged in December 2006 for his role in the massacre of 148 Shi’ite villagers in the southern town of Dujail in 1982.
Another three senior officials were also executed for their role in the killings.

But New York-based Human Rights Watch, which extensively documented abuses under Saddam, has been critical of the tribunal, accusing it of making “serious factual and legal errors” in the dictator’s trial.

Shi’ites, a minority in the Muslim world, comprise 60% of Iraq’s population and were ruled for decades by Saddam’s Sunni-led regime. - AFP

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