Iraq’s ‘Chemical Ali’ gets new death sentence

BAGHDAD (AP) — Saddam Hussein’s notorious cousin “Chemical Ali” was convicted Sunday of crimes against humanity, receiving a death sentence for his involvement in a poison gas attack on Halabja — one of several hanging over him.

Families of victims in court cheered when the judge handed down the guilty verdict against Ali Hassan al-Majid in a trial for one of the worst poisonous gas attacks against civilians.

He has already received three previous death sentences for atrocities committed during Saddam’s rule, particularly in the government’s campaigns against the Shiites and Kurds in the 1980s and 1990s.

Other officials in Saddam’s regime received jail terms for their roles in the 1988 attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja near the Iranian border.

Former Defense Minister Sultan Hashim al-Taie faces 15 years in prison, as does Iraq’s former director of military intelligence, Sabir Azizi al-Douri.

Farhan Mutlaq al-Jubouri, a former top military intelligence official, was sentenced to 10 years.

The jail terms were handed down following guilty verdicts on charges that included crimes against humanity.

Nazik Tawfiq, 45, a Kurdish woman who said she lost six of her relatives in the attack came to court alone to hear the sentence. She fell to her knees and began to pray upon hearing the verdict against al-Majid.

“I am so happy today,” Tawfiq said. “Now the souls of our victims will rest in peace.”

The man known as “Chemical Ali” was previously sentenced to hang for his role in a brutal crackdown against the Kurds in the late 1980s, known as the Anfal that killed hundreds of thousands.

Courts later issued separate death sentences for his role in the 1991 suppression of a Shiite uprising and for a 1999 crackdown that sought to quell a Shiite backlash to the slaying of Grand Ayatollah Mohammad al-Sadr.

The earlier death sentences against al-Majid have not been carried out because they are tied to a political dispute involving al-Taie, who was also sentenced to death along with Chemical Ali in the Anfal trial.

Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni, and President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, have both refused to sign the execution order against al-Taie, who signed the cease-fire with U.S.-led forces that ended the 1991 Gulf War. Al-Taie is a Sunni Arab viewed by many as a respected career soldier who was forced to follow Saddam’s orders in the purges against Kurds.

The three-member presidency council must approve all death sentences, and the failure to find agreement on al-Taie delayed the execution of al-Majid as well.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, has pushed the presidency council to approve the death sentences pending against al-Majid and al-Taie.

Al-Taie surrendered to U.S. forces in September 2003 after weeks of negotiations. His defense has claimed the Americans had promised al-Taie “protection and good treatment” before he turned himself in.

Many Sunni Arabs saw his sentence as evidence that Shiite and Kurdish officials are persecuting their once-dominant minority, using their influence over the judiciary.

Another reason for the delay is that the Kurds from Halabja have also been pushing to have their day in court with al-Majid.