Iraq's 'Chemical Ali' Sentenced to Death

An Iraqi tribunal delivered a verdict Sunday in what is known as the Anfal case: the trial of Saddam Hussein's top aides accused of genocide against Iraq's Kurds in the 1980s. Saddam's cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali," was convicted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, and was sentenced to hang.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

It's been six months since the execution of Saddam Hussein. His death by hanging for war crimes was the final chapter in the story of a brutal dictator. But today, Iraqis wrote a postscript to the history of the Saddam era. In a Baghdad courtroom, an Iraqi tribunal convicted Saddam's cousin on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. The cousin known as Chemical Ali received the death sentence for masterminding the Anfal campaign - the mass killings of Kurds in northern Iraq. The court also found four other Saddam associates guilty of crimes against humanity for their role in the attacks.

NPR's Rachel Martin was in the courtroom and has our report.

RACHEL MARTIN: This was the same courtroom where former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was convicted less than a year ago. But this time, it was Saddam's cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, who stood before the judge. The court translator repeated the judge's list of Majid's crimes.

Unidentified Translator: And in 1988, you have given the orders to the troops to kill the Kurdish civilians in the north of Iraq, and to harm them severely, and using the chemical weapons widely.

MARTIN: Majid was dressed in a simple brown robe and a traditional Arab headdress. The former Baathist commander stood alone in the middle of the courtroom. He balanced one hand on his wooden cane as the judge announced his fate.

Unidentified Translator: To sentence you with hanging until death because you committed a crime - genocide crime as a crime against humanity.

MARTIN: Majid was Saddam's number one deputy in charge of northern Iraq where most of Iraq's Kurdish population lives. So in the late 1980s when Saddam launched his offensive against the Kurds called the Anfal campaign, Majid was the Baathist leader in charge. He ordered massive operations against the Kurdish population, kidnappings, killings, and chemical gas attacks - mustard and nerve gas killed tens of thousands of people and destroyed thousands of Kurdish villages.

Today in the courtroom, others were forced to take responsibility as well. Besides Majid, two other former Baathist were sentenced to life in prison and two more were sentenced to death by hanging. The former minister of defense and the former deputy of operations for Iraqi forces - that officer, Hussein Rashid, listened to his sentence then he shouted at the judge: We are not criminals. We defended Iraq. Long live the Iraqi army and long live Iraq.

Kurdish leaders have been seeking justice for the Anfal genocide for decades. Mahmoud Othman(ph), a Kurdish member of the Iraqi Parliament is one of them.

Mr. MAHMOUD OTHMAN (Kurdish Member, Iraqi Parliament): I think these people deserve the sentences that they have, but we wanted to know what's behind all these crimes. I think justice has not been done because all the secrets were not revealed. All the people who cooperated with Saddam on those crimes are not revealed. That's why our people will not be satisfied with only hanging.

MARTIN: Other groups took issue with the Anfal trial proceedings as well. The New York-based Human Rights Watch has raised concerns over the legitimacy of the court. The group says the accused weren't allowed the proper defense and that the court didn't follow international legal standards. The head judge Mohammad Majid al-Khalifa dismissed these allegations.

Mr. MOHAMMAD MAJID al-KHALIFA (Chief Judge, Chemical Ali's Sentencing): (Foreign language spoken)

MARTIN: We constantly reviewed files and reports from international legal experts during these proceedings, he said. We did our best and we worked hard to make sure all the defendants' rights were protected.

But today's verdict is not the final word on the Anfal campaign. The judge today released a list of names - more than 460 people expected to be charged in connection with the genocide. The first name on the list is Wafik al-Samarrai, a top advisor to Iraqi president and Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani.

For many Iraqi Kurds, today's verdict doesn't bring closure, in large part because the main defendant was never held to account. Many say former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein should have been kept alive to be tried for the Anfal genocide. He was executed specifically for killing Iraqi Shiites, but now he'll never pay for what he did to the Kurds.

Rachel Martin, NPR News, Baghdad.

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