Saddam Hussein's Cousin Sentenced to Hang
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Another big trial came in Iraq, where over the weekend the man known as Chemical Ali was convicted on charges stemming from a brutal military campaign against the Kurds. It happened back in the 1980s. Ali Hassan al-Majid, to give his proper name, is Saddam Hussein's cousin, and he ordered the use of poison gas to kill as many as 180,000 Kurdish men, women, and children. Through an interpreter the judge announced Majid's fate.
Unidentified Man (Judge): (Through interpreter) To sentence you with hanging until death, because you committed a crime, genocide crime, a crime against humanity.
INSKEEP: NPR's Rachel Martin is covering the story in Baghdad. And Rachel, was Chemical Ali the only person found responsible?
RACHEL MARTIN: He was not. Besides Chemical Ali, as he's known, there were two other former Baathist who were sentenced to life in prison for their role in the Anfal genocide. Two more officials were sentenced to death by hanging - the former minister of defense under Saddam Hussein and the former deputy of operations for Iraqi forces. And another defendant, the former governor of the province of Mosul in the north, was actually released because of lack of evidence.
INSKEEP: Kurdish Iraqis must be pleased.
MARTIN: Well, this is something clearly that Kurdish officials, Kurdish people, have been looking for for a long time. It's been a long time coming. I spoke with Mahmoud Othman, who is a Kurdish member of the Iraqi Parliament, and he told me that he and other leaders are pleased with the verdict, but he didn't see true justice being done. He said the court didn't address what he and other Kurds saw as the real question here, which was how did Saddam Hussein get chemical weapons in the first place.
But overall there really wasn't the kind of strong public reaction you might have expected from this. You know, while Chemical Ali is a big name and a notorious criminal, he's not Saddam Hussein. And there were only a handful of Iraqi journalists present at the sentencing. And Kurdish papers barely made a mention of it on the days leading up to the verdict.
INSKEEP: Did any of the men who were convicted, at any point during the trial, make statements, strong statements, memorable statements in their own defense?
MARTIN: In the sentencing, really, the only outburst every once in a while, you would hear a defendant utter alu akbar, or thanks be to God. And the only person who really tried to defend himself was Hussein Rashid Mohammed; that's the former deputy of military operations. And when he heard his sentence to death by hanging, he shouted at the judge, we're not criminals. We defended our country. Long live the Iraqi army and long live the Iraqi people.
INSKEEP: We're talking with NPR's Rachel Martin, who's covering the latest trial of Iraqis accused of war crimes. And while those trials go on, fighting continues elsewhere in Iraq and in fact we're in the middle of what U.S. commanders are calling their most significant operation in Iraq since 2003. What's happening, Rachel?
MARTIN: Well, this, like you say, is a big effort. This is the first operation since the last of all the 30,000 so-called surge troops have arrived in Iraq. And it's a multi-pronged operation. There are operations in al-Anbar province to the west, which used to be a Sunni stronghold, several operations in and around Baghdad, and a lot of focus has been put on Baqouba, that's the capital city of Diyala province. And that's where many insurgents who were pushed out of other areas in Iraq have now relocated and regrouped while U.S. forces were concentrated in other parts of Iraq. Now U.S. forces are trying to shift that and put more troops in Diyala and try to crack down on those insurgent strongholds.
And there are different reports on how well that's going. The governor of Diyala has said that Iraqi forces working closely with U.S. troops have killed dozens of insurgents and are making great strides. But a U.S. general in Diyala has recently raised concerns about the strength and capability of those Iraqi forces. And he said that while they can clear out neighborhoods and they can get rid of insurgents, the real problem is then holding those areas to make sure those insurgents don't come back.
It's important to also note that while a lot of the military's focus has been on Baqouba, most of the American troop fatalities in the past week since these operations began has happened in Baghdad. And at least 24 U.S. soldiers have been killed in and immediately around the capital; most of those soldiers have died as a result of roadside bomb attacks.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Rachel Martin in Baghdad. Rachel, thanks very much.
MARTIN: You're welcome.