LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
Today in Baghdad, the Iraqi High Tribunal convicted several members of Saddam Hussein's former Baath party of crimes against humanity during the Anfal campaign against Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s. The most notorious of the defendants, Ali Hassan al-Majid, the military official who oversaw the attack better known as "Chemical Ali," was convicted of genocide and sentenced to death.
NPR's Rachel Martin was in the courthouse today and she's in Baghdad. Rachel, many of us have heard of Chemical Ali. Tell us more about the case and in particular, what was Anfal?
MARTIN: Sure. Anfal was the name given to the military campaign that was waged by Saddam Hussein and members of his Baath party. It was a campaign to attack the Kurdish population in the north part of Iraq - that's the oil-rich part of the country near the Iranian border. And during the Anfal - during the operation, Iraqi forces dropped chemical weapons on dozens of Kurdish villages - mustard gas and nerve agents. And they are different reports about how many people those attacks actually killed. Human rights groups estimate that number to be around 100,000 people, but Iraqi sources say it could be closer to 200,000.
HANSEN: Tell us more about these defendants and the exact charges against them.
MARTIN: Yes, the big name in this case, as you mentioned, is a man named Ali Hassan al-Majid. This was Saddam's cousin and he was a top Baath leader in the north part of the country - essentially a de facto president of that region that Saddam installed there. He was known throughout Iraq as Chemical Ali -rather notorious nickname - explicitly because of his role in masterminding the attacks on the Kurds. Ali was charged with genocide and crimes against humanity and today he was sentenced to death by hanging.
So were two other Baathist leaders who were given the death sentence for their role in Anfal. That would be the former deputy of operations for Iraqi forces, Hussein Mohammed al-Tikriti and the former defense minister, Sultan Hashem. And there were other top officials - two others who received the life sentence for their role in the attacks. And one man, the former governor of Mosul in the north was actually released for lack of evidence.
HANSEN: Now the courtroom you were in - this is the same place where Saddam Hussein was tried. What was the tone of the courtroom this time?
MARTIN: You're right. This is the same courtroom and as a lot of people remember there were a lot of theatrics in the trial. In this case - in this trial, things were a lot quieter. People who had observed this case from the beginning say it was much less theatrical. Although today there were a few outbursts - a couple of the defendants muttered: God is great and thanks be to God when they heard their sentence. And the deputy for Iraqi forces, Mohammed al-Tikriti was the most visibly upset. When the judge read his sentence, he shouted back angrily: We're not criminals. We defended Iraq. Long live the Iraqi army and long live the Iraqi people.
HANSEN: Briefly, Rachel, any reaction to these verdicts?
MARTIN: Well, there were some reports that there was some celebrations being held in the north where most of the country's Kurdish population is concentrated. But overall, there is a sense in a lot that people are really tired about thinking - about these particular leaders and what they inflicted on Iraq and specifically the Kurds. There was barely a mention of it in Kurdish newspapers. And only a handful of Iraqi media agencies were in the courtroom.
HANSEN: NPR's Rachel Martin in Baghdad. Rachel, thank you very much.
MARTIN: You're welcome.
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