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'Chemical Ali,' 2 others sentenced to death
BAGHDAD -- Saddam Hussein's cousin, known as "Chemical Ali," and two other regime officials were sentenced Sunday to hang for slaughtering up to 180,000 Kurdish men, women and children with chemical weapons, artillery barrages and mass executions two decades ago.
Two other defendants were sentenced to life in prison for their roles in the 1987-1988 crackdown, known as "Operation Anfal." A sixth defendant was acquitted for lack of evidence. Death sentences are automatically appealed.
The most notorious defendant was Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, who gained his nickname for ordering the use of mustard gas and nerve agents against the Kurds in response to their collaboration with the Iranians during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War.
Witnesses testified that Iraqi government forces indiscriminately attacked women and children, burned crops, killed livestock and rounded up civilians into detention camps in a campaign to exterminate the restive Kurdish minority.
The defendants insisted they were defending the nation against Kurdish guerrillas who had sided with Iran during the bloody eight-year war.
Al-Majid, once among the most powerful and feared men in Iraq, trembled in silence as Judge Mohammed Oreibi al-Khalifa read the verdict against him and imposed five death sentences for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
"You had all the civil and military authority for northern Iraq," al-Khalifa said. "You gave the orders to the troops to kill Kurdish civilians and put them in severe conditions. You subjected them to wide and systematic attacks using chemical weapons and artillery. You led the killing of Iraqi villagers. You restricted them in their areas, burned their orchards, killed their animals. You committed genocide."
Al-Majid said "Thanks be to God" as he was led from the courtroom.
Also sentenced to death were Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai, the former defense minister who led the Iraqi delegation at the cease-fire talks that ended the 1991 Gulf War, and Hussein Rashid Mohammed, a former deputy director of operations for the Iraqi armed forces.
Mohammed interrupted the judge as the verdict was read, insisting the defendants were defending Iraq from Kurdish rebels who collaborated with Iran.
"God bless our martyrs. Long live the brave Iraqi army. Long live Iraq. Long live the Baath Party and long live Arab nations," he said.
Al-Tai insisted he was innocent, telling the judge "I will leave you to God" as he was led away.
Farhan Mutlaq Saleh, former deputy director of operations for the armed forces, and Sabir al-Douri, former director of military intelligence, were sentenced to life in prison. Taher Tawfiq al-Ani, former governor of Mosul, was acquitted.
Saddam himself was among the defendants when the trial began Aug. 21, but he was hanged four months later for his role in the deaths of more than 140 Shiite Muslims in the town of Dujail -- the first trial against major figures from the ousted regime.
In northern Iraq, many Kurds welcomed the verdict, even though some were disappointed that Saddam did not have to face the gallows in the Anfal case.
In Halabja, where an estimated 5,000 Kurds were killed in a massive chemical attack in March 1988, a power outage prevented many people from watching the televised proceedings. But dozens gathered in cafes and restaurants that had generators to watch the verdicts.
"I would never miss this," said Peshtiwan Kamal, 24, who was too young to remember the attacks. "I always heard from my family what those criminals did to my people. So I just wanted to see how they would take the verdict and punishment."