Iraq's 'Chemical Ali' hanged for 1988 gas attack

Published: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 12:44 a.m.

Iraq's government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, gave no other details of the execution. But that didn't stop speculation that three deadly suicide attacks in Baghdad — just before the official announcement ofam suspected the non-Arab Kurds of siding with Persian Iran during the war. But it was the Halabja attack that riveted the world's attention.

He led another sweeping campaign, crushing a Shiite uprising in southern Iraq after Saddam's military was driven from Kuwait in 1991.

Al-Majid was a warrant officer and motorcycle messenger in the army before Saddam's Baath party took power in a 1968 coup. He was promoted to general and served as defense minister from 1991-95, as well as a regional party leader.

During the war with Iran in the 1980s, al-Majid was part of command structure for Iraqi forces, which was accused of using chemical agents on Iranian troops in a conflict that left a total of 1 million dead. Two main formulas were cited by U.N. investigators: mustard gas, an oily liquid first used in World War I whose vapor can remain deadly for days; and tabun, a nerve gas that causes convulsions and paralysis before death.

"For Saddam Hussein, chemical weapons were a force multiplier, a way of countering the Iranian human-wave infantry tactics that were overwhelming Iraqi positions," said Jonathan Tucker, a Washington-based senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

The lingering worries about possible secret stockpiles helped fuel support for the U.S.-led invasion despite no clear evidence and Iraqi claims that it disposed of its chemical weapons, which are banned under international conventions.

During the trials after Saddam's fall, prosecutors played audiotapes of what they said were conversations between Saddam and al-Majid.

In one of the recordings, al-Majid was heard vowing to "leave no Kurd (alive) who speaks the Kurdish language."

He claimed he used such language as "psychological and propaganda" tools against the Kurds to frighten them into not fighting government forces.

In a January 2007 court hearing, he said a death sentence did not worry him.

"I will face death with open arms," he said.

The sentences to hang then came: first for the suppression of the Shiites in 1991, and then for the Anfal campaign and a third for a 1999 crackdown that sought to quell Shiite unrest after the slaying of a Shiite cleric who opposed the regime.

The previous sentences were not been carried out in part because Halabja survivors wanted to have their case against him heard.

"Chemical Ali was the symbol of crimes and genocide in modern history. Executing him is a lesson to those who do the samered son.

"I give my condolences to the Iraqi people on the martyrdom of comrade Ali Hassan al-Majid. Tikrit and Iraq are proud of him," said one man from Tikrit, who refused to give his name.

The Halabja attack left many of the survivors with long-term medical problems such as permanent blindness, skin burns, respiratory and digestive problems and cancer, said Farman Othman, a doctor in Suleimaniyah who has treated a number of patients.

Joost Hiltermann, deputy program director for thciated Press Writers Adam Schreck in Baghdad, Maamoun Youssef in Cairo and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.

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