Saddam's cousin 'Chemical Ali' to hang for poison gas attacks
BAGHDAD — Saddam Hussein's notorious cousin "Chemical Ali" was convicted Sunday and sentenced to hang for ordering the most infamous of his crimes, the attacks against the Kurdish town of Halabja that killed more than 5,000 people in clouds of poisonous gas.
The fourth death sentence against Ali Hassan al-Majid for crimes against humanity serves as a reminder that victims of Saddam's atrocities remain determined to seek justice, as some politicians stoke the lingering bitterness toward the old Sunni-led regime to cement the Shiite domination that supplanted it.
For the still suffering victims of the assault on Halabja more than two decades ago, the verdict brought a sense of closure to an event that came to symbolize the brutality of Saddam's rule.
"Now the souls of our victims will rest in peace," said Nazik Tawfiq, a 45-year-old Kurdish woman who said she lost six relatives in the attack. Upon hearing the verdict in the Baghdad courtroom, she fell to her knees to pray.
Al-Majid's previous sentences have not been carried out in part because Halabja survivors wanted to have their case against him heard. Politics plays a role, with a three-member presidential council representing Iraq's leading factions of Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds unable to agree to sign off on an earlier execution order.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite who is seeking re-election in March, has taken a tough stance against former members of Saddam's now banned Baath party. The government has accused Baathists of involvement in a number of bombings that have undercut its efforts to maintain security as U.S. troops draw down.
In Halabja, residents cheered and songs blared from loudspeakers at a monument commemorating victims of the attack. Some in town visited the cemetery to remember loved ones who died in the gassing. The jubilation demonstrated again the deep-rooted hatred many Iraqis still feel toward the former regime.
"I came here to the cemetery to shout and tell my dead beloved relatives that the killer Chemical Ali is going to be hanged for his crimes," said Arslan Abid, who lost 16 family members in the attack.
Al-Majid earned his nickname because of his willingness to use poison gas against the Kurds.
The 1988 killings remain a source of deep pain, particularly among that community. Many in Halabja still suffer physically from the effects of the nerve and mustard gas that were unleashed on the village at the end of the eight-year Iran-Iraq War.
The attacks were part of repeated attempts by Saddam's government to suppress the Kurds, who had long campaigned for autonomy from mainly Arab Iraq and staged a guerrilla war against Saddam's military.