BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – An Iraqi court sentenced Saddam Hussein’s cousin “Chemical Ali” to death on Tuesday for the killing of thousands of Shi’ites in a ruthless crackdown on their uprising after the 1991 Gulf War.
It was the second death sentence to be handed down against Ali Hassan al-Majeed, who earned his nickname for his role in using poison gas against Kurdish villages.
Dressed in an Arab chequered headdress and robe, Majeed stood quietly as the verdict was read, showing no emotion. He was first condemned to be hanged last year for the killing of tens of thousands of Kurds in the 1980s, but that sentence has been held up by political wrangling.
The judge did not say when this execution would be carried out, but Majeed can appeal the decision. It was unclear whether this sentence would also be delayed by the political dispute.
Judge Mohammad al-Uraibi also sentenced a former top Baath party official, Abdul Ghani Abdul Ghafour, to hang for his involvement in the crackdown on Shi’ites in the south, and 10 others to sentences ranging from 15 years to life in prison. “The court has decided to execute by hanging the convicted Ali Hassan Majeed for committing … wilful killings and crimes against humanity,” the judge said.
Saddam’s Sunni Arab-led government quelled a Shi’ite uprising in 1991. Investigators discovered dozens of mass graves with thousands of bodies after U.S. forces ousted him in 2003.
As the verdict was read out Abdul Ghafour, who was the Baath Party official in charge of Iraq’s southern region at the time of the Shi’ite uprising, became agitated. “I am a martyr for Iraq … Down with the U.S. occupation! Down with the collaborators! Victory for jihad!” he shouted.
Iraqis in the mainly Shi’ite south applauded the second death sentence for Majeed. “He deserves 20 executions because he conducted many crimes and massacres,” said teacher Safah Kadham, 36, in Basra.
Majeed’s reputation for the ruthless use of force to crush opponents won him widespread notoriety during Saddam’s rule and many Iraqis feared him even more than the leader himself.
Saeed Ali, a Basra civil servant said: “This is justice because he spilled much Iraqi blood, especially in the south.”
Uraibi told journalists after the verdict that the sentences were agreed by four out of five judges deciding the cases.
The judge said Majeed had showed no remorse. “Most of them apologised and felt regret during the trial except Ali Hassan al-Majeed,” he said, explaining why other Baath officials had softer sentences than Majeed.
The Iraqi High Tribunal was set up in 2003 to try former members of Saddam’s government and was the same one that sentenced the former dictator to death.
New York-based Human Rights Watch estimates 290,000 people disappeared under Saddam, many killed then heaped in ditches.
Saddam was executed in December 2006 after being convicted of crimes against humanity for the killing of 148 Shi’ite men and boys after a 1982 assassination attempt. But Sunni Arabs were outraged by a video showing the ousted leader being taunted by official observers of the Shi’ite-led governing coalition in the moments before he was hanged. His half-brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti was executed two weeks later in a botched hanging that ripped off his head. Two other members of the former government have also been executed.