BAGHDAD, (AP) – An Iraqi court on Sunday sentenced Saddam Hussein’s cousin known as “Chemical Ali” and two other former regime officials to death by hanging for their roles in a 1980s scorched-earth campaign that led to the deaths of 180,000 Kurds.
Ali Hassan al-Majid, Saddam’s cousin and the former head of the Baath Party’s Northern Bureau Command, trembled and stood silently as the judge read the verdict.
The judge, Mohammed Oreibi al-Khalifa, said al-Majid was convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for ordering army and security services to use chemical weapons in a large-scale offensive that killed or maimed thousands.
As he was led out of the court, al-Majid said, “Thanks be to God.”
The decisions, if upheld on appeal, would bring to a close the second trial against former regime officials since Saddam was ousted in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Saddam, who also had been a defendant in the so-called Anfal trial, was hanged Dec. 30 for ordering the killings of more than 140 Shiite Muslims from the Iraqi city of Dujail following a 1982 assassination attempt against him.
Kurds welcomed the trial as their chance to taste vengeance, although the case did not deal with the most notorious gassing — the March 1988 attack on the northern city of Halabja that killed an estimated 5,000 Kurds.
“Finally, the past hard days are gone. I am ready to start over without this burden on my chest,” said Lokman Abdul-Qader, a 40-year-old resident of Halabja who lost six relatives in the chemical attack and says he has suffered from acute asthma attacks since he inhaled the nerve and mustard gas that was used.
Former defense minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai also was sent to the gallows after the judge ruled that he had ordered a large-scale attack against civilians and used chemical weapons and deportation against the Kurds.
Al-Tai, who was wearing a traditional Arab robe and a white headdress, stood in silence as the verdict was read but insisted he was innocent afterward.
“I will not say anything new, but I will leave you to God. I’m innocent,” al-Tai said as a guard escorted him out of the room after the verdict.
The former deputy director of operations for the Iraqi Armed Forces, Hussein Rashid Mohammed, also was sentenced to death after he was convicted of drawing up military plans and other allegations against the Kurds.
Mohammed interrupted the judge as the verdict was being read, insisting the defendants were defending Iraq by acting against Kurdish rebels accused of collaborating with Tehran during the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war.
“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.
Two other former regime officials — Farhan Mutlaq Saleh, former head of military intelligence’s eastern regional office, and former director of military intelligence under Saddam Hussein, Sabir al-Douri, were sentenced to life in prison.
The judge said the charges were dropped against Taher Tawfiq al-Ani, the former governor of Mosul and head of the Northern Affairs Committee, because of insufficient evidence. That decision had been expected as the prosecutor had requested that al-Ani be released.
The three men sentenced to hang on Sunday would raise to seven the number of former regime officials executed for alleged atrocities against Iraqis during Saddam’s nearly three-decades rule.
Besides Saddam, his half brother and former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, former head of Iraq’s Revolutionary Court — were hanged in January, prompting criticism from human rights groups.
Many Sunni Arabs also were outraged after a clandestine video showed Saddam being taunted on the gallows before he was hanged for his role in the killings and when Ibrahim was inadvertently decapitated at his later execution.
Saddam’s former vice president, Taha Yassin Ramadan, had been sentenced to life in prison for his role in Dujail but was executed in March after the court decided that was too lenient. Three other defendants were sentenced to 15 years in jail in the Dujail case, while one was acquitted.