Written by Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor Staff writer
(Boston – Christian Science Monitor) - Ali Hassan al-Majid, the cousin of Saddam Hussein and regime enforcer who cast almost as fearsome a shadow across Iraq as the former dictator, was executed by hanging on Monday in Baghdad, Mr. Majid, who served as Hussein's internal security chief, came to be known as "Chemical Ali" after he ordered the use of poison gas in a ferocious counterinsurgency campaign against the Kurds in the late 1980s. In one incident, 5,000 men, women, and children were killed with nerve gas in the village of Halabja in 1988. He was the fifth most-wanted regime official and the king of spades on the famous deck of cards that the US military issued after its 2003 invasion.
His execution followed a death sentence last week – the eighth he's received since going on trial for war crimes in 2006. That was a stark contrast to the execution of Hussein, who was killed at the end of 2006, soon after his first confession. The hasty execution derailed further court cases against him, which led human rights organizations to complain that justice was not served. In particular, Hussein was never prosecuted for the the gassing of either the Kurds in the north or Shiites in the south.
Majid, however, was. He led the infamous Anfal campaign in the Kurdish north between 1987 and 1989, named for a chapter of the Koran that translates as the "Spoils of War." On his orders, Iraqi air power bombarded villages and towns with nerve gas and conventional weapons, and Iraqi infantry frequently swept through after the bombardment was over, killing surviving men and frequently evicting whole families from their homes, to make way for ethnic-Arab settlers from the country's south. Researchers estimate the campaign claimed 100,000 lives.
In 1991, after an uprising against the Hussein regime broke out in the largely Shiite south of the country, Majid was placed in charge of operations that killed thousands of civilians and a bloody campaign of terror against regime opponents afterwards. A former Iraqi intelligence officer told this newspaper in 2004 that he was ordered to transfer 14 political prisoners from the Shiite south to Baghdad shortly after the failed uprising.
Once in Baghdad, the men were taken to a large pool of acid and pushed in, one after the other. The tearful ex-intelligence officer said at the time: "There was just a brief scream and they were gone.... Other bus loads got different punishment. Some were buried in sand up to their necks and then run over with a steamroller."
What Majid's death means for Iraq today is hard to say. The country is heading towards March elections and Iraq's citizenry are still badly divided. On Monday, there were coordinated attacks on three major hotels in Baghdad that killed about 30 people.
Four of the five most-wanted men at the time of the invasion are now dead. In addition to Saddam Hussein, his sons Qusay and Uday were killed in a shootout with US forces in 2003. Former presidential secretary Abid Hamid Mahmud, the ace of diamonds, has been in captivity since 2003.
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