Skip to article

Middle East

Advertise on NYTimes.com

Hussein Aide ‘Chemical’ Ali Executed in Iraq

Published: January 25, 2010

BAGHDAD — Ali Hassan al-Majid, a symbol of the former government of Saddam Hussein, who ordered a poison gas attack on a Kurdish village in northern Iraq, was executed on Monday.

Skip to next paragraph
Al Iraqiya, via Associated Press Television News

Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as Chemical Ali, was seen on Iraqi television shortly before he was hanged on Monday.

At War

Notes from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and other areas of conflict in the post-9/11 era. Go to the Blog »

An Iraqi court had sentenced Mr. Majid, 68, to death by hanging last week. Mr. Majid, known as Chemical Ali for his role in the attack on the village of Halabja, in which more than 5,000 Kurds died, was perhaps the most notorious figure from the former regime to be executed since Mr. Hussein was himself hanged in December 2006.

Iraq’s state television broadcast pictures of what it said was the execution, showing a man in a black mask and red jumpsuit on a wood scaffold, with a rope around his neck.

“His execution turns the page on another black chapter of repression, genocide and crimes against humanity that Saddam and his men practiced for 35 years,” said Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki in a statement.

In court cases that began in August 2006, Mr. Majid was handed eight death sentences for crimes that ranged from Halabja to a campaign known as Anfal at the end of the Iran-Iraq war in which at least 180,000 Kurds were killed and thousands others displaced, invoking accusations of genocide and serving as a powerful symbol of Kurdish suffering in their quest for self-determination.

He was also convicted for his role in crushing a Shiite uprising in southern Iraq in 1991, in which thousands were killed and displaced.

“His execution is great news for all Iraqis,” said Fakhri Karim, an adviser to President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd. “He was the killing machine of the former regime.”

He was hanged on Monday for his role in the Anfal campaign, an official from the Justice Ministry said.

Kao Mahmoud, a spokesman for the government of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, said that Kurdish officials would pursue their efforts to classify the attack on Halabja as genocide.

The government announced his execution shortly after three devastating bombings struck hotels in Baghdad, killing 36 people, in what appeared to be a coordinated attack.

The delays in executing Mr. Majid stood in contrast to the speed with which Mr. Hussein’s death sentence was carried out. Mr. Hussein was sentenced Nov. 5, 2006; his appeal was rejected on Dec. 26 that year; and he went to the gallows just before dawn within four days. Video was soon circulated of Mr. Hussein’s confrontation with guards.

Ali Dabbagh, the government’s spokesman, said that Mr. Majid’s execution “happened without any violations, shouting or cries of joy,” unlike that of Mr. Hussein.

Throughout his courtroom appearances and until last week, Mr. Majid remained unapologetic, explaining to the court during the Anfal trial that he had ordered the destruction of Kurdish villages because they were filled with Iranian agents.

“I am the one who gave orders to the army to demolish villages and relocate villagers,” Mr. Majid had said during one of the hearings. “I am not defending myself, I am not apologizing. I did not make a mistake.”

“Thanks to God,” an unrepentant Mr. Majid said last week when his eighth death sentence was read out in court.

On June 24, 2007, the court sentenced Mr. Majid and a former defense minister, Sultan Hashem Ahmed, to death for their role in the Anfal campaign. Mr. Majid’s sentence was set to be carried out on Oct. 16, but was postponed because of wrangling over Mr. Ahmed’s execution. Several top Iraqi leaders and American commanders wanted to spare him.

Mr. Ahmed received a 15-year prison sentence last week for his role in the Halabja attack. It is not clear yet if or when he will be executed.

“Until now, there isn’t an executive order to execute him,” said Bosho Dizai, the deputy justice minister. “We don’t know what will happen yet.”

Mr. Ahmed was a top officer for decades, winning respect from many Iraqis for his professionalism. Some American officials said he helped limit the resistance of the Iraqi army to the invasion in 2003, and many Sunni leaders said he was simply a soldier following Mr. Majid’s orders.

After the 2003 American-led invasion, Mr. Ahmed fled to Mosul, where Gen. David H. Petraeus, then a major general in charge of military operations in the north, praised him as a “man of honor and integrity” and asked him to surrender in a letter stating that by doing so, he could “avoid capture, imprisonment and loss of honor and dignity befitting a general officer.”

But because of his role in the Anfal campaign, both Shiite and Kurdish officials believed that if Mr. Ahmed’s life was spared, it could set a precedent by which others who committed crimes would also seek to be let off. Some also feared executing Mr. Ahmed would affect efforts to persuade Sunnis to reconcile with a government now dominated by Shiites.

Mr. Majid, a first cousin to Mr. Hussein, was captured on Aug. 17, 2003, five months after the invasion of Iraq. He was listed as the fifth most-wanted men and as King of Spades in the pack of cards of most wanted issued by the US military in 2003.

He was a soldier in the Iraqi army until Mr. Hussein’s Baath party seized power in a bloody coup in 1968 when he was appointed an aide to the defense minister. When Mr. Hussein became president in 1979, he was promoted to head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service. In the late 1980s, he was appointed secretary general of the northern bureau of the Baath Party, where he demonstrated ruthlessness against Kurdish rebels.

Following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, he was named military governor of the emirate. In 1991 he became interior minister and was charged with quelling the Shiite uprising that broke out that year against Mr. Hussein in the south.

In 1995 he became defense minister but was dismissed shortly afterward when Mr. Hussein discovered he was involved in smuggling illegal grain to Iran.

Three years later, he was brought back and appointed commander of southern Iraq, a position he kept until the invasion.

Advertisements