By SINAN SALAHEDDIN and OMAR SINAN
The Associated Press
Sunday, June 24, 2007; 4:22 PM
BAGHDAD -- Saddam Hussein's cousin, known as "Chemical Ali," and two other regime officials were sentenced Sunday to hang for slaughtering up to 180,000 Kurdish men, women and children with chemical weapons, artillery barrages and mass executions two decades ago.
Two other defendants were sentenced to life in prison for their roles in the 1987-1988 crackdown, known as "Operation Anfal." A sixth defendant was acquitted for lack of evidence. Death sentences are automatically appealed.
The most notorious defendant was Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, who gained his nickname for ordering the use of mustard gas and nerve agents against the Kurds in response to their collaboration with the Iranians during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War.
Witnesses testified that Iraqi government forces indiscriminately attacked women and children, burned crops, killed livestock and rounded up civilians into detention camps in a campaign to exterminate the restive Kurdish minority.
Rubbar Mohammed visits the grave of her family members who were killed in a chemical attack by Saddam Hussein's forces in 1998, in Halabja, Iraq, Sunday, June 24, 2007 . Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as Chemical Ali, Saddam Hussein's cousin and the former head of the Baath Party's Northern Bureau Command, and two other former regime officials were sentenced to death by hanging for their roles in a 1980s scorched-earth campaign that led to the deaths of 180,000 Kurds, by an Iraqi court in Baghdad Sunday. (AP Photo/Yahya Ahmed)
The defendants insisted they were defending the nation against Kurdish guerrillas who had sided with Iran during the bloody eight-year war.
Al-Majid, once among the most powerful and feared men in Iraq, trembled in silence as Judge Mohammed Oreibi al-Khalifa read the verdict against him and imposed five death sentences for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
"You had all the civil and military authority for northern Iraq," al-Khalifa said. "You gave the orders to the troops to kill Kurdish civilians and put them in severe conditions. You subjected them to wide and systematic attacks using chemical weapons and artillery. You led the killing of Iraqi villagers. You restricted them in their areas, burned their orchards, killed their animals. You committed genocide."
Al-Majid said "Thanks be to God" as he was led from the courtroom.
Also sentenced to death were Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai, the former defense minister who led the Iraqi delegation at the cease-fire talks that ended the 1991 Gulf War, and Hussein Rashid Mohammed, a former deputy director of operations for the Iraqi armed forces.
Mohammed interrupted the judge as the verdict was read, insisting the defendants were defending Iraq from Kurdish rebels who collaborated with Iran.
"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.