Iraq's High Tribunal has sentenced Saddam Hussein's cousin and top henchman to hang for his role in the massacre of tens of thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq in the 1980s known as the Anfal campaign. From Baghdad, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more on the verdict.
Chief Judge Mohammed al-Oreibi read the court's decision, finding Ali Hassan al-Majid guilty of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
Also known by the grim nickname "Chemical Ali" for orchestrating the gassing of the Kurds, he was sentenced Sunday to hang for his crimes.
Two other high-ranking regime members were also sentenced to death: former defense minister Sultan Hashim al-Tai and a former army commander Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti.
Sabir al-Douri, the former Director of Military Intelligence, and Farhan Mutlaq Saleh, former Head of Military Intelligence's Eastern Regional Office both received life sentences for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
A sixth defendant, Taher Muhammed al-Ani, a former governor of Mosul province, was cleared of all charges due to insufficient evidence.
In Northern Iraq's Kurdistan Region, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani told VOA by telephone that his government is satisfied with the verdict. He says it is important that the court recognized that the atrocities committed against the Kurds were genocide.
Mr. Barzani says the Anfal campaign was a "holocaust" for his people, and he hopes the international community will recognize it as such. He also called for the Iraqi government to compensate survivors.
The defendants had argued that they were acting on orders at a time when Saddam's government viewed the rebellious, independence-minded Kurds as cooperating with Iran during the 1980s war between the two countries.
Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was also a defendant in the case, but was executed in December following his conviction in an earlier trial. He received the death penalty for ordering the executions of 148 Shiite men and boys in the town of Dujail after a failed assassination attempt against him there in 1982.
The court has 10 days to send all relevant documents to a nine-judge appeals panel that automatically reviews all life or death sentences. If upheld, the sentences will have to be carried out within 30 days of the appeal-court ruling, but there is no time limit for the panel to certify the verdicts.
In February 1988, Saddam Hussein's army began a campaign of mass murder against Iraqi Kurds living in the north. When it ended the following September, tens of thousands of Kurdish men, women and children had been killed or had disappeared. Some human-rights groups estimate the number of dead to be as high as 182,000. Four-thousand Kurdish villages were destroyed.
The regime's codename for the operation was "al-Anfal," the title of a chapter in the Koran that means "spoils of war."
Iraqi Kurds celebrated Sunday's verdicts, honking horns and dancing in the streets.
Layla, a school teacher living in the Kurdish city of Irbil, says she is very happy with the verdict and hopes Chemical Ali will be hanged in Halabja.
One of the worst attacks during this period was against the town of Halabja, on the Iran-Iraq border. The regime is accused of ordering the use of chemical weapons, killing about 5,000 civilians. This crime was so horrific that the Iraqi High Tribunal will consider it in a separate trial.