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Iraqi Court Sentences Saddam Cousin 'Chemical Ali' to Death

Saddam Hussein's cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, known in the West as "Chemical Ali," for his role in gassing thousands of Kurds in the late 1980s, has been condemned to death by an Iraqi court for a second time. Al-Majid was convicted for his role in the bloody suppression of a Shi'ite uprising in southern Iraq in 1991. Edward Yeranian has this report from Cairo.

The Iraqi judge read out the death sentence against Ali Hassan al-Majid with a somber voice, and a long litany of legal terms for war-crimes related to the brutal 1991 crackdown against Shi'ites during an ill-fated uprising against the Saddam Hussein regime.

Majid answered Judge Mohammed al-Oreibi with a polite "praise be to God," and remained calm throughout the sentencing, unlike his former comrades, who were known for frequent outbursts during earlier court sessions. His face looked drawn and tired, and he appeared resigned to his fate.

The 67-year-old cousin of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, a one-time interior minister, had earlier been convicted of genocide in the campaign of oppression against the Kurdish minority in northern Iraq in the 1980s known as the Anfal massacres.

In this 1980s Iraqi TV recording, al-Majid vowed to gas the Kurds for what he called their treachery and disloyalty to the Saddam Hussein regime. He won notoriety and the infamous nickname Chemical Ali, after using poison gas in the Kurdish town of Halabja, killing scores of innocent people.

Al-Majid's co-conspirator in this latest trial, Abdelghani Abdul Ghaffour al-Ani, who headed Saddam Hussein's Baath party in the southern region of Basrah in the early 1990s, was also sentenced to death for war crimes in the 1991 Shi'ite uprising, following Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Gulf War.

Al-Ani remained defiant until the end, shouting at the judge, insulting what he called the "U.S. occupiers," and proclaiming to God that he will "die as a martyr to the nation."

Judge Oreibi ultimately lost his composure, shouting at al-Ani and telling him to "shut up, and get out of here."

The verdicts followed weeks of on-again, off-again testimony, and follow the initial June 2007 verdict in the Kurdish massacre trials. Former Defense Minister Sultan Hashim al-Tai, and the former Iraqi army deputy head of operations Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti were sentenced to death, along with al-Majid in that trial. Each got a life sentence in Tuesday's sentencing.

Analyst Oraib al Rantawi of the Al-Quds Center in Amman Jordan does not foresee any violent reaction by former Saddam Hussein supporters following the verdict, but he says it will deepen strife in Iraq and hamper the ongoing process of reconciliation between Shi'ites, Kurds and Sunnis.

"I think this court is part of the problem in Iraq," Rantawi said. "It deepens the divisions among Iraqi groups. It is part of a long story. Therefore, I do not think there will be a serious reaction among the Iraqi groups, because the serious reaction was already done after Saddam Hussein's prosecutions and this penalty for him and other leaders. The ongoing trial in Iraq for these personalities I think it is not part of implementing justice in Iraq. ... I think it is part of revenge. I do not think it will make it easy for the Iraqi people to go for reconciliation."

Following months of bitter debate, Iraq's presidential council voted to approve the death sentences against al-Majid and his two other co-conspirators in the Anfal trial, last February. The three men remain in U.S. custody, and it is not clear if and when they will be executed.

* earlier photo posted was incorrect