'Chemical Ali' Execution OK'd in Iraq

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Iraq's presidential council has given the approval to execute Saddam Hussein's cousin, known as "Chemical Ali," for his role in the 1980s scorched-earth campaign against Kurds, officials said Friday. But the council, made up of Iraq's president and two vice presidents, spared the lives of two other officials amid Sunni protests that they were only following orders.

The execution of Ali Hassan al-Majid by hanging could take place in less than 30 days. He was one of three former Saddam officials sentenced to death last June.

Al-Majid, along with his two fellow defendants, was convicted by an Iraqi court of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for their participation in the Operation Anfal crackdown. The operation carried out in northern Iraq killed almost 200,000 Kurdish civilians and guerrillas.

Al-Majid was nicknamed "Chemical Ali" for ordering poison gas attacks that killed thousands.

The officials said the three-member presidential council agreed to al-Majid's execution, but did not approve death sentences against the other two - Hussein Rashid Mohammed, an ex-deputy director of operations for the Iraqi armed forces, and former defense minister Sultan Hashim al-Taie.

All three of the men remain in U.S. custody. Their fate had been in legal limbo since last summer.

The decision to spare the other two was seen as a compromise to ease Sunni objections to executing al-Taie. He is respected as a career soldier who was forced to follow the regime in their policy of purges against Kurds.

Sunni leaders including Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi have launched a campaign to spare the life of al-Taie. Al-Taie is a Sunni Arab from the northern city of Mosul who signed the cease-fire with U.S.-led forces that ended the 1991 Gulf War.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, himself a Kurd, has refused to sign the order against al-Taie.

Al-Taie surrendered to U.S. forces in September 2003 after weeks of negotiations. His defense attorneys have argued the Americans had promised him "protection and good treatment" before he turned himself in.

Al-Majid would be the fifth former Saddam regime official to be executed for the alleged atrocities perpetrated against Iraqis in the last 30 years.

A government adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information, said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and U.S. officials had been informed of the decision by phone and that a meeting was planned to decide when and where the execution should take place.

Prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi, who said he had received word of the decision from the presidential council, said there was a legal basis for the execution of "Chemical Ali" but not of the other two.

He said no law existed that could force the presidential council to endorse the execution of all three, so it had the prerogative to just sign off on one of the orders.

An appeals court upheld the verdicts against the three in September.

There have been few calls for leniency regarding al-Majid.

Source: Associated Press

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