Ali Hassan al-Majid

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Ali Hassan al-Majid at an investigative hearing in 2004

Ali Hassan Abd al-Majid al-Tikritieh (Arabic: علي حسن عبد المجيد التكريتيʿAlī Ḥasan ʿAbd al-Majīd al-Tikrītī, born 30 November 1941 [2]) is a former Ba'athist Iraqi Defense Minister, Interior Minister, military commander and chief of the Iraqi Intelligence Service. He was also the governor of occupied Kuwait during the Gulf War.

A first cousin of former President of Iraq Saddam Hussein, he became notorious in the 1980s and 1990s for his role in the Iraqi government's campaigns against internal opposition forces, namely from its ethnic Kurdish rebels of the north, and the Shia religious dissidents of the south. Repressive measures included deportations of the population and mass killings; al-Majid was dubbed "Chemical Ali" by Iraqi Kurds for his use of chemical weapons in attacks against them.[1]

Al-Majid was captured following the 2003 invasion of Iraq and was charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. He was convicted in June 2007 and was sentenced to death for crimes committed in the al-Anfal campaign of the 1980s. His appeal against the death sentence was rejected on 4 September 2007.

Early life

Ali Hassan was born in 1941 (the exact date is unknown) in Tikrit. He was a member of the Bejat clan of the al-Bu Nasir tribe, to which his elder cousin Saddam Hussein also belonged; Saddam later relied heavily on the clan to fill senior posts in his government. Like Saddam, Ali Hassan came from a poor family and had very little formal education. He worked as a motorcycle messenger and driver in the Iraqi Army until the Ba'ath Party seized power in 1968.[2]

Government career

His rise thereafter, aided by his cousin Saddam, was swift. He initially became an aide to Iraqi defence minister Hammadi Shihab in the early 1970s after joining the Ba'ath party.[3] He then became head of the government's Security Office, serving as an enforcer for the increasingly powerful Saddam. In 1979 Saddam seized power, pushing aside President Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr. At a videotaped assembly of Ba'ath party officials in July 1979, Saddam read out the names of political opponents and denounced them as "traitors", ordering them to be removed one by one from the room; many were later executed. Ali Hassan could be seen in the background telling Saddam, "What you have done in the past was good. What you will do in the future is good. But there's this one small point. You have been too gentle, too merciful."[2]

Ali Hassan became one of Saddam's closest military advisers and head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, Iraqi secret police known as the Mukhabarat. In 1983 an unsuccessful assassination attempt was mounted against Saddam in the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad. Ali Hassan directed the subsequent collective punishment operations in which scores of local men were killed, thousands more inhabitants were deported and the entire town was razed to the ground.[4]

Al-Anfal Campaign

During the late stages of the Iran–Iraq War Ali Hassan was given the post of Secretary General of the Northern Bureau of the Ba'ath Party, in which capacity he served from March 1987 to April 1989. This effectively made him Saddam's proconsul in the north of the country, commanding all state agencies in the rebellious Kurdish-populated region of the country. He soon displayed his characteristic ruthlessness, ordering the indiscriminate use of chemical weapons such as mustard gas, sarin, tabun and VX against Kurdish targets. The first such attacks occurred as early as April 1987 and continued into 1988, culminating in the notorious attack on Halabja in which over 5,000 people were killed.[4]

With Kurdish resistance continuing, Ali Hassan decided to break the back of the rebellion by eradicating the civilian population of the Kurdish regions. His forces embarked on a systematic campaign of mass killings, property destruction and forced population transfer (called "Arabization") in which thousands of Kurdish villages were razed and their inhabitants either killed or deported to the south of Iraq. A decree signed by him in June 1987 stated that "Within their jurisdiction, the armed forces must kill any human being or animal present in these areas."[5] By 1988, some 4,000 villages had been destroyed, an estimated 180,000 Kurds had been killed and some 1.5 million had been deported.[4] He was nicknamed Chemical Ali ("Ali Kimyawi") by the Kurds for his role in the campaign; according to Iraqi Kurdish sources, Ali Hassan openly boasted of this nickname.[6] Others dubbed him the "Butcher of Kurdistan".[7]

The Gulf War and Iraq War

Ali Hassan was appointed as Minister of Local Government following the war's end in 1988, with responsibility for the repopulation of the Kurdish region with Arab settlers relocated from elsewhere in Iraq. Two years later, after the invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, he became the military governor of the occupied emirate. He instituted a violent regime under which Kuwait was systematically looted and purged of "disloyal elements". In November 1990, Ali Hassan was recalled to Baghdad and was appointed Interior Minister in March 1991. Following the Iraqi defeat in the war, he was given the task of quelling the uprisings in the Shi'ite south of Iraq as well as the Kurdish north. Both revolts were crushed with great brutality, with many thousands killed.[4]

He was subsequently given the post of Defence Minister, though he briefly fell from grace in 1995 when Saddam dismissed him after it was discovered that Ali Hassan was involved in illegally smuggling grain to Iran. In December 1998, however, he was recalled by Saddam and appointed commander of the southern region of Iraq, where United States and United Kingdom aircraft were becoming increasingly active in carrying out air strikes in the southern no-fly zone. Ali Hassan was re-appointed to this post in March 2003, immediately before the start of the Iraq War.[4] He based himself in the southern port city of Basra and it was there, in April 2003, that he was mistakenly reported to have been killed in an air strike.[2] In all, he has been "killed" 5 times, yet he is still alive, as of April 2009, and awaiting sentencing.

Ali Hassan survived the attack but was arrested by United States forces on 17 August 2003. He had been listed as the fifth most-wanted man in Iraq, shown as the King of Spades in the deck of most-wanted Iraqi playing cards.[8] In 2006 he was charged with genocide and crimes against humanity for his part in the Anfal campaign and was transferred to the Iraq Special Tribunal for trial.[9] (However, he has not yet been charged with the March 1988 attack on Halabja; this is being dealt with as a separate case which has yet to come to trial.[10])


The trial began on 21 August 2006, in acrimonious circumstances when Ali Hassan refused to enter a plea. He consequently had a "not guilty" plea entered on his behalf by the court.[11]

Ali Hassan was unapologetic about his actions, telling the court that he had ordered the destruction of Kurdish villages on the grounds that they were "full of Iranian agents".[12] At one hearing, he declared: "I am the one who gave orders to the army to demolish villages and relocate the villagers. The army was responsible to carry out those orders. I am not defending myself. I am not apologising. I did not make a mistake."[13]

During the trial, the court heard tape-recorded conversations between Ali Hassan and senior Ba'ath party officials regarding the use of chemical weapons. Responding to a question about the success of the deportation campaign, Ali Hassan told his interlocutors:

... I went to Sulaymaniyah and hit them with the special ammunition [i.e. chemical weapons]. That was my answer. We continued the deportations. I told the mustashars [village heads] that they might say that they like their villages and that they won't leave. I said I cannot let your village stay because I will attack it with chemical weapons. Then you and your family will die. You must leave right now. Because I cannot tell you the same day that I am going to attack with chemical weapons. I will kill them all with chemical weapons! Who is going to say anything? The international community? Fuck them! The international community and those who listen to them.

... This is my intention, and I want you to take serious note of it. As soon as we complete the deportations, we will start attacking them everywhere according to a systematic military plan. Even their strongholds. In our attacks we will take back one third or one half of what is under their control. If we can try to take two-thirds, then we will surround them in a small pocket and attack them with chemical weapons. I will not attack them with chemicals just one day, but I will continue to attack them with chemicals for fifteen days. Then I will announce that anyone who wishes to surrender with his gun will be allowed to do so. Anyone willing to come back is welcome, and those who do not return will be attacked again with new, destructive chemicals. I will not mention the name of the chemical because that is classified information. But I will say with new destructive weapons that will destroy you. So I will threaten them and motivate them to surrender.[14]

In the next few days of the trial more recordings of Ali Hassan were heard in which he once again discussed the government's goals in dealing with the Iraqi Kurds. In the recordings, Ali Hassan calls the Iraqi Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani "wicked and a pimp," and also promises not to leave anyone alive who speaks the Kurdish language.

In his defense during this testimony Ali Hassan's defense claimed that he used such language as "psychological and propaganda" tools against the Kurds, to frighten them into not fighting government forces. "All the words used by me, such as 'deport them' or 'wipe them out,' were only for psychological effect," Ali Hassan said.

On 24 June 2007, the court returned a verdict of guilty on all counts. The presiding judge, Mohamed Oreibi al-Khalifa, told Ali Hassan: "You had all the civil and military authority for northern Iraq. You gave 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 villagers. You ... committed genocide. There are enough documents against you." [15]

Ali Hassan received five death sentences for genocide, crimes against humanity (specifically willful killing, forced disappearances and extermination), and war crimes (intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population). He was also sentenced to multiple prison terms ranging from seven years to life for other inhumane acts.[16] As his sentences have been upheld, under Iraqi law, sentence is to be carried out by hanging, subject to the convictions being upheld following an automatic appeal, and he was to be executed in the following 30 days along with two others - Sultan Hashem Ahmed, military commander of the Anfal campaign; and Hussein Rashid Mohammed, deputy general commander of the Iraqi armed force, assistant chief of staff for military operations, and former Republican Guard commander. The executions, however, were postponed to 16 October, because of the arrival of the holy month of Ramadan.[17] He was supposed to be executed 16 October 2007, but was delayed when Iraqi President Jalal Talabani expressed opposition to the sentences and refused to sign the execution orders.[18] He then entered into a legal row with Nouri al-Maliki, and as a result the Americans refused to hand any of the condemned prisoners over until the issue was resolved.

In the same year his sister-in-law and her daughter were killed by unknown men in Tikrit. In February 2008 an anonymous informant has stated that Ali Hassan al-Majid's execution has finally been approved by President Talabani and the two Vice-Presidents: this was the final hurdle in the way of the execution.[19]

On 2 December 2008, Chemical Ali was once again sentenced to death, but this time for playing a role in killing between 20,000 and 100,000 Shi'ite Muslims during the revolt in southern Iraq that followed the 1991 Persian Gulf War.[20]

On 2 March 2009, al-Majid was sentenced to death for the third time, this for the assassination of Grand-Ayatollah Mohammad al-Sadr in 1999[21].

The Iraqi Cabinet put pressure on the Presidential council on 17 March 2009 for Al-Majid's "execution".[22].

See also


  1. ^ How the mighty are falling,The Economist, Jul 5th 2007
  2. ^ a b c Patrick Cockburn (2007-06-25). "Chemical Ali: The end of an overlord". The Independent. 
  3. ^ "The Rise and Fall of "Chemical Ali"". Aswat al Iraq (Voices of Iraq). 2007-06-25. .
  4. ^ a b c d e "General Ali Hassan al-Majid". Daily Telegraph. 2003-04-07. .
  5. ^ "Profile: 'Chemical Ali'". BBC News. 2007-06-24. 
  6. ^ Alex Efty (1991-04-17). "Rebels Welcome Safe Haven Promise". The Associated Press. 
  7. ^ Lt. Col. Rick Francona (2007-06-12). "Rebels Welcome Safe Haven Promise". MSNBC. 
  8. ^ "US captures Chemical Ali". Daily Telegraph. 2003-08-21. 
  9. ^ "Saddam to stand trial for genocide with 'Chemical Ali'". Daily Telegraph. 2006-08-21. 
  10. ^ "A town celebrates verdict but fears no one will be called to account for its suffering". The Guardian. 2006-06-25. 
  11. ^ "No Saddam plea at genocide trial". BBC News. 2006-08-21. 
  12. ^ "Death sought for 'Chemical Ali'". BBC News. 2007-04-02. 
  13. ^ "Iraq's 'Chemical' Ali sentenced to death". Daily Telegraph. 2007-06-25. 
  14. ^ "Chemical Ali in his own words", Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 2007-06-24
  15. ^ "Saddam kin to hang for genocide". Gulf Times. 2007-06-25. 
  16. ^ Iraq to hang 'Chemical Ali', St. Petersburg Times
  17. ^ ""Chemical Ali" execution postponed for Ramadan: PM". Reuters. Retrieved 2007-10-05. 
  18. ^ Karouny, Mariam. "Legal row delays hanging of Iraq's "Chemical Ali"". The Edmonton Journal. Retrieved 2007-11-02. 
  19. ^ "'Chemical Ali' execution OK'd in Iraq". Yahoo News. 2008-02-29. 
  20. ^ [1]
  21. ^ Iraq's 'Chemical Ali' gets 3rd death sentence
  22. ^ Iraqi Cabinet presses for 'Chemical Ali's' execution

External links

Preceded by
Head of Iraqi Intelligence Service
?– ?
Succeeded by