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'Chemical Ali' Sentenced to Hang for Genocide of Kurds

Rubbar Mohammed visits the graves of family members killed in a chemical attack in 1998 in Halabja, Iraq. Ali Hassan al-Majeed, also known as
Rubbar Mohammed visits the graves of family members killed in a chemical attack in 1998 in Halabja, Iraq. Ali Hassan al-Majeed, also known as "Chemical Ali," and two other former Hussein officials were sentenced to hang for their roles in the deaths of as many as 180,000 Kurds. (By Yahya Ahmed -- Associated Press)

When his first death sentence was read, Majeed smiled and mumbled, "Thank God."

All of the defendants had asserted their innocence during trial, often saying they were simply following the orders of superiors and that military action against Kurdish rebels was justified because they were backing Iran in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

"I was a soldier, and I took the oath of my country and defended my country as best I could," Tikriti said during the trial.

The sentences will be sent to Iraq's Appeals Court, Uraibiy said in announcing the verdicts. The appeals process can be swift: Hussein was convicted of war crimes on Nov. 5, lost his appeal on Dec. 26 and was hanged four days later.

The Anfal trial, held in a courtroom in Baghdad's Green Zone, opened Aug. 21. Numerous witnesses testified about the horrors of the Iraqi military's scorched-earth campaign against the Kurds, military planes dropping poisonous chemicals that blinded and burned them, men being tortured and executed in concentration camps, women being raped and thousands of towns being leveled. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced.

Early in the trial, Ali Mostafa Hama, a goat farmer, described an April 16, 1987, attack on his isolated village of Baselan in which bombs were dropped on the area, followed by a smell "like rotting apples, or garlic."

"Minutes later, a lot of people, their eyes became sore and they started crying," and people ran to nearby mountains and caves, he testified. "Our bodies were burning us, and we lost the ability to see. The echo of our screams was coming from wherever we were, and we had nothing other than God."

A woman nearby gave birth during the flight, and the child died with its first breaths, Hama said. The woman named her son Kimyawi, or Chemical, he testified.

In a statement released Friday, Richard Dicker, director of the international justice program for Human Rights Watch, said the Anfal trial "was marred by procedural flaws," including the removal of the first presiding judge by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his cabinet for making statements perceived as favorable to the defense. Dicker also criticized the trial's "vague charges" and what he said was the defendants' inability to call witnesses because of concern for their security.

Two of the defendants in the Anfal case received multiple life sentences: Farhan al-Jubuiri, a former military intelligence commander in northern Iraq, and Sabir al-Duri, former director of military intelligence. In reading the verdict, Uraibiy said the court took into consideration Duri's expressions of regret.

Taher al-Ani, 70, the former governor of the northern city of Mosul, was acquitted because of a lack of evidence. Prosecutors had recommended that Ani be freed when the evidentiary phase ended May 10.

Uraibiy announced that the Anfal case will continue with investigations of 423 other officials, including Wafiq Ageel al-Samaraei, former head of military intelligence under Hussein and currently a top security adviser to President Jalal Talabani.

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