By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, June 25, 2007
BAGHDAD, June 24 -- Three senior aides to Saddam Hussein were found guilty on Sunday of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Iraqi High Tribunal and sentenced to death by hanging for their roles in the slaughter of as many as 180,000 Kurds in northern Iraq in the late 1980s.
The most notorious of the defendants, Ali Hassan al-Majeed -- a former general known as "Chemical Ali" -- received five death sentences for ordering the use of deadly mustard gas and nerve agents against the Kurds during the so-called Anfal campaign. Majeed and Hussein were cousins.
Hussein had been a defendant in the case but was executed last year for ordering the killings of 148 men and boys from the town of Dujail, 35 miles north of Baghdad, after a failed assassination attempt against him there in 1982.
Some Kurds said after Sunday's hearing, which was nationally televised, that they felt deprived of justice because of the rush to execute Hussein. The government had hoped his quick death would allow Iraqis to put the past behind them and focus on transforming the country into a functioning democracy.
"I wished they had kept Saddam alive and had not executed him until they finish all the trials, so all Iraqis, including Kurds, could feel that they had been repaid for the injustices of his regime," said Saman Mahmood Aziz, 55, a teacher whose wife and five children died during the Anfal campaign. But he added, "We feel so happy after seeing the verdict today against Chemical Ali."
But Sukaina Taqi Khurshid al-Hamawandi, 69, who lost 19 family members, including five sons, in the campaign, said: "I do not feel happy today for the verdict against my sons' murderers. This will not bring my family back."
Majeed, army commander of northern Iraq during the Anfal campaign, once was one of the most powerful and feared men in the country. In asking for the death penalty for him in April, prosecutor Munqith al-Faroun said Majeed was "the ultimate master of the genocide operations against the Kurds," while the other accused bore responsibility for a "plan that was implemented in stages to eliminate the Kurdish race from the north of Iraq."
Also sentenced to hang were Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti, 66, former armed forces deputy chief of operations, and Sultan Hashim al-Tai, 67, a former defense minister.
All three men were found guilty of genocide, which is defined as the systematic elimination of a group of people because of their religion, race, ethnicity or nationality. Each was also sentenced to death on separate charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
As his sentence was read, Tikriti, wearing a traditional red-checkered Arabic headdress, repeatedly interrupted Chief Judge Mohammed al-Uraibiy, saying at one point: "Thank God! We defended Iraq. We are not agents."
When Uraibiy finished listing Tikriti's three death sentences and announced a seven-year sentence for attacking religious buildings, Tikriti laughed.
"Thank God we did not become traitors, cowards, agents nor thieves," he said. "Long live the glorious Iraqi army!"
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.
Justice officials are considering trials in other high-profile cases, including the killings of thousands of Shiites in southern Iraq after they rebelled against Hussein's rule following the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Elsewhere Sunday in Iraq, Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek, commander of a U.S. offensive north of Baghdad against the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, said U.S. troops had cleared insurgents out of at least 60 percent of western Baqubah, the focus of the operation, but that Iraqi troops were not yet ready to hold the territory.
"One of our biggest challenges is how are we holding and retaining the terrain that we clear," Bednarek said in an interview, adding that Iraqi security forces are "not quite up to the job yet" of holding the territory themselves.
A key problem for Iraqi troops is a lack of proper equipment, he said. "It runs the gamut from uniforms, weapons, helmets, body armor, boots, ammunition, trucks, radios."
Bednarek said it could take several weeks to clear insurgents from Baqubah, capital of Diyala province, and that it would probably be several more months before Iraqi forces in Diyala can stand on their own.
He said some senior leaders of al-Qaeda in Iraq had fled the town, about 25 miles northeast of Baghdad, and that U.S. and Iraqi forces are trying to "tighten the noose" around three western Baqubah neighborhoods where 50 to 100 insurgents are still hiding.
A U.S. military spokesman, Maj. Robbie Parke, said that 49 al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters have been killed in the offensive and 50 detained. One U.S. soldier has been killed and about 14 injured, Bednarek said.
Also on Sunday, the Associated Press reported that a 35-year-old Iraqi journalist was shot to death on her way home from work in Mosul, the second female journalist to be killed in the northern city this month, officials said.
The attack on Zeena Shakir Mahmoud occurred even as Maliki, the prime minister, marked Iraqi Journalists' Day by acknowledging the high numbers of media workers killed in the country, saying their "blood was mixed with the blood of Iraqi people who die every day for the sake of defending Iraq."
Correspondent Joshua Partlow in Baqubah and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.