| Ali Hasan al-Majid, also known as Chemical Ali. (AFP)
Baghdad, April 1: Gassing the Kurds in 1988 was only one highlight in the military career of Gen. Ali Hasan al-Majid. But it was the one that provided him with a catchy nickname — “Chemical Ali” — and the only one on which his views are known.
“I will kill them all with chemical weapons!” the Iraqi general said on an audiotape of a meeting of top officials later smuggled out. “Who is going to say anything' The international community' I will not attack them with chemicals just one day, but I will continue to attack them with chemicals for 15 days.”
In that campaign, an estimated 100,000 Kurds were killed. And it was only the start of a career that has earned al-Majid —now the commander of southern Iraqi forces that have used a mixture of paramilitary guerrilla tactics and terror-type attacks to harass and slow US and British forces — a reputation as one of President Saddam Hussein’s most brutal enforcers, and a spot on the US’ most-wanted list.
Human rights groups say his resume also includes a term as the first governor after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, responsible for a nightmarish occupation; the ruthless suppression of a revolt by Shias in southern Iraq in 1991; and a possible role in the murder of two of Saddam’s sons-in-law when they returned to Iraq after defecting to Jordan.
Yesterday, however, the hunter was being hunted. Al-Majid was a key target of US forces that scoured Shatra, a town north of Nasiriyah, the scene of tough fighting around a key US bridgehead over the Euphrates river. US officers said that Shatra had been used as a headquarters for senior Iraqi commanders, but initial reports indicated he was not caught in a door-to-door hunt that included the local Baath Party headquarters.
Based on his past, al-Majid was a logical choice to keep restive populations in the south in line and organise fierce southern resistance to the US-led invasion.
A cousin of Saddam, he had served as an Iraqi army driver and motorcycle messenger at the time Saddam’s Baath Party took power in 1968 and achieved prominence after Saddam became President in 1979.
Al-Majid became the party chief in northern Iraq in 1987. Chemical attacks on Halabjah and other villages was the tactic of choice for quashing the Kurdish rebellion, but it was just one piece in a strategy of indiscriminate killing.
“Corps commanders shall carry out sporadic bombardments using artillery, helicopters and aircraft at all times of the day or night in order to kill the largest number of persons,” read an order signed by al-Majid that was obtained and smuggled out by Kurdish rebels.
After Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, al-Majid was governor of the annexed territory for five months — a period marked by widespread reports of abductions, rape and torture of Kuwaitis.
Then, after the rout of Iraqi forces in the Gulf War, al-Majid's
approach to quashing a Shiite rebellion in the south was marked by
the same tactics - ``executions, arbitrary arrests,
disappearances, torture and other atrocities,'' according to Human
According to chilling witness accounts published on the Web site
of Indict, a U.S.-funded private group based in London that has
worked to compile war-crimes cases against human-rights abusers in
Iraq, al-Majid has never shied away from personal involvement in
the ruthless tactics he oversees.
``He called us ignorant Shia,''' said one man rounded up by
al-Majid's forces during the Shiite revolt. ``One by one these men
were brought to him, blindfolded and tied up. He said to the
first, What have you done'' The man replied that he had done
nothing. Ali Hasan al-Majid told him that if that was the case he
could go home. When the blindfolded man turned around, Ali Hasan
al-Majid shot him in the back. It seemed a big joke to him.''
In the fall, al-Majid took on a new role as a personal envoy for
Saddam, visiting countries such as Libya and Syria to try to
solidify diplomatic support for the regime. The trip triggered
rumors that he was passing out cash to secure a safe harbor for
Saddam - or himself - if things went sour in the threatened U.S.
He ridiculed the idea of exile. ``These reports cannot be believed
even by infants,'' he said.
At the time, human-rights groups called unsuccessfully on the host
countries to arrest him as a war criminal. ``Al-Majid is Saddam
Hussein's hatchet man,'' said Human Rights Watch executive
director Kenneth Roth. ``He should be received by prison guards,
not heads of state.''