As Sayliya Camp, April 6 (Reuters): The US military today said it had found the body of the bodyguard of a senior Iraqi commander nicknamed “Chemical Ali” in a house in Basra that was bombed yesterday.
“At this point we can’t say whether Chemical Ali was a casualty in that attack but we have confirmed that his bodyguard is a casualty,” Captain Frank Thorp said at Central Command in Qatar. “It’s very clear we’re one step closer to bringing this regime down.”
Ali Hassan al-Majid, a cousin of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, earned his nickname for overseeing the use of poison gas against Kurdish villagers in 1988.
Iraq, however, dismissed suggestions that Majid, the commander of its southern front, may have been killed in the air strike. Information minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf said in Baghdad: “Let them (bask) in their illusions.”
US officials said around 3,000 residents had taken to the streets of Basra yesterday cheering and celebrating, though they said it was unclear whether the event was directly linked to the attack on Majid’s house.
“We have seen some reaction from the people in Basra to the events of the last couple of weeks,” Thorp said. The US Central Command said yesterday that the strike on the house was “part of an ongoing effort to end Saddam Hussein’s regime”.
The statement said two aircraft had struck Majid's home in Basra, Iraq's second city in the south of the country, with laser-guided munitions early on Saturday.
British troops have been surrounding Basra since soon after the U.S.-led war on Iraq began on March 20, but Saddam loyalists continue to hold out there.
A British spokesman said on Sunday British forces were setting up checkpoints within the city boundaries of Basra and they were facing less resistance each day.
U.S. Marines have been hunting Majid across southern Iraq. On Monday, they launched a dawn raid on the town of Shatra after receiving intelligence he was there with other senior Baath party officials who were coordinating paramilitary forces.
Major General Victor Renuart told a news conference at war headquarters in Qatar on Saturday that Majid was thought to have been in the hospital in the southern town of Nassiriya from which special forces rescued U.S. soldier Jessica Lynch.
”We think that he was there, he had used that area but on the evening of the attack he was not located in that hospital,” Renuart said.“That's not to say we haven't been tracking him down in some other locations and we'll continue to do so.”