| Chemical Ali: Cloud on fate
London/Baghdad, April 7 (Reuters): The British military think it has found the body of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s cousin ‘Chemical Ali’, but are still awaiting firm confirmation.
“We believe we have found the body of Chemical Ali. However, we need to get that confirmed,” said a British spokesman at Central Command headquarters in Qatar.
Sky Television quoted a British military officer near Basra as saying they had found the body of Ali Hassan al-Majid, who is nicknamed Chemical Ali after he ordered the use of poison gas on Kurdish villages in the rebellious northern areas in 1988.
British officials were cautious about confirming what would be a major blow to the Iraqi administration but British forces commander Air Marshal Brian Burridge said he appeared to have been killed while meeting with other senior Baath Party leaders at a home in Basra.
“We’ve recovered some bodies but positive identification is ongoing,” Burridge told reporters at the war headquarters in Qatar. But he added: “I have to say that open sources locally in Basra say that’s the man.”
The US military said it could not confirm that Chemical Ali, the commander of Iraq’s southern front, had been killed in an air strike on his house.
Sky said British officers...“have confirmed the death during a briefing earlier this morning...that’s the news we are getting, that he is in fact dead.”
A ruthless clansman of Saddam, Majid played a leading role in Iraq’s seven-month occupation of Kuwait from 1990-91 and in the violent suppression of Kurdish and Shia Muslim uprisings that followed the 1991 Gulf War.
“Majid is Saddam’s hatchet man. He has been involved in some of Iraq’s worst crimes — including genocide and crimes against humanity,” the US-based group Human Rights Watch said in January.
In August 1990, after Baghdad’s invasion of Kuwait, Saddam appointed Majid military governor of Iraq’s “19th province” but replaced him three months later for fear that his brutal reputation was strengthening the hand of Kuwait’s allies.
When a US-led coalition expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991, Saddam appointed him interior minister to help stamp out a Shia rebellion sweeping southern Iraq.
But he is best known for leading the Anfal (spoils of war) campaign against Kurdish rebels who took advantage of Iraq’s 1980-88 war with Iran to step up their long campaign for autonomy in their northern heartlands.
Human rights groups say Majid’s scorched earth policy led to the murder or disappearance of some 1,00,000 Kurds and the forced removal of many more. Hundreds of Kurdish villages and communities were destroyed.
In a single attack, some 5,000 men, women and children were killed in Halabja in March 1988, when government forces bombed and shelled the town with gas.
International reaction to the killings was muted because Iraq was still waging an eight-year war with revolutionary Iran. But 15 years later, the US and Britain both used it to bolster their “moral case” for overthrowing Saddam.
Believed to be in his early 60s, Majid is a confidant of Saddam — one of several close family members who have formed his inner circle since a 1968 revolution returned Iraq’s Baath Party to power.
Married to a daughter of Hassan al-Bakr, President until Saddam assumed full control of Iraq in 1979, Majid was a motorcycle messenger in the army before the Baath took over.
He has served as defence minister, security and intelligence chief, and has been a prominent member of Iraq’s Revolutionary Command Council — the supreme decision-making body in Iraq.
In 1996, Majid oversaw the revenge killings of his two nephews, Hussein and Saddam Kamel, who returned to Baghdad with a promise of amnesty just months after defecting to Jordan.
Reports said Majid commanded forces who surrounded the house where the two nephews sought refuge. After their father — Majid’s brother — ignored his pleas to leave, the family was mown down in a hail of bullets.
In a rare trip abroad in 2002, Majid visited north Africa. Opposition groups said he was looking for a hiding place for Iraq’s alleged banned weapons — which Washington and London said he had retained in violation of UN demands — or a safe haven for Saddam’s family in the event of war.