BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq executed on Monday Ali Hassan al-Majeed, Saddam Hussein’s cousin known as “Chemical Ali,” for crimes against humanity including the gassing of thousands of Kurds and violent crackdowns on Shi’ite revolts.
Majeed’s execution was announced shortly after suicide bombers struck the Iraqi capital in a coordinated attack, staging three car bombings aimed at well-known hotels in the city that killed more than 30 people and injured at least 71.
“The death sentence against Ali Hassan al-Majeed has been carried out today,” government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.
Majeed, who earned his nickname because of his use of poison gas, was executed by hanging, a government statement said.
He had received death sentences in four cases, the last around a week ago for a poison gas attack on the Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabja in which thousands died.
Dabbagh said in the statement that Majeed was not subjected to any abuse during the execution, unlike the insults heaped on Sunni dictator Saddam himself by Shi’ite Muslim observers when he was hanged in December 2006.
“Everyone abided by the government’s instructions and the convicted was not subjected to any breach, chanting, abuse words, or insults,” he said.
It was not clear if Majeed was hanged before or after a series of suicide bombings close to hotels in Baghdad, some of them used by foreigners.
The attacks were the fourth coordinated assault by suspected Sunni Islamist insurgents on targets in the capital since last August, aimed at undermining the Shi’ite Muslim-led government in the run-up to a March 7 parliamentary election.
Iraqi Kurds and the leaders of their semi-autonomous northern enclave reacted with joy to Majeed’s execution.
Mohammed al-Qaradaghi, cabinet secretary of the Kurdistan Regional Government, said it was “an occasion of happiness, especially for those who lost their children and loved ones.”
But some questioned the timing before the election.
“I’m very happy with the execution. This is one of the few happy days for the Kurdish people,” said Jeno Abdullah, a postgraduate student in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya.
But he said the hanging just six weeks before the polls, and on the eve of the launch of the campaign period, was being used “for election propaganda.”
Kurdish women’s rights activist Shereen Kamal, 50, also questioned the timing of the hanging. “But anyway, even if the execution is late, it is better than never,” she said in Sulaimaniya.
Majeed had a reputation for ruthlessness in crushing Saddam’s opponents that won him widespread notoriety. Many Iraqis feared him more than the leader himself.
He was captured in August 2003, five months after U.S. forces invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam.
He was sentenced to hang in June 2007 for his role in a military campaign against ethnic Kurds, codenamed Anfal, that lasted from February to August 1988.
Majeed also received a death sentence in December 2008 for his role in crushing a Shi’ite revolt after the 1991 Gulf War and another in March 2009 for his involvement in killing and displacing Shi’ite Muslims in 1999.
His final death sentence came on January 17 for Halabja, when the Iraqi army used poison gas against Kurds. Around 5,000 people were believed to have been killed.
Writing by Michael Christie; editing by David Stamp