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Last Updated: Friday, 29 February 2008, 13:17 GMT
'Chemical Ali' execution approved
'Chemical Ali'
'Chemical Ali' was sentenced to death in June 2007
The execution of Saddam Hussein's cousin and henchman "Chemical Ali" has been approved by Iraq's presidency.

He was condemned to death on genocide charges for killing 100,000 people during the 1988 Anfal campaign against the Kurds in northern Iraq.

Chemical Ali - whose real name is Hassan al-Majid - was initially sentenced to death in June last year but legal wrangling held up the case.

The execution was approved two days ago, to be carried out within 30 days.

He was convicted along with two other top officials - Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti, a senior military chief, and the former defence minister, Sultan Hashim al-Tai.

'Matter of days'

Asked when Majid would be hanged, an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki told Reuters news agency: "It will be a matter of days."

The presidency, which is made up of President Jalal Talabani and two vice-presidents, has not yet approved the hanging of Tikriti and Hashim, says the BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad.

Skulls, bones and clothing found in 2005 in mass shallow graves near Baghdad that were dug at the time of the Anfal campaign
Anfal (English: Spoils of War) took place between February and August 1988
Officially it was a clampdown on Kurdish separatism in the north
With a civilian death toll of up to 180,000, Kurds regard it as a campaign of genocide
Mustard gas and nerve agents were used in air attacks
Other victims were summarily executed or died in captivity

The two men will remain in custody not knowing whether they are to live or die, says our correspondent.

The trio, all in the custody of American forces, were supposed to have been hanged by October.

But the executions were delayed after Hashim became a cause celebre among Sunni politicians.

Iraqi Vice-President Tareq al-Hashimi was among prominent Sunnis who insisted Hashim had simply been a career soldier carrying out orders and should be reprieved.

The case strained relations between the Iraqi prime minister's administration and US officials.

Nouri Maliki's Shia-led government had pressed US officials to hand over the trio so the sentence could be carried out.

But the Americans had refused to surrender any of the three until the Iraqi presidency reached an agreement.

'King of Spades'

Former regime leaders, including Saddam Hussein himself and his half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti, have been handed over by the Americans and hanged by the Iraqi government without significant popular or political repercussions.

BBC world affairs correspondent Nick Childs says from early on in Saddam Hussein's rule, Majid was one of the former leader's most trusted and most ruthless associates.

Sultan Hashim
The sentences have been held up amid a political row over Hashim

As with so many in Saddam Hussein's inner circle, it helped that he had close family ties with the former leader, as a first cousin.

Majid acquired his nickname Chemical Ali after poison gas was used to kill many of the tens of thousands of Kurds who died during the Anfal campaign.

The former Iraqi regime claimed Anfal was a necessary counter-insurgency operation during Iraq's bloody eight-year war with neighbouring Iran.

After Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam Hussein turned to his cousin to put down a Shia revolt in the south, which again he did with great brutality, says our correspondent.

During the US-led invasion of 2003, Chemical Ali appeared as the fifth most-wanted member of Saddam Hussein's regime, and was the King of Spades in the notorious deck of cards that the US-led forces issued.

The coalition thought it had killed him in an air strike during the invasion but he survived, only to be captured in August 2003.

Over the course of the Anfal trial, which opened in August last year, a defiant Majid showed no trace of remorse.

He said at one hearing: "I am the one who gave orders to the army to demolish villages and relocate the villagers. I am not apologising. I did not make a mistake."

Poison gas attack in northern Iraq, 1988

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