'Butcher' directs attack on Shias: Saddam's cousin uses poison gas and executions to clear southern marshes

ALI Hassan al-Majeed, a cousin of Saddam Hussein who rose to fame as the butcher of Kurdistan and Kuwait, is the man in charge of depopulating the southern marshes through executions, chemical attacks and desertification.

General Majeed, dubbed 'Ali Chemical' in Iraq, has been made acting Governor of Basra in addition to his position as Defence Minister. From there, he personally supervised the chemical attacks in September against the Shias in the marshes, according to Hussain Shahristani, formerly Iraq's top nuclear scientist.

The General is an expert in genocide and depopulation; he was personally responsible for poison-gas attacks against the Kurds - such as the one on the town of Halabja in 1988 - during Saddam's 'Arabisation' drive in the north.

He extended the system of forced removal under which some 100,000 Kurds fled the country. In 1990, he was made governor of the newly annexed Kuwait. There, he oversaw the exodus of civilians while attempting to conscript Kuwaiti men into his Iraqi army.

Now, General Majeed is turning his talents to a three- pronged programme finally to depopulate the southern marshes. 'When Saddam realised the southernmost marshes were not drained, and the rains started again after the summer, he decided to speed up the exercise,' Dr Shahristani, on a visit to London, told the Independent. So in addition to the draining that has turned most of the south into a modern desert, General Majeed launched a chemical attack on the population on 26 September. 'He has sent word to the Shia fighters that that he will do to them what he did to the Kurds,' said Dr Shahristani.

He is also rounding up Shia men and executing them summarily. Dr Shahristani, himself a Shia, has met relatives who have had to claim the bodies from Abu Ghraib jail in Baghdad. They speak of decomposition beyond the stage of identification.

Dr Shahristani, who quit Iraq's nuclear energy programme in 1979, said the chemicals used in the south were different from those used in Halabja. 'These are newly made, with tear-gas and a cocktail mix of lethal ingredients. These do not require much equipment. They can be made in university laboratories, or the equipment can easily be buried.'

Eyewitnesses have told Dr Shahristani the chemicals were fired in shells by mortar. They spoke of 'bodies changing colour to yellow or orange with blisters'. As many Iraqi soldiers appeared to have died as Shia civilians. The soldiers fell with their gas masks on. Only the victims strong enough to walk to the Iranian border have got out to tell the tale.

Dr Shahristani will today take his case to the Foreign Office. UN inspectors, charged with ensuring Saddam complies with resolutions to destroy weapons of mass destruction, are due to visit the area soon. Six weeks on, it is expected the evidence will be difficult to find.

(Photograph omitted)

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