Saddam's cruellest killer, Chemical Ali, to be executed

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The way has been cleared for the hanging of Ali Hassan al-Majid, the infamous "Chemical Ali", considered by many Iraqis to be the most bloodthirsty and cruel of Saddam Hussein's senior lieutenants. His execution will take place "in a matter of days", said an official in Baghdad.

Al-Majid was sentenced to death in June but Iraq's presidency, made up of President Jalal Talabani and his two deputies, delayed the execution because they did not agree that two of the co-accused, senior generals under the old regime, should die with him. These were the former defence minister General Sultan Hashem and a former army commander, General Hussein Rashid Mohammed.

A compromise was agreed under which Al-Majid alone is to be executed while no decision has been reached on the two generals, who are popular in the Sunni community. All three men are currently held by the Americans on behalf of the Iraqi government.

The Kurds and the Shia, who together make up 80 per cent of the Iraqi population, are very keen to see the end of Chemical Ali, since he was Saddam's chief enforcer who ordered the murder of some 180,000 Kurdish civilians during the Anfal campaign in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1988.

He is a man without redeeming qualities. A cousin of Saddam, he owed all his power to the former Iraqi leader, who was hanged at the end of 2006, and was wholly loyal to him. He assisted Saddam's purge of rivals within the Baath party in 1979 and was put in charge of Kurdistan in the late 1980s to crush rebellion with wholesale massacres of civilians in areas which were seen as offering support to the Kurdish guerrillas.

Al-Majid was made Interior minister during the Shia uprising of 1991 when he personally assisted in hunting down surviving rebels. In 1996 he led a gang of tribal gunmen to kill General Hussein Kamel, the son-in-law and cousin of Saddam, who had fled to Jordan and then unwisely returned to Iraq under the mistaken impression that he had been forgiven.

In later years Al-Majid was sidelined by Uday, Saddam Hussein's eldest son, but he was seen by Iraqis as the most brutal member of a brutal regime. He was only saved from execution last year because the Americans and Sunni politicians said his two co-defendants, also sentenced to death, had simply obeyed orders as soldiers.

General Sultan Hashem, who is very popular in his home city of Mosul, in northern Iraq, had surrendered to the Americans in return for a promise that he would be well treated. Even among Sunni there is little sympathy for Al-Majid.

Turkey has meanwhile ended its ground offensive into northern Iraq, which surprised the Iraqi and American governments by its scale and duration. The Turkish general staff said that the campaign had achieved its goals.

Up to the last moment, Turkey was intent on showing that it would withdraw its forces, up to 10,000 soldiers, at a time of its own choosing. "All the Turkish troops have withdrawn and gone back to the Turkish side of the international border," confirmed the Iraqi Foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari. "We welcome this, we think this is the right thing for Turkey to do."

Nevertheless Turkey, by making the first ground assault into Iraqi Kurdistan in 10 years, has shown that it can invade its neighbour at will. The Turkish army said it had targeted 300 PKK – Kurdistan Workers' Party – rebels in the Zap region and killed 240 of them. It admitted that 27 Turkish soldiers were killed.

*Gunmen have kidnapped a Chaldean Catholic Archbishop, Paulos Faraj Rahho, 65, in Mosul. Three other people were killed during yesterday's incident, which occurred after the archbishop ended a mass in a nearby church, said Iraqi Brig- Gen Khalid Abdul-Sattar, of Ninevah province police.