Middle East
Obituary: Ali Hassan al-Majid
Saddam Hussein's most notorious aide.
Last Modified: 25 Jan 2010 18:11 GMT
Al Hassan al-Majid was sentenced to death by hanging four times over separate incidents [AFP]

A cousin of Saddam Hussein, Ali Hassan al-Majid was one of the country's most wanted men following the US-led invasion in 2003.

He was the "King of Spades" in the pack of cards handed out to help track down Iraqis sought by the US after Saddam was forced from power.

Al-Majid was arrested in August 2003 and stood trial four times for atrocities committed as he cracked down on opposition to the government.

He was notorious for ordering poisonous gas attacks - that earned him the nickname "Chemical Ali" - in a brutal scorched-earth campaign of bombings and mass deportations that killed an estimated 182,000 Kurds in the 1980s.

Al-Majid hailed from the northern town of Tikrit, where he was born in 1941, according to court documents, although he told a tribunal last year that he was born in 1944.

Right-hand man

Considered Saddam's right-hand man, he was a member of the decision-making Revolutionary Command Council and regularly called upon to crush rebellion.

In March 1987, the ruling Baath party put him in charge of state agencies in the Kurdish area, including the police, army and militias.

As Iraq's eight-year war with Iran was drawing to a close, fighters from the rebel Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, with backing from Tehran, took over the farming community of Halabja near the border.

In March 1988, Iraqi swooped over Halabja, and for five hours they sprayed it with a deadly cocktail of mustard gas and the nerve agents Tabun, Sarin and VX.

An estimated 75 per cent of the 5,000 people killed were women and children, in what is now believed to have been the worst gas attack ever carried out against civilians.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has said al-Majid was responsible for the deaths or disappearances of around 100,000 non-combatant Kurds when he put down the revolt across the Kurdish region.

He said he ordered the attacks against the Kurds, who had sided with Iran in the war, for the sake of Iraqi security.

He refused to express remorse for the killings.

Two of the four death sentences he received, including the latest handed down on January 17, related to the so-called Anfal campaign against the Kurds.

Al-Majid had also been accused of displacing and killing about 2,000 clansmen of Massud Barzani, the Kurdish regional president.

Shias killed

After Iraqi troops swept into Kuwait in August 1990, al-Majid was named governor of the occupied emirate, which the regime considered Iraq's 19th province. As in the north, he swiftly and viciously annihilated resistance.

The Halabja massacre is believed to be the worst gas attack ever against civilians [AFP] 
Tens of thousands of people died when Saddam's forces, driven out of Kuwait by a US-led coalition after their 1990 invasion, put down the Shia uprising in a bloodbath that saw heavy shelling of southern Iraqi towns.

Al-Majid received his second death sentence in December 2008 for war crimes committed during this brutal crackdown.

His third death sentence came after al-Majid was convicted of crimes against humanity for orderin troops into Shia areas in 1999 to stop protests after the assassination of Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, a revered Shia cleric, after whom Sadr City is now named.

In January 2003, Ali left the country for the first time since 1988, visiting Syria and Lebanon in a bid to whip up regional support for Iraq.

He was thought to have been killed by coalition bombing of his villa in the southern city of Basra in 2003, but US officials were later forced to admit that he was still alive.

Topics in this article
Featured on Al Jazeera
Your chance to be an investigative journalist in Al Jazeeraís new interactive game.
An innovative rehabilitation programme offers Danish fighters in Syria an escape route and help without prosecution.
Street tension between radical Muslims and Holland's hard right rises, as Islamic State anxiety grows.
Take an immersive look at the challenges facing the war-torn country as US troops begin their withdrawal.
Indonesia's cassava plantations are being killed by mealybugs, and thousands of wasps have been released to stop them.
Violence in Ain al-Arab has prompted many Kurdish Syrians to flee to Turkey, but others are returning to battle ISIL.
Unelected representatives quietly iron out logistics of massive TPP and TTIP deals among US, Europe, and Asia-Pacific.
Led by students concerned for their future with 'nothing to lose', it remains to be seen who will blink first.
Taipei has sided with Hong Kong's pro-democracy protesters as relations with Beijing continue downward spiral.