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Majid, Ali Hasan al- (1941–)

Majid, Ali Hasan al-
(1941–)

Ali Hasan al-Majid (also Ali Hassan al-Majeed) was one of the top Iraqi military and Ba'th Party officials during the rule of dictator saddam hussein. The new post-Saddam Iraqi government put him on trial for supervising the genocide against Iraq's Kurdish population in 1988, among other crimes. In June 2007 al-Majid was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.

PERSONAL HISTORY

Al-Majid was born in either 1941 or 1943. He is a first cousin of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, whose father, Husayn al-Majid, was the brother of Ali's father, Hasan al-Majid. Both Saddam and Ali Hasan al-Majid were born in al-Awja, Iraq, a village near the city of Takrit. They both hail from Sunni Arab families from the al-Bejat clan, which is part of the larger al-Bu Nasir tribe.

Unlike his cousin, al-Majid served in the Iraqi army. By the late 1960s, he was a motorcycle messenger and member of the Ba'th Party. When a 17 July 1968 coup toppled the government and brought the Ba'th into power in Iraq, a distant relative of al-Majid, General Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr, became the new president. However, real power in the new regime lay in the hands of Saddam and the Ba'th Party security services that he oversaw. In 1980, Saddam appointed al-Majid, who had been promoted to general in the army, as the head of the General Security Service—thus making him one of the most powerful men in Iraq. He eventually was chosen as the director of the Revolutionary Command Council, the regime's top consultative body.

It was his close family ties to Saddam that underlay al-Majid's power and position in Iraq. This was in keeping with Saddam's policy of placing family members, members of his extended tribe, and other Sunni Arabs from the Takrit area in the regime's most important positions. Al-Majid retained the post of head of the General Security Service until 1987, one of the few individuals Saddam allowed to head that or any other sensitive agency for a long period of time. Despite this, al-Majid later confessed that he still feared Saddam, who had done away with close relatives before when he distrusted them.

Al-Majid was notorious for his brutality in carrying out the wishes of Saddam. In March 1987, Saddam made him general secretary of the Ba'th Party's Northern Bureau, which encompassed the Kurdish regions of Iraq. In this capacity, al-Majid directly supervised the notorious 1988 Anfal campaign of genocide against the Kurds. He later served as the military governor of Kuwait during the harsh Iraqi occupation of the country from August 1990 until February 1991. He was appointed minister of the interior in March 1991, in time to take charge of the ferocious government crackdown on the Shi'ite rebellion that flared up that month in the wake of Iraq's defeat in the Gulf War. Thereafter, al-Majid served as Iraq's defense minister from 1991 to 1995, although Saddam dismissed him in 1995 after he discovered that he had been smuggling grain to Iran.

BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS

Name: Ali Hasan al-Majid (also Ali Hassan al-Majeed, as well as "Chemical Ali")

Birth: 1941 or 1943, al-Awja, Iraq

Family: Married; children

Nationality: Iraqi

PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY:

  • 1980: Named head of General Security Service
  • 1987: Appointed general secretary of Ba'th Party's Northern Bureau
  • 1988: Oversees Anfal campaign against the Kurds
  • 1990: Becomes military governor of Kuwait
  • 1991: Named minister of the interior; crushes Shi'ite uprising in southern Iraq; made defense minister
  • 1996: Becomes member, Committee of the Four
  • 1998: Appointed military commander, Southern Region
  • 2003: Invasion of Iraq; captured by U.S. forces
  • 2006: Put on trial for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity
  • 2007: Found guilty, given death sentence

In February 1996, al-Majid was back in Saddam's favor. He led the notorious attack that killed his nephews, Lieutenant-General Husayn Kamil Hasan al-Majid and Colonel Saddam Kamil Hasan al-Majid, who had just returned to Iraq after defecting to Jordan the year before. Shortly after their defection, Saddam—who was both their second cousin and father-in-law—dispatched Ali Hasan al-Majid to Jordan to persuade them to return. He failed when Jordan's King hussein bin talal refused to allow him to see them. After several months, the two men decided to return to Iraq. Although they had been promised clemency from Saddam if they returned, both men were killed almost immediately after returning home during a thirteen-hour gun battle with al-Majid and other family members. Some reports state that al-Majid himself fired the coup de grâce shot into Husayn Kamil's head.

Al-Majid continued to be given sensitive and important positions by Saddam. In 1996, he became a member of the Committee of the Four, or the Quartet, Saddam's senior foreign policy advisory group. In December 1998, Saddam appointed al-Majid commander of the Southern Region, one of four military regions established to confront a possible American attack. In this capacity he was responsible for harshly suppressing the Shi'ite uprising in the south in 1999 known as the al-Sadr intifada.

The U.S.-led coalition forces invasion of Iraq in March 2003 led to the downfall of al-Majid and the entire Ba'th regime. Shortly before the invasion, in September 2002, he traveled to several North African Arab states. It was the first time that he had left Iraq since 1988. American intelligence officials surmised that he might have been trying to locate a sanctuary to which Saddam could flee into exile. During the invasion, his death or capture was a major American goal. American aircraft bombed al-Majid's home in Basra on 4 April 2003, and British forces in the city initially reported that he had died in the attack. These reports were erroneous, however, and American forces later captured al-Majid on or about 19 August 2003.

The new Iraqi government established the Iraqi High Tribunal to try members of Saddam's government for various crimes. Al-Majid was charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. His trial on the charges of genocide against the Kurds began on 21 August 2006. He was found guilty on 24 June 2007, and was sentenced to death by hanging.

INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS

Al-Majid was one of Saddam Hussein's most loyal lieutenants after the latter took power in Iraq in 1979, and the most notoriously brutal. His three most infamous acts were supervising the genocidal Anfal campaign against the Kurds in 1988; serving as military governor of Iraqi-occupied Kuwait (what the Iraqis called the new, nineteenth province of Iraq) in 1990 to 1991; and directing the regime's crushing of the Shi'ite uprising in southern Iraq in March 1991.

The 1988 Anfal campaign came on the heels of a similar program the year before. On 29 March 1987, during the Iran-Iraq War, Decree No. 160 put all state, Ba'th Party, and military apparatuses in northern Iraq under al-Majid, who had been made the party's secretary general of the Northern Command. Under his command were the Iraqi military, military intelligence, general intelligence, the Popular Army, and the pro-regime Kurdish jahsh militia. With these forces at his disposal, al-Majid carried out a large counterinsurgency program against antiregime Kurdish fighters. The Kurds had risen up in armed insurrection against the central Iraqi government in 1961, and again in the early and mid-1970s. With the Iran-Iraq War of 1980 to 1988 waning, al-Majid ordered a renewed government offensive against the Kurds. Forbidden areas were declared in order to deny sanctuary to Kurdish peshmerga (Kurdish: those who face death) fighters. Large-scale deportations removed thousands of villagers from these areas. At least seven hundred villages were demolished. Any human or even animal remaining in the forbidden areas was subject to being killed on sight.

CONTEMPORARIES

Born in al-Dawr (also al-Dur), Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri (1942–) long served as one of Saddam Hussein's most senior and loyal lieutenants. Along with Saddam and Taha Yasin Ramadan al-Jazrawi (1938–2007), he was the only other surviving member of the July 1968 Ba'th Party coup in Iraq by the time of the party's overthrow in 2003. By that time, al-Duri was vice chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, deputy commander of the armed forces, and a member of the Committee of the Four (the Quartet), Saddam's senior foreign policy advisory group. Trusted by Saddam in part because he had no independent power base from which to mount a challenge to the Iraqi dictator, al-Duri was the only one of the Quartet who was allowed to drive himself to meetings with Saddam. Saddam had the other three chauffeured to meetings as a security precaution.

Al-Duri was in charge of the defense of northern Iraq during the 2003 U.S.-led coalition forces invasion. He went into hiding after the fall of Baghdad in early April 2003, and became the sixth-highest person on the American most-wanted list. He appears to have played a leading role in coordinating some of the anti-American resistance activities in the country after the war ended. Known to have suffered from leukemia, conflicting reports about him and his whereabouts have emerged, ranging from claims that al-Duri has died to those saying he is still alive and in hiding in Syria. There also have been reports that al-Duri was declared head of the underground Iraqi Ba'th Party after Saddam's execution in December 2006.

Al-Majid was personally responsible for such killings. He issued directive SF/4008 on 20 June 1987, which stated that "all persons captured in those villages [in 'forbidden areas'] shall be detained and interrogated by the security services and those between the ages of fifteen and seventy [in practice it meant just males] shall be executed after any useful information has been obtained from them, of which we should be duly notified." It was during the 1987 campaign that the first documented Iraqi government uses of chemical weapons inside Iraq occurred. The first incident was an attack on a Kurdish political party headquarters in Zewa Shkan on 15 April 1987. The next day, chemical strikes were launched against the villages of Balisan and Shaykh Wasan as well.

In 1988, the regime renewed its counterinsurgency program through an even more massive program called the Anfal (Arabic: spoils) campaign, which was named after a chapter in the Qur'an by that name. Once again, forces under al-Majid's command tried to deny large portions of Iraqi Kurdistan as sanctuary to the peshmergas by deporting and/or killing the areas' inhabitants and destroying their villages. Anfal consisted of eight separate military offensives launched between 23 February and 8 September 1988. By the time the government declared an amnesty on 8 September 1988, an estimated 2,000 Kurdish villages had been depopulated and destroyed during that time, although some figures are higher. Conservative estimates place the Kurdish death toll at 50,000, but most put the count higher, in the range of 100,000 to 182,000. Al-Majid himself later suggested that no more than 100,000 Kurds were killed. The organization Middle East Watch later determined that Iraqi forces attacked at least 60 villages with chemical weapons during Anfal. The worst and most famous of these attacks took place in a town, not a village: the 16 March 1988 chemical attack on Halabja. Somewhere between 3,200 and 5,000 Kurds were killed with mustard gas (a blistering agent) and Sarin gas (a nerve agent).

Two years later, al-Majid was made military governor of Kuwait after Iraq invaded the small emirate in August 1990. Under his rule, Iraqi forces and agents were guilty of torture, rape, killings, looting, theft of cultural property, and disappearances. An estimated 1,000 Kuwaitis were killed during the occupation, and an additional 600 remain unaccounted for after having been taken away by retreating Iraqi forces during the Gulf War. A 1992 U.S. Defense Department study found Iraq guilty of sixteen violations of the laws of war during its occupation of Kuwait. The Kuwaiti government also compiled extensive documentation on Iraqi war crimes.

Finally, al-Majid was minister of the interior at the time that government forces crushed the March 1991 Shi'ite uprising in southern Iraq. The uprising broke out as the Iraqi army was retreating into Iraq from Kuwait when the Gulf War ended. After initial successes, the rebels were viciously beaten back by army forces, which used indiscriminate violence against civilian populations in their attacks. Tens of thousands of Shi'ites were killed in the fighting or executed, and religious shrines and institutions destroyed. Numerous mass graves have since been discovered. United Nations Security Council Resolution 688 condemned these attacks, as well as those the army launched against the Kurdish uprising that broke out at the same time.

AL-MAJID SPEAKS

I will kill them [Kurds] all with chemical weapons! Who is going to say anything? The international community? F*** them! The international community and those who listen to them.

      1987 MEETING WITH BA'TH PARTY OFFICIALS IN NORTHERN IRAQ.

From now on I won't give the [Kurdish] villagers flour, sugar, kerosene, water or electricity as long as they continue living there … Why should I let them live there like donkeys who don't know anything?… What if we prohibit the whole basin from Qara Dagh to Kifri to Diyala to Darbandikhan to Sulaymaniyya? What good is this basin? What did we ever get from them?… For five years I won't allow any human existence there…. In the summer nothing will be left.

15 APRIL 1988 MEETING WITH BA'TH PARTY AND GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS IN NORTHERN IRAQ.

THE WORLD'S PERSPECTIVE

Inside Iraq, Ali Hasan al-Majid was greatly feared, particularly in the Kurdish regions. He also was famous for the coarse, Takriti-accented language that he used. Al-Majid was also well-known internationally for being one of Saddam Hussein's top henchmen, and the one with arguably the most blood on his hands outside of Saddam himself. Groups such as Human Rights Watch have meticulously documented his involvement in the Anfal campaign in particular, and prepared a criminal case against him for future use based on millions of internal Iraqi documents captured by Kurdish forces during their March 1991 uprising in northern Iraq. He also was one of the top officials sought by American forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Al-Majid was the fifth most senior Iraqi on the American most wanted list, and was the king of spades in the famous deck of cards that depicted these wanted individuals.

LEGACY

Al-Majid will go down in history as the executor of some of Saddam Hussein's worst crimes during the last two decades of the twentieth century. In particular, he will have the infamous distinction of having orchestrated the 1988 Kurdish genocide, the worst case of ethnic genocide perpetrated in the Middle East since the extermination of the Armenians in 1915.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Burns, John F, "With Hussein Gone, Other Iraqi Trials Lose Impact," New York Times, 17 May 2007.

"Chemical Ali in U.S. Custody." CNN. Updated 21 August 2003. Available from http://www.cnn.com.

Meiselas, Susan, and Andrew Whitley. "Photo Essay: The Remains of Anfal." Middle East Report, no. 189 (July 1994): 8-11.

                                          Michael R. Fischbach

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