- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2008

BAGHDAD | Saddam Hussein’s notorious cousin “Chemical Ali” Hassan al-Majid received a second death sentence Tuesday — this time for crushing a Shi’ite uprising in the wake of Iraq’s defeat in the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

Al-Majid, once among the most feared members of Saddam’s regime, muttered “Thanks be to God” as Chief Judge Mohammed Oreibi al-Khalifa declared him guilty and imposed the sentence at the end of the trial, which began in August 2007.

Al-Majid already faces the gallows after being convicted last year for his role in the killing of tens of thousands of Kurds in a crackdown in the late 1980s — in which chemical weapons were used against civilians. But legal wrangling has delayed that execution.

Another defendant, former Ba’ath Party official Abdul-Ghani Abdul-Ghafur, was also sentenced to death Tuesday. He shouted, “Down with the Persian-U.S. occupation!” and “Welcome to death for the sake of Arabism and Islam” as the sentence was read.

“Shut up, you dirty Ba’athist,” Judge al-Khalifa snapped, referring to Saddam’s Sunni-dominated Ba’ath Party.

The trial was one of five convened thus far against former leaders of Saddam’s regime, which was ousted in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Two are still ongoing and others are planned.

In the first trial, Saddam was convicted of crimes in the killing of more than 140 Shi’ites after an assassination attempt against him in Dujail.

He was hanged in December 2006.

After Saddam’s defeat in the 1991 Gulf war, Shi’ites in southern Iraq and Kurds in the north rose against his regime, seizing control of 14 of the country’s 18 provinces.

U.S. forces created a safe haven for the Kurds in three northern provinces, preventing Saddam from attacking. But Saddam’s troops swept into the predominantly Shi’ite south and crushed the uprising, killing tens of thousands of people despite appeals by the Shi’ites for the U.S. to intervene.

In this trial, four defendants received life sentences, six were sentenced to 15 years in prison and three were acquitted.

Among those who received a 15-year sentence was former Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai, who signed the cease-fire with U.S.-led forces that ended the 1991 war. He also has been sentenced to death for the Kurdish crackdown, but his execution has been delayed because of an outcry from fellow Sunnis and President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, who believed the sentence was too harsh.

Meanwhile, the United Nations, in its 13th report on the human rights situation in Iraq, expressed concern Tuesday about overcrowding and “grave human rights violations” of detainees in Iraqi custody - in one case, 123 men crammed into a single cell.

The warning comes as the U.S. prepares to turn over control to the Iraqis of thousands of security detainees in its custody under a new security pact that would end the U.S. mission here by 2012. But as overall violence declines in the country, the U.N. report casts doubt on whether the Iraqis will be ready to take custody of more detainees properly.

“There is no secret that the [Iraqi] prisons are overcrowded and frankly not in very good condition,” U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura said at a news conference where the report was released.