- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraq’s government on Tuesday called on the presidential council to ratify the death sentences against former officials from Saddam Hussein’s regime so that the punishments can be carried out.

The appeal came on the same day that two of the former officials on death row, including Saddam Hussein’s cousin known as “Chemical Ali” Hassan al-Majid, faced their latest trial over a chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja 21 years ago.

Al-Majid, who gained his nickname for his role in the Halabja attack, was sentenced to hang in June 2007 along with former defense minister Sultan Hashim al-Taie and Hussein Rashid Mohammed, former deputy director of operations for the Iraqi armed forces.

They were convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for their part in Operation Anfal _ a 1987-88 crackdown on the Kurdish region that killed nearly 200,000 civilians and guerrillas. That case was considered separate from the Halabja attack.

But influential Sunni Arabs and President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, intervened and insisted that Sultan Hashim _ widely viewed as a respected career soldier who was forced to follow Saddam’s orders in the purges against Kurds _ be spared the gallows.

That delayed the execution of all three.

The three-member presidential council led by Talabani agreed to al-Majid’s execution last year but did not approve the death sentences against the other two and no date for the executions have been announced.

Saddam ordered the attack on the city of Halabja on March 16, 1988, as part of a scorched-earth campaign to crush a Kurdish rebellion in the north, which was seen as aiding Iran in the final months of its war with Iraq.

“The Cabinet is calling on the presidential council to respond to Iraqi people’s will and ratify all death sentences against the criminals,” said a statement issued by government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh’s office.

The statement did not specify any convicts but invoked the memory of Halabja, saying the plea was meant to honor victims on the 21st anniversary of that attack.

Al-Majid has since been sentenced to death in two other cases related to atrocities committed under Saddam’s regime.

He, al-Taie, Saddam’s former head of intelligence Sabir Azizi al-Douri and Farhan Mutlaq al-Jubouri, the former head of military intelligence’s eastern regional office, faced another capital trial Tuesday over the Halabja attack.

Amnesty International last week also called on the Iraqi government to stop the execution of 128 prisoners on death row, saying the country’s judicial system is ill-equipped to provide a fair trial.

Saddam was hanged on Dec. 30, 2006, for his role in the 1982 killings of 148 Shiites following an assassination attempt against the Iraqi dictator in the town of Dujail.

Three other figures from the former regime also were later executed in that case.

The executions drew Sunni outrage, but the government has since stepped up its efforts to promote national reconciliation.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa applauded those efforts on Tuesday, saying the government’s policies have led to more stability.

“I feel that there is a big difference in the country,” Moussa said at a joint news conference with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on his first visit to Iraq since October 2005. “Hope has emerged for a prosperous future.”

The mostly Sunni Arab nations that comprise the 22-nation Arab League have begun to engage the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government, after shunning it for years to avoid implying approval of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.


Associated Press Writers Sinan Salaheddin and Mazin Yahya contributed to this report.

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