'Chemical Ali' outlived death
By Robin Gedye, Foreign
"Chemical Ali", a mass killer and one of the great
survivors of Saddam Hussein's Iraq, even outlived reports of his own
death, it emerged yesterday when his capture was revealed.
Ali Hassan al-Majid, a feared cousin of Saddam and No
5 - the King of Spades - in America's "most wanted" list, was
reported killed in the early stages of the war in Iraq.
He was said to have died in a bomb attack by British
forces in Basra, but the Pentagon was never able to match DNA to the
Even so, Kurds celebrated the death of a man who was
given his sobriquet after he ordered the chemical attack on Kurdish
rebels in 1988 that left 5,000 dead and 10,000 injured.
His capture, while something of an embarrassment to
those who had proclaimed him dead, is a vital boost for those
hunting down the 55 Iraqis on America's list.
The seizure leaves only 13 of the "pack of cards" at
large, including Saddam, and is the most significant development
since Saddam's sons Qusay and Uday died during a siege at their
hideout four weeks ago.
British military officials were confident that
al-Majid was killed in April during an air strike on Ba'ath party
offices in Basra after he had been seen entering them.
Special forces troops noted the building and called
in a Harrier jump-jet armed with laser-guided weapons.
The corpses of al-Majid's bodyguards were positively
identified, but a body believed to be al-Majid's was identified only
by being shown to a number of trusted local officials. They told
British troops that they were certain it was him.
But almost immediately reports circulated that he had
been seen escaping in a boat across the Shatt-al-Arab waterway south
of Basra. A nurse in Baghdad said he had been in a hospital there
several days later, joking with staff, before escaping.
American military officials were reluctant to
pronounce him dead although, under pressure from the British, Donald
Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, eventually conceded that he
believed "the reign of terror of Chemical Ali has come to an
Gen Richard Myers, chairman of the joint chiefs of
staff told reporters in June that interrogations of Iraqi prisoners
indicated that al-Majid might still be alive.
US Central Command in Florida yesterday confirmed his
capture, although no details were available.
Al-Majid was placed in charge of defending southern
Iraq on the eve of the invasion of Iraq last March, in a move seen
as a coded threat to the coalition that chemical weapons would be
Part of Saddam's "inner circle", al-Majid was said to
form the "fourth pillar" of the regime together with Saddam and his
Combining absolute ruthlessness with effective
organisational abilities he became the most feared provincial
leader. Saddam's paternal first cousin and a former army sergeant,
al-Majid was part of the "Jihaz Haneen", or "apparatus of yearning",
the secret intelligence organisation Saddam formed inside the Ba'ath
party to eliminate rivals and traitors and carry out
It played a key role in the coup on July 17, 1968,
that overthrew President Abdel-Salim Arif and thrust Saddam securely
on the path to power.
Appointed secretary general of the Ba'ath Northern
Bureau in 1987, al-Majid was in charge of suppressing and punishing
Kurds who had rebelled against Baghdad during the Iran-Iraq war. He
presided over the eventual slaughter of 200,000 Kurds.
His unfettered brutality earned him further notoriety
when, in 1995, he ordered the murder of his nieces' husbands,
Hussein and Saddam Kamel - married to Saddam Hussein's daughters -
after they returned from Jordan on being promised that they would
not be punished for their defection.