* Saddam Hussein
Late-twentieth-century dictator of Iraq
Saddam Hussein (also, Husayn and Husain) al-Majid was born to a poor Sunni Muslim Arab family from al-Awja, a village in north-central Iraq. Sources vary as to whether Saddam was actually born in al-Awja, or in the nearby town of Tikrit. Saddam’s father left (some sources say he died) prior to his birth. His stepfather, Ibrahim al-Hasan, was physically and psychologically abusive to young Saddam, forcing him to steal for him and refusing to allow him to go to school. Saddam ended up being raised in Tikrit by his maternal uncle, Khayrallah Talfa. He moved to Baghdad in 1956, and reportedly joined the pan-Arab nationalist Arab Socialist Renaissance Party (also called Ba’th Party) the following year. He quickly became a hired gun for the party, liquidating, for example, a relative who was a communist rival to the Ba’th.
Saddam continued as a Ba’th Party enforcer by taking part in a failed attempt to assassinate Iraqi president Abd al-Karim Qasim (1941963) in October 1959. He was wounded in the attack, and fled to Egypt via Syria. He returned to Iraq after the February 1963 Ba’th coup against Qasim, but was imprisoned from 1963 to 1967 along with other Ba’thists after another coup deposed the Ba’th several months later. Saddam rose in the ranks of the party’s international, pan-Arab leadership known as the Ba’th “National Command,” as well as of its local Iraqi “Regional Command.” He was appointed to the leadership of the National Command of the party in 1965 while still in prison, and became deputy secretary-general
of the Iraqi Regional Command in September 1966. Saddam helped carry out the final Ba’thist coup of July 17, 1968. Although he only assumed the title of vice-chairman of the new state executive committee, the Revolutionary Command Council, Saddam was the real force behind politics in Iraq thereafter.
Rise to Power
On July 16, 1979, Saddam pushed aside ailing Iraqi president Hasan al-Bakr (1914982), to become the undisputed leader of Iraqi Ba’th and state apparati. He assumed the titles of secretary-general of the Iraqi Ba’th Regional Command, chair of the state Revolutionary Command Council, and president of the republic. For ceremonial purposes, he also became deputy secretary-general of the pan-Arab National Command of the Ba’th in October 1979 (the titular secretary-general of the National Command, aging Ba’th Party co-founder Michel Aflaq (1910989), was merely a figurehead kept in place for ideological reasons).
Saddam’s ruthlessness continued unabated after 1979. A symbol of things to come was the infamous purge he carried out shortly after shuffling al-Bakr out of office. Saddam announced at a party meeting that twenty-one senior Ba’thists present at the meeting were part of an alleged Syrian conspiracy against him. One by one, he called out the names of the “traitors” while smoking his trademark cigar, filming them as they were led out of the conference hall to be shot. He later ensured that copies of the film were circulated throughout the country. Thereafter, Saddam took great pains to eliminate any possible rivals. He presided over a totalitarian regime in Iraq from 1979 to 2003, the cruelty and brutality of which were matched only by the fear it inspired. Saddam succeeded in using this fear to stay in power, which he did longer than any ruler in modern Iraqi history. An expert in the bureaucracy of terror, Saddam oversaw five overlapping intelligence agencies plus the Ba’th Party’s own security service. These agencies not only spied on the populace, but on each other, so that Saddam could foil any plots from within the regime. To protect himself, Saddam also created two Praetorian Guard organizations. He presided over one of the twentieth century’s most pervasive cults of personality as well. Photos and statues of the dictator were ubiquitous, and constituted a visible reminder throughout the country of his seeming omnipresence.
The Ba’th regime also persecuted entire groups of people. The large-scale deportations, destruction of villages, and executions Saddam ordered against the country’s non-Arab Kurdish population during the 1988 “Anfal” campaign rose to the level of genocide. He is responsible for war crimes and/or crimes against humanity during the 1980988 Iran-Iraq War, when Iraqi forces used chemical weapons against Iranian troops. During the 1990991 Iraqi invasion and occupation of Kuwait, such crimes went beyond the torture, execution, and disappearances mounted against Kuwaiti individuals to include large-scale looting of museums and archives.
U.S. Invasion of Iraq
Saddam’s reign of terror ended in April 2003 when American troops entered Baghdad and put Saddam to flight. He was eventually captured in the village of Dura, near al-Awja, on December 14, 2003. The Americans held him until June 28, 2004, when the United States “returned sovereignty” to a provisional Iraqi government. That government immediately submitted papers to the Americans requesting the formal transfer of legal custody, whereupon Saddam ceased being a prisoner of war protected by the Geneva Conventions, and became a criminal suspect under Iraqi jurisdiction. He remained physically in U.S. custody in Baghdad, however.
In April 2003, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues Pierre-Richard Prosper announced that Iraqis charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes would be tried by Iraqi courts. International human rights advocates urged that an international court try Saddam instead. The International Criminal Court (ICC) would not be an option in that
regard; neither Iraq nor the United States are signatories to the Rome Statute that created the ICC, and the crimes were committed before July 1, 2002, the date the statute took effect. However, the United Nations (UN) Security Council could have created a special international tribunal like that for the former Yugoslavia. On December 11, 2003, however, the American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council enacted the Statute of the Iraqi Special Tribunal for Crimes Against Humanity for future trials instead.
This domestic, Iraqi tribunal was empowered to investigate crimes committed between July 17, 1968 and May 1, 2003, the period of Ba’thist rule. The tribunal’s jurisdiction covered acts of genocide, as defined by the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; war crimes, defined as grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions; and crimes against humanity, defined as a number of acts spelled out in the law that are committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack. Saddam was arraigned before an Iraqi investigative judge of the tribunal on July 1, 2004, and faced seven preliminary charges. By mid-2004, the Kuwaiti government had prepared 200 major indictments against Saddam as well. Iran also indicated that it would bring charges against Saddam for war crimes.
Saddam’s trial could well play a crucial role, both for the sociopolitical rehabilitation of Iraq and for the growing international legal consensus on prosecuting crimes against humanity, by exposing the breadth and scope of his crimes. The tribunal can avail itself of more than 6 million Iraqi military, intelligence, and Ba’th Party documents that were captured in 1991 and 2003. These offer an excruciatingly detailed view into the bureaucracy of terror employed by Saddam’s regime, as well as devastating evidence in the hands of prosecutors. The trial could well become the most significant trial dealing with genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity since the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in 1961.
SEE ALSO Eichmann Trials; Iraq
Aburish, Said K. (1999). Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge. London: Bloomsbury.
Cockburn, Andrew, and Patrick Cockburn (2000). Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein. New York: Perennial.
Makiya, Kanan (1998). Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq, updated edition. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Makiya, Kanan (2004). The Monument: Art and Vulgarity in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. London: I.B. Tauris.
Ali Hassan al-Majid
Ali Hassan Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti ʿAlī Ḥasan ʿAbd al-Majīd al-Tikrītī, Arabic: علي حسن عبد المجيد التكريتي, (30 November 1941 – 25 January 2010) was a Ba’athist Iraqi Defense Minister, Interior Minister, military commander and chief of the Iraqi Intelligence Service. He was also the governor of annexed Kuwait during the Gulf War.
A first cousin of former President of Iraq Saddam Hussein, he became notorious in the 1980s and 1990s for his role in the Iraqi government’s campaigns against internal opposition forces, namely the ethnic Kurdish rebels of the north, and the Shia religious dissidents of the south. Repressive measures included deportations and mass killings; al-Majid was dubbed “Chemical Ali” by Iraqi Kurds for his use of chemical weapons in attacks against them.
Al-Majid was captured following the 2003 invasion of Iraq and was charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. He was convicted in June 2007 and was sentenced to death for crimes of genocide against the Kurds committed in the al-Anfal campaign of the 1980s. His appeal of the death sentence was rejected on 4 September 2007, and he was sentenced to death for the fourth time on 17 January 2010 and was hanged eight days later, on 25 January 2010.
Ali Hassan al-Majid is thought to have been born in 1941 in al-Awja near Tikrit, though he claimed in court that he was born three years later in 1944. The U.S., the United Nations and the Bank of England have also listed an alternative birth year of 1943. 1939 and 1940 have also emerged as possible birth years. Still, official Iraqi court documents and the vast majority of journalistic obituaries cite 1941 as his approximate year of birth. He was a member of the Bejat clan of the al-Bu Nasir tribe, to which his elder cousin Saddam Hussein also belonged; Saddam later relied heavily on the clan to fill senior posts in his government. Like Saddam, al-Majid was a Sunni Muslim who came from a poor family and had very little formal education. He worked as a motorcycle messenger and driver in the Iraqi Army until the Ba’ath Party seized power in 1968.
His rise thereafter, aided by his cousin Saddam, was swift. He initially became an aide to Iraqi defense minister Hammadi Shihab in the early 1970s after joining the Ba’ath party. He then became head of the government’s Security Office, serving as an enforcer for the increasingly powerful Saddam. In 1979 Saddam seized power, pushing aside President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr. At a videotaped assembly of Ba’ath party officials in July 1979, Saddam read out the names of political opponents, denouncing them as “traitors”, and ordering that they be removed one by one from the room; many were later executed. Al-Majid could be seen in the background telling Saddam, “What you have done in the past was good. What you will do in the future is good. But there’s this one small point. You have been too gentle, too merciful.”
Al-Majid became one of Saddam’s closest military advisors and head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, Iraqi secret police known as the Mukhabarat. Following an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Saddam in 1983 in the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad, al-Majid directed the subsequent collective punishment operations in which scores of local men were killed, thousands more inhabitants were deported and the entire town was razed to the ground.
During the late stages of the Iran–Iraq War al-Majid was given the post of Secretary General of the Northern Bureau of the Ba’ath Party, in which capacity he served from March 1987 to April 1989. This effectively made him Saddam’s proconsul in the north of the country, commanding all state agencies in the rebellious Kurdish-populated region of the country. He was known for his ruthlessness, ordering the indiscriminate use of chemical weapons such as mustard gas, sarin, tabun and VX against Kurdish targets during agenocidal campaign dubbed Al-Anfal or “The Spoils of War”. The first such attacks occurred as early as April 1987 and continued into 1988, culminating in the notorious attack onHalabja in which over 5,000 people were killed.
With Kurdish resistance continuing, al-Majid decided to cripple the rebellion by eradicating the civilian population of the Kurdish regions. His forces embarked on a systematic campaign of mass killings, property destruction and forced population transfer (called “Arabization”) in which thousands of Kurdish villages were razed and their inhabitants either killed or deported to the south of Iraq. He signed a decree in June 1987 stating that “Within their jurisdiction, the armed forces must kill any human being or animal present in these areas.” By 1988, some 4,000 villages had been destroyed, an estimated 180,000 Kurds had been killed and some 1.5 million had been deported. The Kurds called him Chemical Ali (“Ali Kimyawi”) for his role in the campaign; according to Iraqi Kurdish sources, Ali Hassan openly boasted of this nickname. Others dubbed him the “Butcher of Kurdistan”.
Persian Gulf War and Iraq War
He was appointed Minister of Local Government following the war’s end in 1988, with responsibility for the repopulation of the Kurdish region with Arab settlers relocated from elsewhere in Iraq. Two years later, after the invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, he became the military governor of the occupied emirate. He instituted a violent regime under which Kuwait was systematically looted and purged of “disloyal elements”. In November 1990, he was recalled to Baghdad and was appointed Interior Minister in March 1991. Following the Iraqi defeat in the war, he was given the task of quelling the uprisings in the Shi’ite south of Iraq as well as the Kurdish north. Both revolts were crushed with great brutality, with many thousands killed.
He was subsequently given the post of Defense Minister, though he briefly fell from grace in 1995 when Saddam dismissed him after it was discovered that al-Majid was involved in illegally smuggling grain to Iran. In December 1998, however, Saddam recalled him and appointed him commander of the southern region of Iraq, where the United States was increasingly carrying out air strikes in the southern no-fly zone. Al-Majid was re-appointed to this post in March 2003, immediately before the start of the Iraq War. He based himself in the southern port city of Basra and in April 2003 he was mistakenly reported to have been killed there in a U.S. air strike.
He survived the April 2003 attack but was arrested by United States forces on 17 August 2003. He had been listed as the fifth most-wanted man in Iraq, shown as the King of Spades in the deck of most-wanted Iraqi playing cards. In 2006 he was charged with genocide and crimes against humanity for his part in the Anfal campaign and was transferred to the Iraq Special Tribunal for trial. He received four death sentences for his role in killing Shia Muslims in 1991 and 1999, the genocide of the Kurds in the 1980s, and ordering the gassing of Kurds at Halabja.
Trial and execution
The trial began on 21 August 2006, in acrimonious circumstances when al-Majid refused to enter a plea. He subsequently had a not guiltyplea entered on his behalf by the court.
He was unapologetic about his actions, telling the court that he had ordered the destruction of Kurdish villages because they were “full of Iranian agents”. At one hearing, he declared: “I am the one who gave orders to the army to demolish villages and relocate the villagers. The army was responsible to carry out those orders. I am not defending myself. I am not apologizing. I did not make a mistake.”
During the trial, the court heard tape-recorded conversations between al-Majid and senior Ba’ath party officials regarding the use of chemical weapons. Responding to a question about the success of the deportation campaign, Ali Hassan told his interlocutors:
|“||… I went to Sulaymaniyah and hit them with the special ammunition [i.e. chemical weapons]. That was my answer. We continued the deportations. I told the mustashars [village heads] that they might say that they like their villages and that they won’t leave. I said I cannot let your village stay because I will attack it with chemical weapons. Then you and your family will die. You must leave right now. Because I cannot tell you the same day that I am going to attack with chemical weapons. I will kill them all with chemical weapons! Who is going to say anything? The international community? Fuck them! The international community and those who listen to them…. This is my intention, and I want you to take serious note of it. As soon as we complete the deportations, we will start attacking them everywhere according to a systematic military plan. Even their strongholds. In our attacks we will take back one third or one half of what is under their control. If we can try to take two-thirds, then we will surround them in a small pocket and attack them with chemical weapons. I will not attack them with chemicals just one day, but I will continue to attack them with chemicals for fifteen days. Then I will announce that anyone who wishes to surrender with his gun will be allowed to do so. Anyone willing to come back is welcome, and those who do not return will be attacked again with new, destructive chemicals. I will not mention the name of the chemical because that is classified information. But I will say with new destructive weapons that will destroy you. So I will threaten them and motivate them to surrender.||”|
During the next few days of the trial, more recordings of al-Majid were heard in which he once again discussed the government’s goals in dealing with the Iraqi Kurds. In the recordings, Ali Hassan calls the Iraqi Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani “wicked and a pimp,” and promises not to leave alive anyone who speaks the Kurdish language. Ali Hassan’s defense claimed that he used such language as “psychological and propaganda” tools against the Kurds, to prevent them from fighting government forces. “All the words used by me, such as ‘deport them’ or ‘wipe them out,’ were only for psychological effect,” Ali Hassan said.
On 24 June 2007, the court returned a verdict of guilty on all counts. The presiding judge, Mohamed Oreibi al-Khalifa, told al-Majid: “You had all the civil and military authority for northern Iraq. You gave orders to the troops to kill Kurdish civilians and put them in severe conditions. You subjected them to wide and systematic attacks using chemical weapons and artillery. You led the killing of villagers. You … committed genocide. There are enough documents against you.”
He received five death sentences for genocide, crimes against humanity (specifically willful killing, forced disappearances and extermination), and war crimes (intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population). He was also sentenced to multiple prison terms ranging from seven years to life for other crimes. As his sentences were upheld, under Iraqi law, sentence was to be carried out by hanging, subject to the convictions being upheld following an automatic appeal, and he was to be executed in the following 30 days along with two others – Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai, military commander of the Anfal campaign; and Hussein Rashid Mohammed, deputy general commander of the Iraqi armed force, assistant chief of staff for military operations, and former Republican Guard commander. However, the executions were postponed to 16 October, because of the arrival of the holy month of Ramadan. He was supposed to be executed 16 October 2007, but the execution was delayed when Iraqi President Jalal Talabani expressed opposition to the sentences and refused to sign the execution orders. He then entered into a legal row with Nouri al-Maliki, and as a result the Americans refused to hand any of the condemned prisoners over until the issue was resolved.
In February 2008 an anonymous informant stated that Ali Hassan al-Majid’s execution was finally approved by Talabani and the two Vice-Presidents; this was the final hurdle in the way of the execution.
On 2 December 2008, al-Majid was once again sentenced to death, but this time for playing a role in killing between 20,000 and 100,000 Shi’ite Muslims during the revolt in southern Iraq that followed the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
On 2 March 2009, al-Majid was sentenced to death for the third time, this for the assassination of Grand-Ayatollah Mohammad al-Sadr in 1999.
The Iraqi Cabinet put pressure on the Presidential council on 17 March 2009 for Al-Majid’s execution.
The situation was similar on 17 January 2010 prior to 9 am (GMT); a fourth death penalty was issued against him in response to his acts of genocide against Kurds in the 1980s. He was also convicted of killing Shia Muslims in 1991 and 1999. Alongside him in the trial was former defense minister Sultan Hashem, who was also found guilty by The Iraqi High Tribunal for the Halabja attack and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment. Al-Majid was executed by hanging on 25 January 2010. He was buried in Saddam’s family cemetery in al-Awja the next day; near Saddam’s sons, half-brother and the former vice president, but outside the mosque housing the marble tomb of Saddam himself. While he was sentenced to death on four separate occasions, the original 2007 verdict sentenced him to five death sentences, and so the combined tally of death sentences handed out was eight.
Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director Malcolm Smart later criticized the execution as “only the latest of a mounting number of executions, some of whom did not receive fair trials, in gross violation of human rights…”