Ali Hassan al-Majid, the infamous cousin of Saddam Hussein known as "Chemical Ali," was executed this morning by the Iraqi government. As an official in Saddam's government, al-Majid oversaw several mass killings of Iraqi civilians, including the 1988 gassing of 5,000 Kurds that earned his name. His campaign in Iraq's Kurdish north caused 180,000 civilian deaths and the deportations of well over a million. He was captured within months of the 2003 U.S. invasion, tried in 2006 and sentenced in 2007.
His death today at the hands of fellow Iraqis is seen as a victory for Iraq's sovereignty and rule of law. But al-Majid's significance in the history of U.S.-Iraqi relations reaches back well before 2003. During the 1990 Gulf War, some argued that the U.S. should pursue Iraqi forces beyond the Kuwaiti border all the way to Baghdad, citing al-Majid's crimes against humanity. For more than a decade since, his odiousness served as a linchpin of conservative arguments for U.S.-led regime change in Iraq. Now that both al-Majid's crimes and the invasion are behind us, commentators are finding new significance in his life and death.
- Rule of Law Blossoms in Iraq The Atlantic Council's James Joyner praises. "Excellent news, in that it would seem a strong indication that the Iraqi government has internalized the rule of law and respect for the fact that this is a state-sanctioned punishment rather than a revenge killing. At very least, they’ve learned enough to lie about it."
- U.S. Only Cared as Excuse to Invade The BooMan Tribune fumes that al-Majid "only began to disturb the Washington Establishment in 1990 after Saddam gobbled up more of Kuwait than we had authorized. At the time of the attacks, particularly the main attack at Halabja, our official response was totry to blame Iran and soften the U.N.'s condemnatory language. Saddam was the enemy of our enemy until he rolled his tanks into Kuwait City." He sighs, "Before we needed a Zarqawi, we needed a Chemical Ali. Now, they're both dead...no longer needed as part of our official propaganda war. The terrorists are dead, long live the terrorists."
- West's Hesitation Still Shameful The Australian's Richard Beeston still seethes, 20 years after seeing the gas attacks first-hand. "[W]hat was more shocking was the cynical response of the West. The US attempted to blame this crime on Iran. Britain carried on business as usual with the regime in Baghdad," he writes. "The failure of the West to respond adequately to this outrage made it difficult for George W. Bush and Tony Blair to make a moral case for overthrowing Saddam in 2003. [...] it is worth a thought for those thousands of Kurds killed in the deadliest chemical weapons attack on civilians in history."
- Justice Is Inevitable The New Republic's Marty Peretz waxes poetic, "The Wheels of Justice Grind Exceedingly Slow. But They Grind Exceedingly Fine." He notes, "The use of gas warfare by Iraq was the second such usage since World War II. The first was in the war waged by Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser against Yemen."
- Execution Strengthens Iran-Iraq Relations Juan Cole translated a 2008 op-ed in Iran's state-run newspapers. "The presence of 10 million pilgrims for Huseyn at Kerbala on the Arba'in and the confirmed death sentence for Chemical Ali - who has committed numerous crimes against the Iranian and Iraqi peoples - have increased the two countries' inclination to work with and help each other more." Iran and Iraq, mortal enemies under Saddam but demographically similar, have been growing closer as the U.S. draws down troops in Iraq.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.