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New 'Chemical Ali' Trial For Iraqi Gas Massacre Begins

Ali Hassan al-Majid
HALABJAH, Iraq (Reuters) -- Hundreds of Iraqi minority Kurds have demanded the execution of a Saddam-era official known as "Chemical Ali" for the killing of 5,000 Kurds in a 1988 gas attack.

Ali Hassan al-Majid, a Sunni Arab who was Saddam's cousin and a member of his inner circle, has already been sentenced to death twice, once in 2007 for his role in killing tens of thousands of Kurds in Saddam's military "Anfal" campaign.

Al-Majid and three other high-ranking officials accused of mounting attacks on civilians appeared at Iraq's High Tribunal on December 21 at the opening of a trial for the March 1988 attack.

Prosecutors described how relatives of 483 plaintiffs were gassed to death in the Kurdish border town of Halabjah.

Al-Majid's second death sentence came this month for his part in crushing a Shi'ite revolt after the 1991 Gulf War.

Disputes within the Shi'ite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, however, have so far stalled al-Majid's execution.

In Halabjah, more than 200 kilometers northeast of Baghdad, hundreds of Kurds waved banners and shouted for al-Majid and his fellow defendants to be executed.

"We ask the court to execute Chemical Ali and to heal the wounds he caused by gassing our beloved," said Shereen Hassan, a Halabjah housewife who took part in the protest.

"I will never rest until I see him hanged," said Peshtwan Qader.

Compensation Urged

At the time of the massacre, Iraq had been at war with Iran for almost eight years, and Hussein's government alleged Halabjah residents were aiding Kurdish militants and siding with Iran.

Fuad Saleh, the town's mayor, urged the Iraqi government to pay victims' families compensation.

Al-Majid's Halabjah trial will be headed by Judge Muhammad al-Uraibi, a Shi'ite jurist who also headed al-Majid's first two trials, a court spokesman said.

Also charged in the case are Sultan Hashem, a former defense minister, and two intelligence officers. All the defendants are already facing life sentences or execution.

Al-Majid has been held in a U.S. detention center but is due like thousands of other detainees to be handed over to the Iraqi government under a security pact taking effect on January 1. U.S. military officials in Baghdad could not immediately confirm whether al-Majid was still in their custody.