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Two decades after Iraq's military laid waste to Kurdish villages, the Iraqi High Tribunal on Sunday sentenced Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali," and two others to death for their roles in the bloody campaign against the restive ethnic minority.
Al-Majid, a cousin of executed former president Saddam Hussein, was convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for ordering army and security services to use chemical weapons in an offensive said to have killed some 180,000 people during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
As the verdicts were read out in Baghdad, to the north some 10,000 American troops were in their sixth day Sunday of a major offensive to oust al-Qaida fighters from the city of Baqouba.
The commander of the US operation said US troops have cleared about 60 percent of western Baqouba of militants, but Iraqi security forces are "not quite up to the job" yet of holding the gains long term.
Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek, of the Army's 25th Infantry Division, said it will take weeks or months before Iraqi security forces are ready to police the reclaimed area on their own.
The defendants in what was known as the "Anfal" case, for the code name of the anti-Kurdish campaign, had claimed they were acting on orders at a time when the Baghdad leadership, under President Saddam, viewed the rebellious, independence-minded Kurds as allies of Iran during the 1980s war.
Saddam had been a defendant in the case but was executed last Dec. 30 after his conviction for the killing of 148 Shiite Muslims in Dujail after a 1982 attempt on his life.
Al-Majid, who had headed the then-ruling Baath Party's Northern Bureau Command in the 1980s, stood silently for Sunday's verdict and said, "Thanks be to God," as he was led from court.
Two others sentenced to hang for anti-Kurdish atrocities were former defense minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai and Hussein Rashid Mohammed, a former deputy director of operations for the Iraqi armed forces.
Interrupting the judge as the verdict was read, Mohammed said the defendants were defending Iraq against Kurdish rebels. "God bless our martyrs. Long live the brave Iraqi army. Long live Iraq. Long live the Baath party and long live Arab nations," he declared.
Two other former regime officials - Sabir al-Douri, former director of military intelligence, and Farhan Mutlaq Saleh, who was head of military intelligence's eastern regional office - were sentenced to life in prison. All charges were dropped against Taher Tawfiq al-Ani, a former governor of Mosul, because of insufficient evidence.
In the northern Kurdish city of Halabja, where an estimated 5,000 died in a chemical attack in 1988, people gathered Sunday in a small rally at the cemetery.
"We thank God that we have lived to see our enemies being punished for all of the atrocities they have committed against our people," said Lukman Abdul-Qader, head of the Halabja Chemical Attack Victims' Society.