Global Policy Forum

Iraq’s ‘Chemical Ali’ To Be Tried First


By Luke Baker

December 15, 2004

Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as "Chemical Ali," will be the first of Saddam Hussein's top deputies to face trial, Iraq's defense minister said on Wednesday. Hazim al-Shaalan said the initial hearings could begin next week and would definitely take place by mid-January -- days before Iraq holds its first post-Saddam election, for which campaigning began on Wednesday. "In the next few days we will have the trial of Ali Hassan al-Majid, one of the close followers of Saddam Hussein," Shaalan said, speaking through an interpreter. "He will be the first to be tried."

While Shaalan described the process as a trial, a statement from the Special Tribunal appointed to judge Saddam and his lieutenants later said they would be "investigative hearings," the first phase of the trial process. Iraqi and foreign officials said the case against Saddam's cousin and former right-hand man was not the beginning of a landmark war crimes trial. An official with the British embassy in Iraq said the Iraqi Special Tribunal was calling on Majid as part of its "court process."

"Investigative hearings for those accused of crimes under the former regime are continuing ... The accused will appear before an investigative judge as part of preliminary hearings," said the official, avoiding the word "trial."

"Chemical Ali" is accused of some of the worst crimes committed during Saddam's decades in power, including the gassing of as many as 5,000 Kurds in Halabja, in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, in the late 1980s.


Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said on Tuesday that trials against several of Saddam's deputies could begin as soon as next week, an announcement that took Iraq's Justice Ministry and U.S. officials by surprise.

Shaalan said Majid was the only one of Saddam's former lieutenants so far earmarked to appear before a judge. He said he did not expect the process to take long, adding that all the evidence and witnesses were in place. Majid, though, is not believed to have seen a lawyer since he was seized by U.S. forces in August last year. Shaalan said he would have access to counsel for his court date. "We want to give them a chance. We want to give them someone who is coming to defend them, lawyers, Iraqi if they want, or others," Shaalan said.

Some officials, including a senior member of the interim government, have suggested that Allawi's announcement of the trials was timed to create publicity ahead of the election, due on Jan. 30. Shaalan is a close ally of Allawi. Allawi announced his candidacy for the polls on Wednesday, with his name at the top of a 200-member list of candidates. "It's a piece of showmanship, to try to show that something has been achieved before the election," said the senior government official, who asked not to be identified.

Western officials said the timing of the announcement of Majid's trial was a matter for the Iraqi Special Tribunal.

More Information on International Justice
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