Saddam Hussein's cousin to be executed for ordering gas attacks on Kurds in 1980s, officials say.
Iraq's presidency has endorsed the execution for genocide of Ali Hassan Al-Majid, Saddam Hussein's enforcer known to the world as "Chemical Ali", for ordering gas attacks on Kurds in the 1980s, Iraqi and US officials said on Friday.
"The presidency has approved Chemical Ali's execution," a top Iraqi official told newswire AFP on condition of anonymity. "The approval was given two days ago."
Al-Majid, Saddam's cousin and defence minister, was sentenced to death for genocide in June 2007 along with Sultan Hashim Al-Tai, another defence minister, and Hussein Rashid Al-Tikriti, armed forces deputy chief of operations.
They were convicted of the slaughter of tens of thousands of Kurds in the so-called Anfal campaign of 1988.
The Iraqi official said no date has been set since the approval from the presidential council - President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and vice presidents Adel Abdel Mahdi, a Shi'ite, and Tareq Al-Hashemi, a Sunni.
Talabani was opposed specifically to the execution of Al-Tai, described as a good soldier who had just been following orders.
"The prime minister has not made up his mind on the date of the execution," the official said, but suggested it could be within 30 days of the presidency's endorsement of the sentence.
Under Iraqi law the three men were to have been executed by October 4, 2007, 30 days after the sentences were upheld by the Supreme Court.
But the executions were delayed by legal wrangling after Iraq decided to postpone them until after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, because of the outcry over Saddam's hanging during another Muslim holiday in December 2006.
The executions were further delayed because Talabani and Al-Hashemi refused to sign the three execution orders.
US embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo said the embassy was "aware" of the latest approval, which concerns only Al-Majid and not his two fellow convicts.
The three are in American military custody, and US officials have refused to hand them over until all legal wrangling has been resolved.
The Iraqi official said Baghdad had asked the US military for custody of Al-Majid, but Nantongo said: "Our stand remains the same."
The Kurdish regional government in Arbil welcomed the presidential council's decision, but said it was "disappointed" the execution had not been carried out earlier.
Amina Karim, 50, a housewife from Halabja which was the worst affected town in Iraqi Kurdistan, expressed joy.
"I lost my brother and three sons in the Halabja attack," she told AFP. "The execution of Ali Hassan Al-Majid will make us happy as he killed our sons and now we will see his execution with our eyes."
On March 16, 1988, the northern town was targeted with chemical gases, killing 5,000 civilians, in a military operation during the final stages of the Iran-Iraq war.
The Halabja attack was however not part of the Anfal trial.
Badie Aref, one of the defence lawyers, called the council's decision political.
"This is a political decision rather than a legal decision. The three were convicted in one case which involves defending Iraq from Iran. They were military officials doing their duty," he told AFP in Amman.
In the Anfal campaign, an estimated 182,000 Kurds were killed and 4,000 villages wiped out amid aerial bombings, mass deportation and gas attacks.
During the trial a defiant Al-Majid, who is in his 60s, said he was right to order the attacks.
"I am the one who gave orders to the army to demolish villages and relocate the villagers," he said. "I am not defending myself. I am not apologising. I did not make a mistake."
Saddam's regime said the Anfal campaign was a necessary counter-insurgency operation during Iraq's 1980-1988 war with Iran.
Driven from power by a US-led invasion in March 2003, Saddam was executed on December 30, 2006 for crimes against humanity in a separate case.
Saddam's former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan was hanged for crimes against humanity on March 20, 2007, while the dictator's half-brother Barzan Ibrahim Al-Tikriti and Awad Ahmed Al-Bandar, ex-chief of Iraq's Revolutionary Court, were hanged on January 15.
Human Rights Watch has expressed concern that the Anfal verdicts were "flawed".