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Iraq's 'Chemical Ali' Captured

Iraq's 'Chemical Ali' Captured

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ali Hassan al-Majid, one of Saddam Hussein's most brutal henchmen who earned the nicknames "Chemical Ali" and "butcher of the Kurds" for leading poisonous gas attacks, has been captured, U.S. officials said Thursday.

The U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., announced that al-Majid, a cousin of Saddam Hussein who was No. 5 on the U.S. coalition's most-wanted list, was in custody.

A senior defense official said he was captured on Sunday in the company of bodyguards, but not with other top Iraqis. Central Command did not immediately say how al-Majid was captured or where he was being held.

It was not immediately clear whether U.S. officials believed al-Majid had been playing a role in organizing anti-American resistance.

For a while last spring, U.S. leaders thought al-Majid was dead, killed in an airstrike in April on a house in southern Iraq.

A body believed to be his was found at the site, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, "We believe that the reign of terror of Chemical Ali has come to an end."

But Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in June that interrogations of Iraqi prisoners indicated that he might still be alive.

Saddam's paternal first cousin and a former army sergeant, al-Majid was considered one of the most powerful men in Saddam's inner circle.

Before the 1968 revolution, al-Majid was a simple warrant officer responsible for delivering messages by motorcycle.

But he had been closely linked with Saddam since the 1960s when they were members of the then-underground Baath Party which ruled Iraq until the U.S.-led coalition invaded.

Al-Majid also was part of the "Jihaz Haneen," or "apparatus of yearning," the secret intelligence organization Saddam formed inside the Baath to eliminate rivals and traitors and carry out assassinations. It played a key role in the July 17, 1968, coup that overthrew President Abdel-Salim Arif and thrust Saddam securely on the path to power.

When Saddam took over from President Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr in July 1979, he promoted al-Majid to full general even though his military skills were negligible.

By the mid-1980s, with the war against Iran raging, al-Majid was coordinating Iraq's five intelligence and security services and joined the "Makhtab al-Khas," or Special Bureau, through which Saddam and his tight-knit inner circle ran the intelligence apparatus.

Saddam appointed him to the 17-member Regional Command of the Baath Party in 1984 and he sat on that decision-making body until Saddam's Iraqi government was overthrown.

He earned the soubriquet "butcher of the Kurds" for his savage campaign against the autonomy-seeking Kurds in northeast Iraq during the 1980s, in which some 4,000 villages were razed and hundreds of thousands of Kurds forcibly relocated away from their mountain homeland to Iraq's southern deserts.

His scorched earth campaign climaxed in 1988 when, in the dying days of the war with Iran, he used chemical weapons against the guerrillas and their supporters.

In the worst atrocity, some 5,000 men, women and children were slaughtered in the border town of Halabja in March 1988 when it was bombed and shelled with cyanide gas.

After Saddam invaded Kuwait in August 1990, he named al-Majid governor of the conquered emirate for the first three months of the seven-month occupation. By all accounts, he supervised the systematic looting and suppression of the emirate before he returned to Baghdad in November 1990.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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