Al-Majid was widely known in Iraq as "Chemical Ali" for his repeated use of outlawed chemical warfare, as documented in the Human Rights Watch book on that campaign, Genocide In Iraq: The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds . He was later in charge of Iraq's brutal military occupation of Kuwait, and commanded Iraq's military forces in the south, where he was reportedly killed by U.S. and coalition forces.
"Al-Majid was Saddam Hussein's hatchet man," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "He was involved in some of the worst crimes of the Iraqi government, including genocide and crimes against humanity."
As secretary general of the Northern Bureau of Iraq's Ba'th Party, al-Majid held authority over all agencies of the state in the Kurdish region from March 1987 to April 1989, including the 1st and 5th Corps of the army, the General Security Directorate, and Military Intelligence. This included the period of the Anfal genocide against the region's Kurdish residents. One of his orders, dated June 20, 1987, directed army commanders "to carry out special bombardments [a reference to chemical weapon use]...to kill the largest number of persons present in ...prohibited zones."
Named after a Koranic verse justifying pillage of properties of infidels, the Anfal campaign unfolded as the 1980-1988 Iran/Iraq war was winding down. The Anfal campaign, under al-Majid's command, resulted in the murder and "disappearance" of some 100,000 noncombatants, the use of chemical weapons against noncombatants in dozens of locations, and the near-total destruction of family and community assets, including agricultural and other infrastructure, throughout the rural Kurdish areas. Documents captured from Iraqi intelligence services demonstrate that the mass killings, "disappearances," forced displacement, and other crimes were carried out in a coherent and highly centralized manner under al-Majid's direct supervision. Ali Hassan al-Majid was subsequently in charge of Iraq's military occupation of Kuwait and led forces that suppressed the popular uprising in the south of the country in March 1991. All of these campaigns were marked by executions, arbitrary arrests, "disappearances," torture, and other atrocities.
According to Iraqi opposition activists and refugee testimony, al-Majid also played a leading role in the campaign against Iraq's Marsh Arab population in the 1990s. Numbering some 250,000 people as recently as 1991, the Marsh Arabs today are believed to number fewer than 40,000 in
their ancestral homeland. Many were arrested, "disappeared," or executed; most have become refugees abroad or are internally displaced in Iraq as a result of al-Majid's campaign.
"Al-Majid represented the worst of the Iraqi government, and that's saying quite a lot," said Roth. "He was a key figure in the 1988 genocide, and was responsible for other crimes against humanity, too."
"Chemical Ali" in his own words
According to a 1988 audiotape of a meeting of leading Iraqi officials published by Human Rights Watch, al-Majid vowed to use chemical weapons against the Kurds, saying:
"I will kill them all with chemical weapons! Who is going to say anything? The international community? Fuck them! the international community, and those who listen to them!
"I will not attack them with chemicals just one day, but I will continue to attack them with chemicals for fifteen days."