U.S. Confirms Capture of Top Saddam Loyalist ‘Chemical Ali’
According to the Associated Press, a senior defense official at the Pentagon said al-Majid was captured in Iraq on Sunday, and was with his bodyguards when he was detained.
In a brief press release, CentCom verified al-Majid, also known as “Chemical Ali” for reportedly ordering the chemical weapons attack on separatist Kurd villages in the late 1980s, is “in custody of Coalition Forces.”
Central Command offered no further details on how Saddam’s close colleague was captured, or where he has been placed in custody. According to the Associated Press, a senior defense official at the Pentagon said al-Majid was captured in Iraq on Sunday, and was with his bodyguards when he was detained.
Al-Majid, a former army sergeant, was seen as one of Saddam’s most powerful colleagues.
In Washington, CentCom commander General John Abizaid suggested al-Majid may have retained some power after the collapse of the Saddam regime in April.
“Chemical Ali has been active in some ways in influencing people in and around him, in a regional way,” Abizaid told reporters at the Pentagon.
Before the ouster of the Saddam regime, al-Majid had built a reputation for ruthlessness.
According to Human Rights Watch reports, al-Majid directed army commanders on June 20, 1987, to “carry out special bombardments [a reference to chemical weapon use] to kill the largest number of persons present in prohibited zones.”
In one attack, in Halabja, 5,000 people are believed to have died after the town was shelled with cyanide gas. Human rights groups accused al-Majid’s campaign of destroying hundreds of Kurdish communities and the deaths and disappearances of some 100,000 Kurds.
In 1990, prior to the first Gulf War, al-Majid was named Iraq’s chief administrator in Kuwait. He is thought to have orchestrated a violent crackdown on Shia Muslims in southern Iraq when they rebelled in the aftermath of the war.
During the coalition war, U.S. and British officials targeted al-Majid in a Basra bombing in April 2003, and believed they had killed him. At the time, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, “We believe that the reign of terror of Chemical Ali has come to an end.”
In June, however, U.S. General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said interrogation of Iraqi prisoners suggested al-Majid was possibly still alive.
The latest capture comes shortly after the arrest of Saddam’s former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan. Saddam’s former right-hand man was captured in Mosul on Aug. 19.