BAGHDAD — Saddam Hussein's notorious cousin known as "Chemical Ali" was convicted Sunday and sentenced to hang for ordering the most infamous of his crimes, the attacks against the Kurdish town of Halabja that killed more than 5,000 people in clouds of poisonous gas.
The fourth death sentence against Ali Hassan al-Majid for crimes against humanity serves as a reminder that victims of Hussein's atrocities remain determined to seek justice, as some politicians stoke the lingering bitterness toward the old Sunni-led regime to cement the Shiite domination that supplanted it.
For the still-suffering victims of the assault on Halabja more than two decades ago, the verdict brought a sense of closure to an event that came to symbolize the brutality of Hussein's rule.
"Now the souls of our victims will rest in peace," said Nazik Tawfiq, a 45-year-old Kurdish woman who said she lost six relatives in the attack. Upon hearing the verdict in the Baghdad courtroom, she fell to her knees to pray.
Majid's previous sentences have not been carried out in part because Halabja survivors wanted to have their case against him heard. Politics also plays a role, with a three-member presidential council representing Iraq's leading factions of Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds unable to agree to sign off on an earlier execution order.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite who is seeking re-election in March, has taken a tough stance against former members of Hussein's now-banned Baath party. The government has accused Baathists of involvement in a number of major bombings that have undercut its efforts to maintain security as U.S. troops draw down.
Relatives of Halabja's victims clapped and embraced in a screened-off corner of the courtroom after the guilty verdict against Majid, one of the chief architects of Hussein's repression. He is one of the last high-profile members of the former regime still on trial, and he still faces charges in several additional cases.