[JURIST] The Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal [governing statute, PDF] on Sunday commenced a new trial of two Saddam-era officials, including senior figures of Hussein's government, for their alleged involvement in the execution of thousands of political opponents during Hussein’s rule. The defendants include Hussein’s cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], better known in the Western media as “Chemical Ali,” who has received the death sentence during two previous trials [JURIST report] and is currently being tried on separate charges [JURIST report] in connection with a 1988 gas attack that killed 5,000 of Iraq's minority Kurds. Others on trial include Sabawi and Watban Ibrahim, Hussein’s half brothers, and Tariq Aziz [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], Hussein’s deputy prime minister, who face additional charges in other trials being heard by the same court. Defendants in the immediate case have been charged with “crimes against humanity” for their involvement in the arrest of tens of thousands of members of Iraqi political parties, sent to jail and often executed between 1981 and Saddam's ouster in 2003. Many of the victims were members of current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa party [official website], founded in 1957 in a bid to combat secularism and promote the role of Islam in Iraqi politics.
The Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal was originally set up under the American-led occupation authority to try members of the Hussein government accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or other serious crimes committed between 1968 and 2003. It organized the trial of Saddam Hussein and sentenced Chemical Ali to death once for his involvement in the repression of Shiites in southern Iraq during the Saddam regime and again the killing of Kurdish Iraqis using chemical weapons during the 1988 Anfal campaign [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. His death sentence in the Anfal case was upheld on appeal in September 2007, but Iraq's Presidency Council did not approve the execution [JURIST reports] until late February 2008. That is now on hold pending the completion of other trials.