BAGHDAD - The Saddam Hussein henchman known as "Chemical Ali" for gassing thousands of Kurdish civilians is due to hang within the month, after the endorsement of his death sentence yesterday by Iraq's presidential council.
But even survivors were notably subdued about the news in a nation weary of violence and suffering.
The agreement among Iraq's three-member presidential council - President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, along with the Sunni and Shi'ite vice presidents - eliminated the last barrier before Ali Hassan al-Majid can be executed.
The presidential council spared the lives of two other Hussein aides, in what was seen as a possible attempt to appease minority Sunnis. The two men - Hussein Rashid Mohammed, former deputy director of operations for the Iraqi armed forces, and former defense minister Sultan Hashim al-Taie - are in US custody, as is Majid.
The date of the execution will be determined by the Iraqi government.
A cousin of Hussein who once was an army motorcycle messenger, Majid rose to become a general and served as defense minister from 1991-95. He was among the most important figures in the former regime's inner circle, and was known as one of the most merciless.
Majid, Taie, and Mohammed were sentenced to death in June after being convicted of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity for their part in Operation Anfal - a 1987-88 crackdown on the Kurdish region that killed nearly 200,000 civilians and guerrillas.
Witnesses testified that Iraqi government forces attacked women and children, burned crops, killed livestock, and forced civilians into detention camps.
Hundreds of Kurds danced in the streets in June when Majid was sentenced to death.
But yesterday in Halabja, a city near the Iranian border that was the scene of a notorious gas attack that killed an estimated 5,000 civilians, news that Majid's sentence is to be carried out was greeted with relief but not joy.
"I am glad to see Chemical Ali hanged at last and I am psychologically relieved to see the person who killed thousands of my people being punished at last," said Aras Abdi, 43, who lost 12 relatives in the Halabja attack.
"On the other hand, the execution will not improve our lives. We have been neglected by the Kurdish regional government."
Another Halabja resident, Kamil Mahmoud, said he still has trouble breathing as a result of the attack.
"I was afraid that I would die without seeing Chemical Ali punished for his crimes," said Mahmoud, who lost eight family members to the gas. "But thanks to God, the time has come for Ali to see his shameful end."
Nearly five years after Hussein was toppled in the US-led invasion of Iraq, sectarian and insurgent violence persists.
According to an Associated Press count, at least 729 Iraqis were reported killed through Thursday in February, up from at least 610 Iraqis killed in January. At least 29 US troops were killed in February, down from 40 the month before.
Also yesterday, gunmen kidnapped Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho as he left Mass, police said. Ninevah provincial police Brigadier General Khalid Abdul-Sattar said the attackers also killed three people who were with the prelate.
An aide to Iraq's Chaldean cardinal said he did not know who seized the 65-year-old archbishop in Mosul, a northern city that the US military considers an urban stronghold of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Pope Benedict XVI called for Rahho's release, saying the kidnapping was an abominable attack.
Majid will be the fifth former regime official hanged for alleged atrocities during Hussein's nearly three-decade rule.
Hussein also had been a defendant in the so-called Anfal trial, but he was hanged Dec. 30, 2006, for ordering the killings of more than 140 Shi'ites after a 1982 assassination attempt against him.
Prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi, who said he had received word of the decision from the presidential council, said there was a legal basis for executing "Chemical Ali" but not the other two officials.
An appeals court upheld the verdicts against the three men in September. But they were put on hold after Sunni leaders, including Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, launched a campaign to spare Taie. Officials said Hashemi refused to approve the execution of Taie and Mohammed because he considered them career soldiers who were following orders.