Date of birth : 1937-04-28
Date of death : 2006-12-30
Birthplace : Al-Awja, Iraq
Nationality : Iraqian
Category : Politics
Last modified : 2010-04-01
Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti was born in 1937 to a peasant family in the village Al-Awja near Tikrit, Iraq. His father died before his birth and his mother died in childbirth. He was raised by his uncles, particularly Khairallah Talfah, a retired army officer who served as a role model for Hussein. (In 1963 Saddam married Talfah's daughter Sajida.) In 1956 he moved into his uncle's house in Baghdad, where he became involved in the strong Arab nationalist movement sweeping Iraq in the wake of the Suez war that year. In 1957 he joined the Arab Ba'th Socialist Party, founded in Syria in 1947 and dedicated to Arab unity and socialism (a social system where goods and services are distributed by the government). From 1957 on Saddam's life and career were tied to the Ba'th Party.
In 1959 Saddam Hussein was one of the party members who attempted to carry out the unsuccessful assassination of the Iraqi dictator, Major General Abdul Karim Qasim (1914–1963). Although wounded, he was able to escape to Syria and then Egypt, where he remained until 1963. In Egypt he continued his political activities, closely observing the tactics, movements, and politics of Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918–1970).
In February 1963 a group of Nasserite and Ba'thist officers in Iraq brought down the government of Qasim, and Hussein returned to his country. However, this Ba'th party did not remain in power for long. In 1966 Hussein became a member of the Iraqi branch's regional command and played a major role in reorganizing the Ba'th Party in preparation for a second attempt at power. It was in this period that Hussein acquired his reputation as a tough and daring member of the Ba'th Party.
The dual rule: al-Bakr and Hussein
In July 1968, after two attempts to overthrow the government, the Ba'th came back to power in Iraq, temporarily governing through the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC). Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr was elected president of the republic by the RCC and Hussein was elected vice president of the RCC in 1969. Between 1969 and 1979 Iraq was ruled outwardly by al-Bakr and behind the scenes by Hussein, who was a good manipulator and survivor.
In domestic affairs the Ba'th regime applied its socialist policy by bringing almost all economic activity under the control of the government. In 1972 Iraq nationalized (brought under government control) the foreign-owned oil company IBC, the first Middle Eastern government to do so. Hussein oversaw the rapid economic and social development of Iraq which followed the oil price increases of the 1970s. The country began to prosper, especially schools and medical facilities. A major campaign to wipe out illiteracy (the inability to write or read) was started in 1978 requiring children to attend schools. Women's social status was also greatly improved.
In international affairs, Iraq improved relations with the Soviet Union, a former country made up of Russia and other smaller states that are now nations, and signed a treaty of alliance in 1972. At the same time Iraq distanced itself from the West, except for France. Iraq took a hard line on Israel and attempted to isolate Egypt after Anwar Sadat (1918–1981) signed the Camp David agreements with Israel's prime minister, Menachem Begin (1913–1992).
Saddam Hussein as president
On July 16, 1979, al-Bakr resigned and Hussein was elected president of the Iraqi Republic. One of the first things he ordered were posters of himself scattered throughout Iraq, some as tall as twenty feet, depicting himself in various roles: a military man, a desert horseman, a young graduate. He carefully created an image of himself as a devoted family man, all in order to win the trust and love of the Iraqi people. He held the titles of secretary general of the Ba'th party and commander in chief of the armed forces.
Throughout 1979 and 1980 relations with Iran had fallen apart, as Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini (1902–1989) called on Iraq's Shi'ites, a large branch of Islam, to revolt against Hussein and the Ba'thist regime. Secret pro-Iranian organizations committed acts of destruction in Iraq, while Iranians began shelling Iraqi border towns in 1980. In September 1980 the Iraqi army crossed the Iranian border and seized Iranian territory thus beginning a long, costly, and bitter war that continued into the late 1980s.
With the continuation of the war, Hussein adopted a more practical stance in international affairs. Relations with conservative countries such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt improved since they provided Iraq with either financial or military aid. Relations with the United States, cut in 1967 in protest against U.S. support for Israel in the Arab-Israeli conflict, known as the Six-Day War (June 1967), were restored in November 1984. However, Iraq did not change its friendly relations with the Soviet Union which, together with France, was the main source of its arms.
Tightening his grip
Saddam Hussein is a man with the reputation for ruthless crushing of his opposition. When he assumed power, he rid his party of officials and military officers due to an alleged Syrian plot to overthrow his government. He executed another three hundred officers in 1982 for rebelling against his tactics in the war with Iran. In order to protect himself, Saddam surrounded himself with family and friends in positions of trust and responsibility in the government. After a family dispute, his brother-in-law "mysteriously" died in a helicopter accident. He ordered the murders of his sons-in-law after they fled to Jordan in 1996. His image of a devoted family man was shattered with these acts. On at least seven occasions unsuccessful assassination attempts were made against Hussein.
In 1990 Hussein brought the wrath and combined power of the West and the Arab world down upon Iraq by his invasion of Kuwait. The Persian Gulf War, which Iraq fought against U.S. military forces, lasted for six weeks and caused Iraq's leader worldwide criticism. However, there are still a great many supporters of Hussein scattered throughout the world.
Since the Persian Gulf War, the United Nations (UN a multinational body aimed at world peace) lowered many sanctions (laws) upon Iraq, including letting UN weapons inspectors into certain areas of Iraq to check for illegal possession of chemical warfare items. Despite the pressure by the UN (and Saddam's reluctant acceptance of the sanctions), he has maintained absolute power over his country. In 1997 citizens of Baghdad feared to criticize Hussein, and rumors circulated that he had put his wife under house arrest after his son Uday was shot.
In autumn 1997 Hussein accused UN inspectors of being spies and forced them to leave the country. The situation improved in early 1998, but then after Iraq once again refused to let the inspectors do their jobs, the United States and Great Britain began four days of air strikes against the country. Hussein then stated that Iraq would no longer cooperate with UN inspectors. The air strikes continued throughout 1999 because Iraq continued to fire on planes that were patrolling no-fly zones that had been put in place by the UN.
In September 2001, after terrorist attacks on the United States, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of people in America, Hussein stated that he refused to offer his sympathy to U.S. president George W. Bush (1946–) because he did not agree with U.S. policy toward Iraq. Early in 2002 Hussein made an offer to openly discuss the sanctions with the UN. He later claimed that Iraq was no longer producing weapons that were made for the purpose of mass destruction. Many people believed that Hussein's comments were made in an effort to gain support from countries as President Bush indicated that Iraq could become one of the enemies in the U.S.-led war against terrorism.
The cult of Saddam Hussein
Support for Saddam Hussein was not universal. The conservative followers of Islam (the national religion of Iraq) did not agree with many of Saddam's innovations, which they felt were directly opposed to Islamic law. This included legislation that gave women more freedoms and the fact that a Western-style legal system had been installed. As a result, Iraq became the only Arab country not ruled by the laws of Islam. Major opposition also came from the Kurds who occupied the northern region of the country. The Kurds are a nomadic people who are concentrated in areas of Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. They are Muslim but not Arabic, and they strongly disagreed with the Baa'thist push for a united Arab front.
Saddam even faced resistance within his own party, and he made it a policy to weed out anyone he viewed as a threat. On July 22, 1979, just days after taking over the presidency, he organized an assembly of Baa'th leaders and read aloud the names of suspected spies; these people were taken from the room and publicly executed by firing squad. A few years later, in 1982, he ordered the execution of at least three hundred officers who had supposedly questioned his military tactics. Once in control, Saddam surrounded himself with a tightly-knit group of family and friends who assumed high levels of responsibility within the government. These individuals, however, were not necessarily immune to Saddam's paranoia. At one point, Adnan Talfah, Saddam's brother-in-law and childhood friend, was killed in a "mysterious" helicopter crash. And in 1996 Saddam had his sons-in-law murdered for being disloyal.
Although he ruled with an iron fist, Saddam also was preoccupied with winning the devotion of the Iraqi people. He promoted himself as a hero of the nation who was dedicated to making Iraq the leader of the Arab world. Images of Saddam were plastered throughout the country. Some of them depicted the ruler as a dedicated Muslim wearing traditional robes and headdress; others featured Saddam in a Western-style business suit, wearing sunglasses and holding a rifle over his head. All were efforts to make a connection at every level of society and to solidify his role as an all-powerful president. Such tactics, however, also solidified his reputation as an insecure and unstable leader. He became known for his paranoia, which was not unjustified, considering he had survived at least seven assassination attempts. As a result he rarely appeared in public. He also slept only a few hours a night, at secret locations, and all of his food was carefully prepared and inspected by official food tasters.
Conflicts with Iran and Kuwait
Outside of Iraq, especially in the West, Saddam was seen as a dictator whose quest for dominance in the Middle East was viewed with particular concern. In 1980 Saddam proved that such fears were founded when he attacked Iran, an invasion that led to an eight-year bloody conflict. Relations between Iran and Iraq had been deteriorating for years, and came to a head in 1979 when the Ayatollah Khomeini (c. 1900–1989) overthrew the government of Iran during an Islamic uprising. Saddam worried that Khomeini would set his sites on spreading his radical religious rule to the secular (nonreligious) state of Iraq. Disputes over territorial boundaries led to skirmishes throughout late 1979 and into 1980, and on September 22, 1980, Iraqi forces crossed the Iranian border and officially declared war.
Over the next eight years, both countries suffered almost irreparable damage, and the healthy economy that Saddam had created during the 1970s was in ruins. Billions of dollars were borrowed from countries such as the United States, Kuwait, the U.S.S.R., and France, to support the war effort. The United States alone gave the Iraqi government nearly $40 billion in food supplies and arms. And both sides suffered a tremendous loss of human life. It is estimated that approximately 1.7 million people were killed during the conflict. In one battle on March 16, 1988, Iraqi troops attacked the Kurdish town of Halabja, using poison nerve gas. Nearly five thousand people died, most of whom were women and children. Various reports claimed that chemical weapons were used by both Iran and Iraq, but these tactics continued to raise the alarm that Saddam Hussein was a military threat who could not be trusted.
In 1989 the war ended in a stalemate, with no side claiming a real victory. Conflicts between Saddam and other nations, however, were just beginning. Faced with the prospect of rebuilding his country, Saddam tried to pressure the neighboring country of Kuwait to forgive the $30 billion loan he had been given. The reason he gave was that the war with Iran had effectively protected Kuwait from an Iranian invasion. Tensions were also sparked between the two countries over territorial boundaries that were especially important because they involved the control of oil reserves in the area. When negotiations failed, Saddam invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990.
The United States versus Iraq
In an effort to control Saddam, the cease-fire agreement drawn up between the United Nations and Iraq required the country to destroy all of its chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons. The agreement also stipulated that Saddam had to let UN inspectors oversee the efforts. If Iraq did not comply with the agreement, economic sanctions would be imposed, meaning that all trade with the country would be cut off. Throughout the 1990s the Iraqi leader reportedly concealed the manufacture of weapons from inspectors, and the sanctions continued. Cut off from the world, the people of Iraq suffered. Unemployment rose, agricultural production declined, and the majority of the population suffered from severe malnutrition and lack of medical care. There was increased unrest among the many factions in the country, which prompted Saddam to increase his tactics of repression.
When George W. Bush became president of the United States in 2001, one of his first acts upon taking office was an attempt to reinstate economic sanctions, which had been lifted by the United Nations in the late 1990s. World opinion opposed the effort as inhumane; the Iraqi people had suffered far too much. Anti-Saddam sentiment only escalated, however, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Although the attacks were never linked to Saddam Hussein, Bush insisted that terrorists armed with Iraqi weapons could at any time target the United States. In his State of the Union address in January of 2002, the U.S. president called Iraq part of an "axis of evil," and claimed that the country "continue[d] to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror."
Time and again Bush publicly accused Saddam of concealing weapons, and by 2002 he threatened to invade Iraq if UN inspectors were not allowed back into the country. Saddam countered that there were no weapons, and opened his doors. Although UN inspectors found nothing, Bush maintained that inspectors had simply not found the well-hidden weapons yet. By early 2003, war with Iraq was looming. In January of 2003 Bush gave Saddam an ultimatum: either totally disarm his country or voluntarily leave Iraq. If neither step was taken, the United States would attack.
In February of 2003, in an unprecedented move, Saddam Hussein appeared on television, having agreed to be interviewed by CBS newsman Dan Rather (1931–). The interview was broadcast worldwide, even in Iraq, which meant that the Iraqi people were given a rare glimpse of their reclusive leader who was rarely seen in person. Saddam accused the Bush administration of being part of a "bandwagon of evil," and continued to insist that Iraq did not have concealed weapons and that it had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks. He also explained that he would not leave Iraq and that Iraqis would fight to protect their country if provoked. "We will die here in Iraq," he told Rather. "We will die in this country and we will maintain our honor."
By 2003, the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush perceived that Saddam remained sufficiently relevant and dangerous to be overthrown. In March of that year, the U.S. and its allies invaded Iraq, eventually deposing Saddam. Captured by U.S. forces on 13 December 2003, Saddam was brought to trial under the Iraqi interim government set up by U.S.-led forces. On 5 November 2006, he was convicted of charges related to the 1982 killing of 148 Iraqi Shi'ites convicted of planning an assassination attempt against him, and was sentenced to death by hanging. Saddam was executed on 30 December 2006. By the time of his death, Saddam had become a prolific author. Among his works are multiple novels dealing with themes of romance, politics, and war.
Saddam Hussein remains a powerful strongman, in spite of an ongoing embargo (stoppage of trade) of his country's oil, goods, and services.
View the full website biography of Saddam Hussein.