Saddam Hussein1 (or Husayn/Hussain) 'Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti (صدام حسين عبدالمجيد التكريتي in Arabic) (born April 28, 1937) was President of Iraq from 1979 to 2003 and Prime Minister of Iraq from 1979 to 1991 and 1994 to 2003. He was deposed by the United States and its allies in the 2003 Iraq War and was captured by United States forces some eight months later on December 13, 2003.

Saddam Hussein

Table of contents
1 Reputation
2 Early years
3 Shaping Saddam's political consciousness
4 Rise to power
5 Saddam Hussein and Social Change
6 The Iran-Iraq war
7 Conflict with Kuwait, Persian Gulf War
8 The 2003 war
9 Pursuit and capture
10 Personal
11 See also
12 Notes
13 References
14 External links


While the West largely viewed Saddam as a despot, Arab World viewed him largely with ambivalence; on the one hand he was favorably regarded for his support and espousal of pan-Arabism, his steadfast refusal to submit to American-led international pressure, and for his role in the economic modernization in Iraq, while on the other hand he was widely despised for particular policing tactics used by his Baathist regime, for his prohibition of many traditional islamic practices, for his opening up for education for women and his treatment of minorities and political or perceived political enemies.

Early years

He was born in the village of Al-Awja, in the Tikrit District of Iraq, to a family of sheep-herders. His mother tried to abort her pregnancy but failed and named her newborn "Saddam" which means "one who confronts" in Arabic. Later in his life, relatives from his hometown would be some of his most influential and powerful advisors and supporters, and would gain the nickname "Tikriti mafia" as a result.

He never knew his father, Hussein 'Abd al-Majid, who died or disappeared before Saddam was born. His mother, Subha Tulfah al-Mussallat, remarried, and Saddam gained three half-brothers through this marriage. His stepfather, Ibrahim al-Hassan, treated Saddam harshly, and forced young Saddam to steal for him. His mother had three sons from this marriage. Barzan Ibrahim Hasan was the former chief of the Iraqi secret police and ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva. Sabawi Ibrahim Hasan is the former head of Iraqi intelligence. Watban Ibrahim Hasan is the former Iraqi interior minister. Barzan and Watban have been arrested by coalition forces.

Shaping Saddam's political consciousness

At the age of 10, Saddam moved to Baghdad to live with his uncle, Khairallah Tulfah, a devout Sunni. Saddam learned from his uncle, and took to heart, the lesson of never backing down to his enemies, no matter how superior their numbers or capabilities. In 1955, he attended the nationalist secondary school in Baghdad and joined the Ba'ath Party, quickly earning a reputation for brutality; he committed his first murder at age 19.

Saddam Hussein next to the Iraqi flag that he personally modified

The collapse of Ottoman rule over the region following the First World War, and later the withdrawal of British colonialists, combined with the floodgate of social change opened up by urbanization and modernization, contributed to a great deal of revolutionary sentiment, which shaped the mindset of young Saddam. Although heralded by the ousting of the corrupt civilian government in Syria by the military in March 1949, the rise of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt in 1952 foreshadowed the wave of revolutions throughout the Arab world in the fifties and sixties, which would see the monarchies of Iraq, Egypt, and Libya toppled. The 1958 ousting of the monarchy in Iraq was a milestone for the new urban classes in Iraq, which eased the stranglehold of the old imperialist collaborationist Úlites, namely the conservative monarchists, established families, and merchants.

Nasser's populist pan-Arab nationalism in Egypt, along with the revolutionary turmoil in Iraq, would profoundly influence Saddam Hussein until the very final days of his regime. Nasser challenged the British and French, nationalized the Suez Canal, and strove to modernize Egypt and unite the Arab world politically.

Saddam joined the Ba'ath Party in 1957. A year later in 1958, a non-Baathist group led by General Abdul Karim Qassim overthrew the king in a bloody masacre. But the more committed nationalists continued to fight the new regime. In 1959, Saddam was involved in a CIA-supported assassination plot against Prime Minister Qassim. Saddam was shot in the leg, but managed to flee on foot (after removing the bullet from his own leg) to Syria, from where he would later move to Nasser's Egypt. He was sentenced to death in absentia.

In exile Saddam received his higher education at the University of Cairo law school. Saddam also gained a degree in law from the University of Baghdad in 1968.

Rise to power

Saddam first came to power in Iraq amid the Ba'athist revolution of 1963. However, the new regime was ousted quickly, within seven to eight months torn by rife factionalism. On his return to Iraq following the 14th of Ramadan revolution (February 8, 1963) he was imprisoned in 1964 following a change in power, but escaped from jail in 1967. Saddam, according to many biographers, never forgot the tensions within the first Ba'athist regime, namely party unity and the ruthless resolve to maintain power and programs to ensure social stability.

In 1968 he helped lead the successful and non-violent Ba'athist coup. Saddam was appointed vice-chairman of the Revolution Command Council and Vice President of Iraq. In 1973 he was appointed a general in the Iraqi armed forces.

Complicating Saddam's consolidation of power since 1968, Iraqi society is an ethnic and religious polyglot divided between often hostile Arab Sunni, Kurdish Sunni, Assyrian (Aramaic-speaking Christians), Turkoman and Arab Shiite camps. Tribal conflicts, conflict between secular nationalists and religious fundamentalists, class conflict, and conflict between the rural tribes and the popular urban sectors had also been pervasive. Saddam's government drew its support base from middle- to working-class Arab Sunnis from the center of the country, especially the urban popular sectors, who are nationalistic and modern in their outlooks. This segment of Iraqi society, however, accounts for around a fifth of the population.

Field Marshal Saddam in full uniform

Under the second Ba'athist government, the prerequisites for stable rule in a country torn by political factionalism, tribalism, class conflict, regional conflict, and religious conflict would be the improvement of living standards. Thus, the new regime promoted modernization along with the creation of a strong security apparatus to prevent coups within the power structure and insurrections apart from it. Saddam, a rising star in the new regime, aided party attempts to strengthen and unify the party. The Kurdish condition has been an enduring poverty not yet solved. But the regime made great strives in alleviating poverty through the nationalization of oil to build schools, hospitals, import technology, and strengthen security services.

Always promoting himself as a Ba'athist who dreams of unifying the Arab World as a single modern state, Saddam, on June 1, 1972, led the process of nationalizing Western oil companies which had had a monopoly on Iraq's oil. Saddam actively fostered the modernization of the Iraqi economy, urging the construction of various developed industries and following their administration and execution. He also supervised the modernization of the Iraqi countryside, the mechanization of agriculture and the distribution of land to farmers. He effected a comprehensive revolution in energy industries as well as in public services such as transport and education. He also initiated and led the National Campaign for the Eradication of Illiteracy and the implementation of Compulsory Free Education in Iraq. At the same time he was securing his position by purging members of the Ba'ath Party that could possibly oppose him.

Under Saddam's Ba'ath Party government, the state provided some social services to Iraqi people unprecedented in other Middle Eastern countries. Under Saddam's auspices, the government established universal free schooling up to the highest education levels, supported families of soldiers killed in war; granted free hospitalization to everyone, and gave subsidies to farmers. Earlier, Saddam's government had broken up the large landholdings in the first place and redistributed land to peasant farmers.

The modernizing, secular nature of his government also explains Iraq's development, at least before the invasion of Iran, Kuwait, and the ensuing 12 years of United Nations-imposed economic sanctions. Since the seizure of oil fields and refineries, electricity has been brought to nearly every city in Iraq, including many communities in far outlying areas. The government has made great progress in building roads, establishing mechanized agriculture on a large scale and promoting mining and other industries to diversify the oil-dependent economy.

As vice president, Saddam slowly began to consolidate his power over Iraq's government and the Ba'ath party structure. Relationships with fellow Ba'athists were carefully cultivated, and Saddam soon gained a powerful circle of support within the party. As Iraq's weak and elderly President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr became increasingly unable to execute the duties of his office, Saddam began to take a much more prominent role as the face of the Iraqi government, both internally and externally. He soon became the sole architect of Iraq's foreign policy and represented the nation in all diplomatic situations, including a state visit to France in 1976. By the late 1970s Saddam had emerged as the undisputed de facto leader of Iraq.

In 1979, President al-Bakr began to make treaties with Syria that would lead to a unification between the two countries. Syrian President Hafez al-Assad would become deputy leader in a union, and this would drive Saddam to obscurity. Before this could happen, however, Saddam forced Bakr to resign on July 16 of that year and he then became the full leader of Iraq.

One of his first acts as President was to convene an assembly of Ba'ath party leaders on July 22, 1979 and have one of them read out the names of members that Saddam thought could oppose him. These members were labeled "disloyal" and were removed from the room one-by-one to face a firing squad. After the list was read, Saddam congratulated those still seated in the room for their past and future loyalty. The room erupted in applause and shouting in support of Saddam.

Saddam Hussein and Social Change

Another picture of Saddam Hussein
Aside from land ownership, the Saddam Hussein era oversaw other examples of a social revolution. Saddam, to the consternation of Islamic fundamentalists and the Islamic Republic of
Iran, gave women added freedoms and offered them high level government and industry jobs. Saddam provided both Arab and Western style banking systems to give the people a choice between these interest-bearing and non-interest-bearing accounts, created a western style legal system (Iraq is the only country in the Persian Gulf region which is not ruled according to Islamic law), and abolished the old Sharia law courts except for personal injury, small court claims. At the same time, human rights groups have documented cases of state-sponsored rapes of women and systemic acts of torture for political ends.[1]

However, domestic and international conflict were long an impediment to his modernizing aims. Iraq is a highly fragmented society; according to some, it is tantamount to a Middle Eastern Yugoslavia (an analogy used often by Thomas Friedman). Over the past three decades, however, Saddam's authoritarian rule kept the lid on pervasive tribal, class, religious, factional, and ethnic conflicts, and destabilizing forces externally, such as hostile powers like Iran and the United States. The cost, though, resulted in one of the more autocratic of the Middle East's many autocracies. Islamic fundamentalists, suppressed through classic carrot and stick tactics, and won over eventually by co-optation and coercion, tended to reject the direction in which Saddam led the country. And the region's traditional aristocracies, both Sunni and Shiite (the kinds of aristocracies that still rule the other Arab Persian Gulf states with an iron grip), rejected the populist nature of his policies which undermined and largely eroded aristocratic privilege. In short, large segments of Iraq's population tended to reject modernization even though it dramatically raised living standards in the aggregate.

In response, his efforts to construct mosques and portray himself as a devout Muslim in more recent years have been seen as measures to co-opt more religious segments of society. These measures have seemed to work, considering that Iraq has avoided the bloody fundamentalist insurgencies seen in other secular states, such as Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria.

Saddam's image appeared everywhere in Iraq, as part of his personality cult

Since Iraq is a fragmented society and a fragile state, many have linked this to Saddam's attempts to forge an Iraqi and Arab national identity for his conflict-torn country. Saddam has espoused the ideas of the Ba'ath Party: Arab unity, the belief that that the Arab world was divided into 22 countries that should be united to serve the interests of the Arab people. But Saddam has also espoused Iraqi patriotism, expressing the belief that Iraq has played a unique role in the history of the Arab world. As president, Saddam has made frequent references to the Islamic period, especially the Abbasid period (when Baghdad was the political, cultural, and economic capital of the Arab world). Moreover, he is known to refer to the glorious pre-Islamic past, not failing to note Mesopotamia's role as an ancient cradle of civilization. Saddam alluded to pre-Islamic historical figures such as Nebuchadnezzar and Hammurabi. And to his credit, he has devoted great resources to archeological explorations. Saddam, in his speeches, envisages an Arab world united and led by Iraq.

According to some official reports, Saddam appeared to have enjoyed great popularity within Iraq. A 2002 referendum, asking whether he should continue to lead Iraq, claimed 100% of voters thought he should, and that the turnout was 100%, with international media releasing pictures of Iraqi women voting in their own blood. However, he was the only presidential candidate on the ballot and voting was mandatory.

The highly questionable results of the 2002 referendum are one of the many examples of Saddam's vast state-driven personality cult. During his reign as president, extensive use of propaganda was employed to make Saddam appear synonymous with Iraq. Shortly after he came to power, gigantic framed portraits, enormous statues, and vast murals began to appear all over the country, depicting the Iraqi leader in a variety of different costumes, situations, and emotions.

Many scholars have noted that Saddam's personality cult reflects change and tradition in Iraqi society. Known to wear the costumes of the Bedouin, the traditional clothes of the peasant, and even Kurdish clothing, Saddam is often photographed in Western suits, projecting the image of an urbane and modern leader respectful of his past. Sometimes he would be portrayed as a dedicated Muslim, wearing full headdress and robe, praying toward Mecca. Other times, he would be shown wearing a western business suit and sunglasses, brandishing a rifle high above his head. Some examples of Saddam's imagery can be found on the right. The prevalence of the leader's visage was quite unparalleled in modern history, leading one western commentator to joke that Saddam's efforts made Stalin look like he had a case of "low self-esteem."

The Iran-Iraq war

Donald Rumsfeld meets with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad

The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran threatened to divert Iraq from this progressive path of development. In addition, Shiites, many of whom were sympathetic to Iran's Ayatollahs, accounted for the majority of Iraq's population. The pretext for the bloody, protracted Iran-Iraq War was a territorial dispute, but most attribute the war as an attempt by Saddam, supported by both the US and the USSR, to have Iraq form a bulwark against the expansionism of radical Iranian-style revolution. During the war Saddam received international condemnation after he ordered the use of chemical weapons on Iranian troops. The war ended in a bloody stalemate with no gain to either side. The people of Iran and Iraq both lost heavily, with a total death toll of about 1.7 million. Both economies, previously healthy and expanding, were left in ruins.

Iraq has, nearly from its founding, had to deal with Kurdish separatists in the northern part of the country, which took a tragic turn during the Iraq-Iran War. Saddam Hussein's answer to this ethnic conflict was seen as brutal to many observers and included the systematic use of chemical weapons on Kurdish troops and population centers. The worst such single incident occurred on March 16, 1988 when Iraqi troops, on orders from Saddam to stop a Kurdish uprising, attacked the Kurdish town of Halabjah with a mix of poison gas and nerve agents killing 5000 people, mostly women and children. Dissenting opinions dispute the numbers and have said the incident was actually a battle in the Iran-Iraq war where chemical weapons were used on both sides and a significant portion of the fatalities were caused by the Iranian weapons. Also, according to anti-Saddam opposition groups, around 100,000 other Kurds have been exiled since 1991.

The war with Iran left Iraq bankrupt. Faced with rebuilding its infrastructure destroyed in the war, Iraq needed money. No country would lend it money except the United States and borrowing money from the US made Iraq its client state. According to some, the costs of the Iran-Iraq War would later explain Iraq's confrontation with Kuwait and the United States.

Conflict with Kuwait, Persian Gulf War

Iraq had borrowed a tremendous amount of money from other Arab states, including Kuwait, during the 1980s to fight its war with Iran. Saddam Hussein felt that the war had been fought for the benefit of the other Gulf Arab states as much as for Iraq, and so all debts should be forgiven. Kuwait, however, did not forgive its debt and further provoked Saddam by slant drilling oil out of wells that Iraq considered within its disputed border with Kuwait.

Saddam Hussein pictured in a propaganda picture overseeing a war scene in the foreground

In 1990 Saddam Hussein complained to the United States Department of State about Kuwaiti slant drilling. This had continued for years, but now Iraq needed oil money to pay off its war debts and avert an economic crisis. Saddam ordered troops to the Iraq-Kuwait border, creating alarm over the prospect of an invasion. April Glaspie, the United States ambassador to Iraq, met with Hussein in an emergency meeting, where Hussein stated his intention to continue talks. Iraq and Kuwait then met for a final negotiation session, which failed. Saddam then sent his troops into Kuwait.

According to many historians, Iraq has always been hostile to Kuwait, because Kuwait was created by the British from land that was originally part of Iraq -- and Saddam lacked the seaport Kuwait occupied. Iraqi designs on Kuwait certainly pre-dated the rise of Saddam Hussein. In 1961, only a British military intervention had stopped an intended Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Kuwait had already offered the use of its seaport to Iraq, and it was using Iraq's fleet of oil tankers to transport its own oil abroad, as were many other oil countries. This gave them an indigenous industry, independent of outside European and American tankers which demanded higher fees. Thus Kuwait and Iraq were in the oil tanker business together, Iraq furnishing the tankers, Kuwait furnishing the port.

The US and Britain, two of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, convinced the Security Council to give Iraq a deadline to leave Kuwait. Eventually a reluctant Security Council declared war on Iraq, which President George Bush declared was "for the New World Order." Saddam ignored the deadline and by the end of the Gulf War Iraq had lost an estimated 20,000 troops and had been expelled from Kuwait. Other sources—like Ramsey Clark, formerly the US Attorney General—speak of more than 100,000 on the Iraqi side.

Prior to that point, however, Iraq's stance in the international community had alarmed Western powers. Iraq was the leading country in forming the Arab League, an alliance similar to Europe's European Economic Community. All oil nations would share and work together and plan their own army that would include no Europeans. Iraq at the time had compiled a huge foreign debt and was striving to pay off the debts accumulated during the Iraq-Iran War. Perhaps in response, Saddam was pushing oil-exporting countries to raise oil prices and cut back production. Westerners, however, remember the very destabilizing effects of the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s.

Following the war, popular uprisings erupted in the north and south parts of the nation. These uprisings were swiftly and ruthlessly repressed and thousands of Iraqis were killed. A United Nations trade embargo was placed on Iraq following the war and Saddam tightened his control over Iraq.

The 2003 war

The Iraqi government and military collapsed about three weeks after the beginning of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. By April 9, Saddam Hussein was not in the public eye, with some reports indicating he had been killed or wounded in air strikes in a restaurant where he reportedly had been holding a meeting. By this date, coalition (American and British) forces occupied much of Iraq, and several presidential palaces were in coalition hands. The large bronze statue of Saddam in a roundabout in central Baghdad had been torn down to the cheers of a crowd of around 200 Iraqi citizens, many of which went on to remove or deface many posters and other likenesses of Saddam. Icons and other Saddam Hussein-bearing articles were beaten with shoes and slippers—an action that is a grave insult in the Arab culture. Images were broadcast around the world of Iraqis defacing the numerous ubiquitous portraits and murals of the dictator and dragging broken statues through the streets.

From all this, it appeared that Saddam had lost control of Iraq and was at the least in hiding. The population did not rise up in response to his repeated calls to do so, shedding further doubts on the accuracy of his popularity as represented by government-run Iraqi news and radio. However the sudden loss of all Iraqi governmental controls on April 9th left a power vacuum that was followed by widespread looting of governmental buildings including Iraq's Olympic headquarters, which dissidents allege was used by Saddam's eldest son, Uday, to torture athletes and others that displeased him. The looting quickly spread to civilian properties and many observers feared a looming humanitarian crisis as a result of the toppling of Saddam's government. Embedded reporters interviewed many Iraqis in the capital and other parts of the nation and found that the general relief that the Saddam Hussein government was gone was tempered by worries over the possibility of a prolonged American occupation.

Pursuit and capture

Saddam's whereabouts remained in question in the weeks following the toppling of Baghdad and the conclusion of the major fighting in the war. Nearly two weeks after the fall of Hussein's regime, a video was released showing Hussein purportedly on the day Baghdad fell, April 9. Various sightings of Saddam were also reported throughout Baghdad in the weeks following the war. A series of audio tapes claiming to be from Saddam were released at various times, although the authenticity of these tapes remains uncertain.

Although Saddam was placed at the top of the U.S. list of most-wanted Iraqis, extensive efforts to find him had little effect, although many of the other leaders of the Iraqi regime were arrested. His sons and political heirs, Uday and Qusay, were killed in July 2003 in an engagement with U.S. forces after a tip-off from an Iraqi informant.

On December 14, 2003, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) of Iran first reported that Saddam Hussein had been arrested, citing Kurdish PUK party leader Jalal Talabani. These reports were soon confirmed by other members of the Governing Council, by U.S. military sources, and by Prime Minister Tony Blair. In a press conference in Baghdad, shortly afterwards, the U.S. Civil Administrator Paul Bremer formally announced the capture of Saddam by saying, "Ladies and gentlemen, we got him!" He was captured at approximately 8:30 PM Iraqi time on December 13, in an underground "spider hole" at a farmhouse in ad-Dawr near his home town Tikrit, in what was called Operation Red Dawn. At the time of his capture, he was armed with a pistol, but offered no resistance to his capture. Bremer presented video footage of Saddam in custody, and said that DNA testing to confirm his identity beyond doubt was in progress. Saddam was shown with a full beard and hair longer and curlier than his familiar appearance, which a barber later restored. His identity was later reportedly confirmed by DNA testing.

Saddam Hussein having his mouth inspected after capture

He was described as being in good health and as "talkative and co-operative." Bremer said that Saddam would be tried, but that the details of his trial have not yet been determined. Members of the Governing Council who spoke with Saddam after his capture reported that he was unrepentant, claiming to have been a "firm but just ruler." Later it emerged that the tip-off which led to his capture came from a detainee under interrogation.

The way Saddam Hussein was treated after being arrested has caused some criticism by different human rights groups, in particular by Amnesty International. They argue that Saddam Hussein, as former Supreme Commander of Iraq's armed forces, has to be considered a prisoner of war according to the Geneva Conventions. This status makes it illegal to torture him and states that a prisoner can only be required to give his name, date of birth, rank and serial number. Prisoners of war also have to be protected against "public curiosity." Showing Saddam Hussein on TV would therefore be in violation of the Geneva Conventions. Others argue that there is no state of war between the United States and Iraq, that the Iraqi Army was abolished in May and that Saddam is therefore a civilian.

On 9th January 2004 it was widely published that Saddam Hussein had been granted prisoner of war status.


Lebanese demonstrator holds up a portrait of Saddam during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Saddam has been married three times. His first marriage to his first cousin Sajida Talfah, a former teacher, occurred in 1963. This union with the eldest daughter of Khairallah Talfah, the uncle who raised Saddam, produced two sons, (Uday Saddam Hussein and Qusay Hussein) and three daughters, Rana, Raghad and Hala. Sajida was put under house arrest in early 1997, along with daughters Raghad and Rana, because of suspicions of their involvement in an attempted assassination on Uday in December 12, 1996. General Adnan Khairallah Tuffah, who was Sajida's brother and Saddam Hussein's boyhood friend, was allegedly executed because of his growing popularity. Raghad and Rana married two brothers, Hussein Kamel Majid and Saddam Kamel Majid respectively, who were cousins of Saddam Hussein.

Saddam Hussein also married two other women: Samira Shahbandar, whom he married in 1986 after forcing her husband to divorce her (she is rumoured to be his favourite wife), and Nidal al-Hamdani, the general manager of the Solar Energy Research Center in the Council of Scientific Research, whose husband apparently was also persuaded to divorce his wife. There apparently have been no political issues from these latter two marriages. Saddam has a son, Ali, by Samira.

In August 1995, Rana and Raghad along with their husbands and children, defected to Jordan. They returned to Iraq when they received assurances that Saddam Hussein would pardon them. Within three days of their return in February 1996, both Hussein Kamel Majid and Saddam Kamel Majid were executed. Raghad and Rana were said to be estranged from their father, refusing to speak to him for several years. However, when Hussein was eventually captured in December 2003, Raghad worked hard for her father to be tried by an international tribunal, instead of the special court set up by the 25-member Governing Council to deal with the alleged crimes against humanity committed by Saddam and his regime.

Saddam's daughter Hala is married to Jamal Mustafa, the deputy head of Iraq's Tribal Affairs Office. Neither has been known to be involved in political plots.

Another cousin was Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as "Chemical Ali", who was accused of ordering the use of poison gas to slaughter Kurds in 1988. Ali is now in US custody.

See also


1Hussein is not a
surname in the Western sense, therefore it is correct to use Saddam, not Hussein, as a short form of the name.


External links