Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti (Arabic: صدام حسين عبد المجيد التكريتي Ṣaddām Ḥusayn ʿAbd al-Maǧīd al-Tikrītī; 28 April 1937 – 30 December 2006) was the fifth President of Iraq, serving in this capacity from 16 July 1979 until 9 April 2003. A leading member of the revolutionary Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, and later, the Baghdad-based Ba’ath Party and its regional organisation Ba’ath Party – Iraq Region—which espoused ba’athism, a mix of Arab nationalism and Arab socialism—Saddam played a key role in the 1968 coup (later referred to as the 17 July Revolution) that brought the party to power in Iraq.
As vice president under the ailing General Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, and at a time when many groups were considered capable of overthrowing the government, Saddam created security forces through which he tightly controlled conflict between the government and the armed forces. In the early 1970s, Saddam nationalized oil and other industries. The state-owned banks were put under his control, leaving the system eventually insolvent mostly due to the Iran–Iraq War, the Persian Gulf War, and UN sanctions. Through the 1970s, Saddam cemented his authority over the apparatuses of government as oil money helped Iraq’s economy to grow at a rapid pace. Positions of power in the country were mostly filled with Sunnis, a minority that made up only a fifth of the population.
Saddam formally rose to power in 1979, though he had been the de facto head of Iraq for several years prior (see Succession). He suppressed several movements, particularly Shi’a and Kurdish movements seeking to overthrow the government or gain independence, respectively, and maintained power during the Iran–Iraq War of 1980 through 1988. In 1990 he ordered the invasion of Kuwait, leading to the Gulf War of 1991. Whereas some[who?]venerated him for his opposition to Israel– which included the use of military force–he was widely condemned in the west for the brutality of his dictatorship.
In March 2003, a coalition led by the U.S. and U.K. invaded Iraq to depose Saddam, after U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime MinisterTony Blair accused him of possessing weapons of mass destruction and having ties to al-Qaeda. Saddam’s Ba’ath party was disbanded and Iraq made a transition to a democratic system. Following his capture on 13 December 2003, the trial of Saddam took place under the Iraqi interim government. On 5 November 2006, Saddam was convicted of charges related to the 1982 killing of 148 Iraqi Shi’ites and was sentenced to death byhanging. His execution was carried out on 30 December 2006.
Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti was born in the town of Al-Awja, 13 km (8 mi) from the Iraqi town of Tikrit, to a family of shepherds from the al-Begat tribal group, a sub-group of the Al-Bu Nasir (البو ناصر) tribe. His mother, Subha Tulfah al-Mussallat, named her newborn son Saddam, which inArabic means “One who confronts”; he is always referred to by this personal name, which may be followed by the patronymic and other elements. He never knew his father, Hussein ‘Abid al-Majid, who disappeared six months before Saddam was born. Shortly afterward, Saddam’s 13-year-old brother died of cancer. The infant Saddam was sent to the family of his maternal uncle Khairallah Talfah until he was three.
His mother remarried, and Saddam gained three half-brothers through this marriage. His stepfather, Ibrahim al-Hassan, treated Saddam harshly after his return. At about age 10, Saddam fled the family and returned to live in Baghdad with his uncle Kharaillah Tulfah. Tulfah, the father of Saddam’s future wife, was a devout Sunni Muslim and a veteran from the 1941 Anglo-Iraqi War between Iraqi nationalists and the United Kingdom, which remained a major colonial power in the region.
Later in his life relatives from his native Tikrit became some of his closest advisors and supporters. Under the guidance of his uncle he attended a nationalistic high school in Baghdad. After secondary school Saddam studied at an Iraqi law school for three years, dropping out in 1957 at the age of 20 to join the revolutionary pan-Arab Ba’ath Party, of which his uncle was a supporter. During this time, Saddam apparently supported himself as a secondary school teacheOf the 16 members of Qasim’s cabinet, 12 were Ba’ath Party members; however, the party turned against Qasim due to his refusal to join Gamel Abdel Nasser‘s United Arab Republic. To strengthen his own position within the government, Qasim created an alliance with the Iraqi Communist Party, which was opposed to any notion of pan-Arabism. Later that year, the Ba’ath Party leadership was planning to assassinate Qasim. Saddam was a leading member of the operation. At the time, the Ba’ath Party was more of an ideological experiment than a strong anti-government fighting machine. The majority of its members were either educated professionals or students, and Saddam fit the bill. The choice of Saddam was, according to historian Con Coughlin, “hardly surprising”. The idea of assassinating Qasim may have been Nasser’s, and there is speculation that some of those who participated in the operation received training in Damascus, which was then part of the UAR.
The assassins planned to ambush Qasim at Al-Rashid Street on 7 October 1959: one man was to kill those sitting at the back of the car, the rest killing those in front. During the ambush it is claimed that Saddam began shooting prematurely, which disorganised the whole operation. Qasim’s chauffeur was killed, and Qasim was hit in the arm and shoulder. The assassins believed they had killed him and quickly retreated to their headquarters, but Qasim survived. At the time of the attack the Ba’ath Party had less than 1,000 members.
Some of the plotters quickly managed to leave the country for Syria, the spiritual home of Ba’athist ideology. There Saddam was given full-membership in the party by Michel Aflaq. Some members of the operation were arrested and taken into custody by the Iraqi government. At theshow trial, six of the defendants were given the death sentence; for unknown reasons the sentences were not carried out. Aflaq, the leader of the Ba’athist movement, organised the expulsion of leading Iraqi Ba’athist members, such as Fuad al-Rikabi, on the grounds that the party should not have initiated the attempt on Qasim’s life. At the same time, Aflaq managed to secure seats in the Iraqi Ba’ath leadership for his supporters, one them being Saddam. Saddam fled to Egypt in 1959, and he continued to live there until 1963.
Many foreign countries opposed Qasim, particularly after he threatened to invade Kuwait. In February 1960, the CIA created an unrelated plan to oust Qasim by giving him a poisoned handkerchief, although it may have been aborted.
Army officers with ties to the Ba’ath Party overthrew Qasim in the Ramadan Revolution coup of 1963. Ba’athist leaders were appointed to the cabinet and Abdul Salam Arif became president. The governments of the United States and United Kingdom were complicit in the coup. Arif dismissed and arrested the Ba’athist leaders later that year in the November 1963 Iraqi coup d’état.
Arif died in a plane crash in 1966, in what may have been an act of sabotage by Ba’athist elements in the Iraqi military. Abdul Rahman al-Bazzazbecame acting president for three days, and a power struggle for the presidency occurred. In the first meeting of the Defense Council and cabinet to elect a president, Al-Bazzaz needed a two-thirds majority to win the presidency. Al-Bazzaz was unsuccessful, and Abdul Rahman Arif was elected president. He was viewed by army officers as weaker and easier to manipulate than his brother.
Saddam returned to Iraq, but was imprisoned in 1964. In 1966, Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr appointed him Deputy Secretary of the Regional Command. Saddam escaped from prison in 1967. Saddam, who would prove to be a skilled organiser, revitalised the party. He was elected to the Regional Command, as the story goes, with help from Michel Aflaq—the founder of Ba’athist thought.
In 1968, Saddam participated in a bloodless coup led by Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr that overthrew Abdul Rahman Arif. Saddam and Saleh Omar al-Ali contacted Ba’athists in the military and helped lead them on the ground. Arif was given refuge in London and then Istanbul. Al-Bakr was named president and Saddam was named his deputy, and deputy chairman of the Ba’athistRevolutionary Command Council. According to biographers, Saddam never forgot the tensions within the first Ba’athist government, which formed the basis for his measures to promote Ba’ath party unity as well as his resolve to maintain power and programs to ensure social stability. Although Saddam was al-Bakr’s deputy, he was a strong behind-the-scenes party politician. Al-Bakr was the older and more prestigious of the two, but by 1969 Hussein clearly had become the moving force behind the party.
In 1976, Saddam rose to the position of general in the Iraqi armed forces, and rapidly became the strongman of the government. As the ailing, elderly al-Bakr became unable to execute his duties, Saddam took on an increasingly prominent role as the face of the government both internally and externally. He soon became the architect of Iraq’s foreign policy and represented the nation in all diplomatic situations. He was the de facto leader of Iraq some years before he formally came to power in 1979. He slowly began to consolidate his power over Iraq’s government and the Ba’ath party. Relationships with fellow party members were carefully cultivated, and Saddam soon accumulated a powerful circle of support within the party.
In 1979 al-Bakr started to make treaties with Syria, also under Ba’athist leadership, that would lead to unification between the two countries. Syrian President Hafez al-Assad would become deputy leader in a union, and this would drive Saddam to obscurity. Saddam acted to secure his grip on power. He forced the ailing al-Bakr to resign on 16 July 1979, and formally assumed the presidency.
Shortly afterwards, he convened an assembly of Ba’ath party leaders on 22 July 1979. During the assembly, which he ordered videotaped (viewable via this reference), Saddam claimed to have found a fifth column within the Ba’ath Party and directed Muhyi Abdel-Hussein to read out a confession and the names of 68 alleged co-conspirators. These members were labelled “disloyal” and were removed from the room one by one and taken into custody. After the list was read, Saddam congratulated those still seated in the room for their past and future loyalty. The 68 people arrested at the meeting were subsequently tried together and found guilty of treason. 22 were sentenced to execution. Other high-ranking members of the party formed the firing squad. By 1 August 1979, hundreds of high-ranking Ba’ath party members had been executed.
Iraqi society is divided along lines of language, religion and ethnicity; Saddam’s government rested on the support of the 20% minority of Sunnis. The Ba’ath Party was increasingly concerned about potential Shi’a Islamist influence following the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The Kurds of northern Iraq (who are Sunni, but not Arabs) were also permanently hostile to the Ba’athist party’s pan-Arabism. To maintain power Saddam tended either to provide them with benefits so as to co-opt them into the regime, or to take repressive measures against them.
The major instruments for accomplishing this control were the paramilitary and police organizations. Beginning in 1974, Taha Yassin Ramadan (himself a Kurd Ba’athist), a close associate of Saddam, commanded the People’s Army, which was responsible for internal security. As the Ba’ath Party’s paramilitary, the People’s Army acted as a counterweight against any coup attempts by the regular armed forces. In addition to the People’s Army, the Department of General Intelligence (Mukhabarat) was the most notorious arm of the state security system, feared for its use of torture and assassination. It was commanded by Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam’s younger half-brother. Since 1982, foreign observers believed that this department operated both at home and abroad in their mission to seek out and eliminate Saddam’s perceived opponents.
Saddam was notable for terror against his own people. The Economist described Saddam as “one of the last of the 20th century’s great dictators, but not the least in terms of egotism, or cruelty, or morbid will to power”. Saddam’s regime was responsible for the deaths of at least 250,000 Iraqis and committed war crimes in Iran, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Human Rights Watch andAmnesty International issued regular reports of widespread imprisonment and torture.
As a sign of his consolidation of power, Saddam’s personality cult pervaded Iraqi society. He had thousands of portraits, posters, statues and murals erected in his honor all over Iraq. His face could be seen on the sides of office buildings, schools, airports, and shops, as well as on Iraqi currency. Saddam’s personality cult reflected his efforts to appeal to the various elements in Iraqi society. This was seen in his variety of apparel: he appeared in the costumes of the Bedouin, the traditional clothes of the Iraqi peasant (which he essentially wore during his childhood), and evenKurdish clothing, but also appeared in Western suits fitted by his favorite tailor, projecting the image of an urbane and modern leader. Sometimes he would also be portrayed as a devout Muslim, wearing full headdress and robe, praying toward Mecca.
He also conducted two show elections, in 1995 and in 2002. In the 1995 referendum, conducted on 15 October, he reportedly received 99.96% of the votes in a 99.47% turnout, getting only 3052 negative votes among an electorate of 8.4 million. In the October 15, 2002 referendum he officially achieved 100% of approval votes and 100% turnout, as the electoral commission reported the next day that every one of the 11,445,638 eligible voters cast a “Yes” vote for the president.
He erected statues around the country, which Iraqis toppled after his fall.
On 2 August 1990, Saddam invaded Kuwait, initially claiming assistance to “Kuwaiti revolutionaries,” thus sparking an international crisis. On 4 August an Iraqi-backed “Provisional Government of Free Kuwait” was proclaimed, but a total lack of legitimacy and support for it led to an 8 August announcement of a “merger” of the two countries. On 28 August Kuwait formally became the 19thGovernorate of Iraq. Just two years after the 1988 Iraq and Iran truce, “Saddam Hussein did what his Gulf patrons had earlier paid him to prevent.” Having removed the threat of Iranian fundamentalism he “overran Kuwait and confronted his Gulf neighbors in the name of Arab nationalism and Islam.”
When later asked why he invaded Kuwait, Saddam first claimed that it was because Kuwait was rightfully Iraq’s 19th province and then said “When I get something into my head I act. That’s just the way I am.” After Saddam’s seizure of Kuwait in August 1990, a UN coalition led by the United States drove Iraq’s troops from Kuwait in February 1991. The ability for Saddam Hussein to pursue such military aggression was from a “military machine paid for in large part by the tens of billions of dollars Kuwait and the Gulf states had poured into Iraq and the weapons and technology provided by the Soviet Union, Germany, and France.”
Shortly before he invaded Kuwait, he shipped 100 new Mercedes 200 Series cars to top editors in Egypt and Jordan. Two days before the first attacks, Saddam reportedly offered Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak 50 million dollars in cash, “ostensibly for grain”.
U.S. President George H. W. Bush responded cautiously for the first several days. On one hand, Kuwait, prior to this point, had been a virulent enemy of Israel and was the Persian Gulf monarchy that had had the most friendly relations with the Soviets. On the other hand, Washington foreign policymakers, along with Middle East experts, military critics, and firms heavily invested in the region, were extremely concerned with stability in this region. The invasion immediately triggered fears that the world’s price of oil, and therefore control of the world economy, was at stake. Britain profited heavily from billions of dollars of Kuwaiti investments and bank deposits. Bush was perhaps swayed while meeting with British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who happened to be in the U.S. at the time.
Cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union made possible the passage of resolutions in the United Nations Security Council giving Iraq a deadline to leave Kuwait and approving the use of force if Saddam did not comply with the timetable. U.S. officials feared Iraqi retaliation against oil-rich Saudi Arabia, since the 1940s a close ally of Washington, for the Saudis’ opposition to the invasion of Kuwait. Accordingly, the U.S. and a group of allies, including countries as diverse as Egypt, Syria and Czechoslovakia, deployed a massive amount of troops along the Saudi border with Kuwait and Iraq in order to encircle the Iraqi army, the largest in the Middle East.
Saddam’s officers looted Kuwait, stripping even the marble from its palaces to move it to Saddam’s own palace.
During the period of negotiations and threats following the invasion, Saddam focused renewed attention on the Palestinian problem by promising to withdraw his forces from Kuwait if Israel would relinquish the occupied territories in the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Gaza Strip. Saddam’s proposal further split the Arab world, pitting U.S.- and Western-supported Arab states against the Palestinians. The allies ultimately rejected any linkage between the Kuwait crisis and Palestinian issues.
Saddam ignored the Security Council deadline. Backed by the Security Council, a U.S.-led coalition launched round-the-clock missile and aerial attacks on Iraq, beginning 16 January 1991. Israel, though subjected to attack by Iraqi missiles, refrained from retaliating in order not to provoke Arab states into leaving the coalition. A ground force consisting largely of U.S. and British armoured and infantry divisions ejected Saddam’s army from Kuwait in February 1991 and occupied the southern portion of Iraq as far as the Euphrates.
On 6 March 1991, Bush announced:
|“||What is at stake is more than one small country, it is a big idea — a new world order, where diverse nations are drawn together in common cause to achieve the universal aspirations of mankind: peace and security, freedom, and the rule of law.||”|
In the end, the over-manned and under-equipped Iraqi army proved unable to compete on the battlefield with the highly mobile coalition land forces and their overpowering air support. Some 175,000 Iraqis were taken prisoner and casualties were estimated at over 85,000. As part of the cease-fire agreement, Iraq agreed to scrap all poison gas and germ weapons and allow UN observers to inspect the sites. UN trade sanctions would remain in effect until Iraq complied with all terms. Saddam publicly claimed victory at the end of the war.
Iraq’s ethnic and religious divisions, together with the brutality of the conflict that this had engendered, laid the groundwork for postwar rebellions. In the aftermath of the fighting, social and ethnic unrest among Shi’ite Muslims, Kurds, and dissident military units threatened the stability of Saddam’s government. Uprisings erupted in the Kurdish north and Shi’a southern and central parts of Iraq, but were ruthlessly repressed.
The United States, which had urged Iraqis to rise up against Saddam, did nothing to assist the rebellions. The Iranians, despite the widespread Shi’ite rebellions, had no interest in provoking another war, while Turkey opposed any prospect of Kurdish independence, and the Saudis and other conservative Arab states feared an Iran-style Shi’ite revolution. Saddam, having survived the immediate crisis in the wake of defeat, was left firmly in control of Iraq, although the country never recovered either economically or militarily from the Gulf War.
Saddam routinely cited his survival as “proof” that Iraq had in fact won the war against the U.S. This message earned Saddam a great deal of popularity in many sectors of the Arab world. John Esposito, however, claims that “Arabs and Muslims were pulled in two directions. That they rallied not so much to Saddam Hussein as to the bipolar nature of the confrontation (the West versus the Arab Muslim world) and the issues that Saddam proclaimed: Arab unity, self-sufficiency, and social justice.” As a result, Saddam Hussein appealed to many people for the same reasons that attracted more and more followers to Islamic revivalism and also for the same reasons that fueled anti-Western feelings.”
As one U.S. Muslim observer noted: People forgot about Saddam’s record and concentrated on America … Saddam Hussein might be wrong, but it is not America who should correct him.” A shift was, therefore, clearly visible among many Islamic movements in the post war period “from an initial Islamic ideological rejection of Saddam Hussein, the secular persecutor of Islamic movements, and his invasion of Kuwait to a more populist Arab nationalist, anti-imperialist support for Saddam (or more precisely those issues he represented or championed) and the condemnation of foreign intervention and occupation.”
Saddam, therefore, increasingly portrayed himself as a devout Muslim, in an effort to co-opt the conservative religious segments of society. Some elements of Sharia law were re-introduced, and the ritual phrase “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”), in Saddam’s handwriting, was added to the national flag. Saddam also commissioned the production of a “Blood Qur’an“, written using 27 litres of his own blood, to thank God for saving him from various dangers and conspiracies.
Relations between the United States and Iraq remained tense following the Gulf War. The U.S. launched a missile attack aimed at Iraq’s intelligence headquarters in Baghdad 26 June 1993, citing evidence of repeated Iraqi violations of the “no fly zones” imposed after the Gulf War and for incursions into Kuwait.
The United Nations sanctions placed upon Iraq when it invaded Kuwait were not lifted, blocking Iraqi oil exports. During the late 1990s, the U.N. considered relaxing the sanctions imposed because of the hardships suffered by ordinary Iraqis. Studies dispute the number of people who died in south and central Iraq during the years of the sanctions. On 9 December 1996, Saddam’s government finally accepted the Oil-for-Food Programme that the UN had first offered in 1992.
U.S. officials continued to accuse Saddam of violating the terms of the Gulf War’s cease fire, by developing weapons of mass destruction and other banned weaponry, and violating the UN-imposed sanctions. Also during the 1990s, President Bill Clinton maintained sanctions and ordered air strikes in the “Iraqi no-fly zones” (Operation Desert Fox), in the hope that Saddam would be overthrown by political enemies inside Iraq. Western charges of Iraqi resistance to UN access to suspected weapons were the pretext for crises between 1997 and 1998, culminating in intensive U.S. and British missile strikes on Iraq, 16–19 December 1998. After two years of intermittent activity, U.S. and British warplanes struck harder at sites near Baghdad in February 2001.
Saddam’s support base of Tikriti tribesmen, family members, and other supporters was divided after the war, and in the following years, contributing to the government’s increasingly repressive and arbitrary nature. Domestic repression inside Iraq grew worse, and Saddam’s sons, Uday and Qusay Hussein, became increasingly powerful and carried out a private reign of terror.
Iraqi co-operation with UN weapons inspection teams was intermittent throughout the 1990s.
Saddam continued involvement in politics abroad. Video tapes retrieved after show his intelligence chiefs meeting with Arab journalists, including a meeting with the former managing director of Al-Jazeera, Mohammed Jassem al-Ali, in 2000. In the video Saddam’s son Uday advised al-Ali about hires in Al-Jazeera: “During your last visit here along with your colleagues we talked about a number of issues, and it does appear that you indeed were listening to what I was saying since changes took place and new faces came on board such as that lad, Mansour.” He was later sacked by Al-Jazeera.
In 2002 Austrian prosecutors investigated Saddam government’s transactions with Fritz Edlinger that possibly violated Austrian money laundering and embargo regulations. Fritz Edlinger, president of the General Secretary of the Society for Austro-Arab relations (GÖAB) and a former member of Socialist International‘s Middle East Committee, was an outspoken supporter of Saddam Hussein. In 2005 an Austrian journalist revealed that Fritz Edlinger’s GÖAB had received $100,000 from an Iraqi front company as well as donations from Austrian companies soliciting business in Iraq.
In 2002, a resolution sponsored by the European Union was adopted by the Commission for Human Rights, which stated that there had been no improvement in the human rights crisis in Iraq. The statement condemned President Saddam Hussein’s government for its “systematic, widespread and extremely grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law“. The resolution demanded that Iraq immediately put an end to its “summary and arbitrary executions … the use of rape as a political tool and all enforced and involuntary disappearances”.
Saddam was hanged on the first day of Eid ul-Adha, 30 December 2006, despite his wish to be shot (which he felt would be more dignified).The execution was carried out at Camp Justice, an Iraqi army base in Kadhimiya, a neighborhood of northeast Baghdad.
The execution was videotaped on a mobile phone and his captors could be heard insulting Saddam. The video was leaked to electronic media and posted on the Internet within hours, becoming the subject of global controversy. It was later claimed by the head guard at the tomb where his body remains that Saddam’s body was stabbed six times after the execution.