The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Saddam Hussein

Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein

Saddām Hussein ʻAbd al-Majid al-Tikrītī (Often spelled Husayn or Hussain; Arabic صدام حسين عبدالمجيد التكريتي; born April 28, 1937 ) was President of Iraq from 1979 to 2003.

A leading member of the revolutionary Ba'ath Party, which espoused secular pan-Arabism, economic modernization, and socialism, Saddam (see 2 regarding names) played a key role in the bloodless 1968 coup that brought the party to power. As vice president under his cousin the frail and elderly General Ahmed Bakr, Saddam tightly controlled conflict between government departments and the armed forces at a time when many organizations were considered capable of overthrowing the government by forging a repressive security apparatus. Meanwhile, Iraq's economy grew at a rapid pace in the 1970s. 3

As president, he developed a pervasive personality cult, ran an authoritarian government, and maintained power through the devastating Iran-Iraq War (19801988) and the first Persian Gulf War (1991), which both corresponded with a sharp decline in living standards and the human rights situation. Saddam Hussein's government, in particular, engaged in harsh repression of movements that it deemed threatened his rule, as well as of ethnic or religious groups that sought independence or autonomy, specifically the Kurdish and Shiite populations.

While he remained a popular hero among many disaffected Arabs for standing up to the West and for his staunch support for the Palestinians,4 the United States and other members of the international community continued to view Saddam with deep suspicion following the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Saddam was deposed by the U.S. and its allies, during the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Captured by U.S. forces on December 13, 2003, he will stand trial under the Iraq Special Tribunal, established by the Iraq Interim Government.



Saddam Hussein was born in the village of Al-Awja, in the Tikrit district of Iraq, to a family of sheep-herders. His mother named her newborn "Saddam," which in Arabic means "one who confronts." He never knew his father, Hussein 'Abd al-Majid, who died or disappeared five months before Saddam was born. Shortly afterwards, Saddam's twelve-year-old brother died of cancer, leaving his mother severely depressed in the final months of the pregnancy. She attempted both to abort Saddam and kill herself and refused to care for her new child when he was born. The infant Saddam was sent to the family of his maternal uncle, Khairallah Tulfah, until he was three.5

His mother, Subha Tulfah al-Mussallat, remarried, and Saddam gained three half-brothers through this marriage. His stepfather, Ibrahim al-Hassan, treated Saddam Hussein harshly after his return. He was abusive and forced the young boy to steal chickens and sheep for resale.

At the age of ten, he fled the family to return to live with his uncle, who was a devout Sunni Muslim, in Baghdad. Later in his life, relatives from his native Tikrit would become some of his most influential and powerful advisors and supporters. According to Saddam, he learned many things from his uncle, especially the lesson that he should never back down from his enemies, no matter how superior their numbers or capabilities. Under the guidance of his uncle, he attended a nationalistic secondary school in Baghdad. In 1957, at age 20, Saddam joined the revolutionary pan-Arab Ba'ath Party, of which his uncle was a supporter.

Revolutionary sentiment was characteristic of the era in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. The stranglehold of the old elites (the conservative monarchists, established families, and merchants) was breaking down in Iraq. Moreover, the populist pan-Arab nationalism of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt would profoundly influence the young Ba'athist, even up to the present day. The rise of Nasser foreshadowed the wave of revolutions throughout the Middle East in the fifties and sixties, which would see the collapse of the monarchies of Iraq, Egypt, and Libya. Nasser challenged the British and French, nationalized the Suez Canal, and strove to modernize Egypt and unite the Arab world politically.

Rise in the Ba'ath party

A year after Saddam had joined the Ba'ath party, army officers led by General Abdul Karim Qassim overthrew Faisal II of Iraq. The Ba'athists opposed the new government, and in 1959, Saddam was involved in the attempted assassination of Prime Minister Qassim. Saddam was shot in the leg, but managed to flee to Syria, from where he later moved to Egypt. He was sentenced to death, in absentia. In exile he attended the University of Cairo law school.

Army officers, including some aligned with the Ba'ath party, came to power in Iraq in a military coup in 1963. However, the new government was ousted quickly, within seven to eight months torn by rife factionalism. Saddam returned to Iraq, but was imprisoned in 1964 when an anti-Ba'ath group led by Abdul Rahman Arif took power. He escaped from jail in 1967 and became one of the leading members of the party. According to many biographers, Saddam never forgot the tensions within the first Ba'athist government, namely party unity and the ruthless resolve to maintain power and programs to ensure social stability.

In July 1968 a second coup brought the Ba'athists back to power under General Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, a Tikriti and a relative of Saddam. The Ba'ath's ruling clique named Saddam vice-chairman of the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council and vice president of Iraq.

Consolidation of power

Saddam Hussein talking with
Saddam Hussein talking with Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr

In 1976 Saddam was appointed a general in the Iraqi armed forces. He rapidly became the strongman of the government, and was the de facto ruler 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 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 an increasingly prominent role as the face of the Iraqi government, both internally and externally. He soon became the architect of Iraq's foreign policy and represented the nation in all diplomatic situations. By the late 1970s, Saddam had emerged as the undisputed de facto leader of Iraq.

Saddam's consolidation of power and the modernization of Iraq

Saddam consolidated power in a nation riddled with profound tensions. Long before Saddam, Iraq had been split along social, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic fault lines: Sunni versus Shi'ite, Arab versus Kurd, tribal chief versus urban merchant, nomad versus peasant.

Stable rule in a country torn by political factionalism and conflict required the improvement of living standards. Saddam moved up the ranks in the new government by aiding attempts to strengthen and unify the Ba'ath party and taking a leading role in addressing the country's major domestic problems and expanding the party's following.

Saddam actively fostered the modernization of the Iraqi economy along with the creation of a strong security apparatus to prevent coups within the power structure and insurrections apart from it. Ever concerned with broadening his base of support among the diverse elements of Iraqi society and mobilizing mass support, he closely followed the administration of state welfare and development programs.

At the center of this strategy was Iraq's oil. On June 1, 1972, Saddam Hussein led the process of expropriating Western oil companies, which had had a monopoly on the country's oil. A year later, world oil prices rose dramatically as a result of the 1973 world oil shock, and Saddam was able to pursue an all the more ambitious agenda through skyrocketing oil revenues.

Within a period of just several years, the state provided some social services to Iraqi people unprecedented in other Middle Eastern countries. Saddam initiated and controlled the "National Campaign for the Eradication of Illiteracy" and the campaign for "Compulsory Free Education in Iraq," and largely under his auspices, the government established universal free schooling up to the highest education levels; hundreds of thousands learned to read in the years following the initiation of the program. The government also supported families of soldiers, granted free hospitalization to everyone, and gave subsidies to farmers. Iraq created one of the best public-health systems in the Middle East, earning Saddam an award from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). [1] [2]

In order to diversify the oil-dependent economy, Saddam oversaw and advocated a national infrastructure campaign that made great progress in building roads, promoting mining, and development of other industries to diversify the oil-dependent economy. The campaign effected a comprehensive revolution in energy industries. Electricity was brought to nearly every city in Iraq, including many communities in the countryside and far outlying areas.

Before the early 1970s, the majority of the population resided in the countryside, where Saddam himself was born and raised; and peasants accounted for roughly two thirds of the populace. This number would decrease dramatically, though, during the rapid industrialization and urbanization of Iraq in the 1970s, which was propelled by Saddam's channeling of oil revenues into the rapidly growing Iraqi industrial sector and the new Ba'athist welfare programs.

Nevertheless, Saddam focused intensely on fostering loyalty to the Ba'athist government in the rural areas. After nationalizing foreign oil interests, Saddam supervised the modernization of the Iraqi countryside, the mechanization of agriculture on a large scale, and the distribution of land to farmers.6 He broke up the large holdings of the landowners and gave land to peasant farmers. The Ba'athists established farm co-operatives, in which profits were distributed in accordance with the labors of the individual peasant and the unskilled were trained. The government's commitment to agrarian reform was demonstrated by the doubling of expenditures for agriculture development in 19741975, a policy that Saddam largely spearheaded. Moreover, agrarian reform in Iraq improved the living standards of the broad strata of the peasantry and increased production, though not to the levels for which Saddam had hoped.

By focusing on the implementation role (often to the point of micromanaging), Saddam became personally associated with Ba'athist welfare and economic development programs in the eyes of many Iraqis, thus widening his original popular base of support while co-opting new sectors of the Iraqi population. Part of a combination of "carrot and stick" tactics, expanding government services forged patron–client ties between Saddam and his support base among the working class and the peasantry and within the party and the government bureaucracy.

Saddam's ruthless organizational prowess was credited with Iraq's rapid pace of development in the 1970s; development went forward at such a fevered pitch that two million persons from other Arab countries and Yugoslavia worked in Iraq to meet the growing demand for labor.


In 1979 President al-Bakr began 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. Before this could happen, however, the ailing al-Bakr resigned on July 16, 1979. Saddam formally assumed the presidency.

Shortly afterwards, he convened an assembly of Ba'ath party leaders on July 22, 1979. During the assembly, which he ordered videotaped, Saddam claimed to have found spies and conspirators within the Ba'ath Party and read out the names of members who he 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.

Saddam Hussein as a secular leader

Saddam saw himself as a social revolutionary and a modernizer, following the model of Nasser. To the consternation of Islamic conservatives, his government gave women added freedoms and offered them high-level government and industry jobs. Saddam also created a Western-style legal system, making Iraq the only country in the Persian Gulf region not ruled according to traditional Islamic law (Sharia). Saddam abolished the Sharia law courts, except for personal injury claims.

Domestic conflict impeded Saddam's modernizing projects. Iraqi society is divided along lines of language, religion and ethnicity; Saddam's government rested on the support of the 20 percent minority of largely working-class, peasant, and petite bourgeoisie Sunni Muslims, continuing a pattern that dates back at least to the British mandate authority's reliance on them as administrators.

The Shi'a majority were long a source of opposition to the government due to its secular policies, and the Ba'ath Party was increasingly concerned about potential Sh'ia Islamist influence following the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The Kurds of northern Iraq (who are Sunni Muslims but not Arabs) were also permanently hostile to the Ba'athist party's Arabizing tendencies. To maintain his regime against sources of opposition, the core of Saddam's government was made up of a retinue of close relatives and members of his Tikriti tribe.

In dealing with Shiites, Kurds, Communists, and other likely regime opponents, the government 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, 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. 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 opponents of Saddam Hussein. [3]

Saddam justified Iraqi patriotism by claiming a unique role of Iraq in the history of the Arab world. As president, Saddam made frequent references to the Abbasid period, when Baghdad was the political, cultural, and economic capital of the Arab world. He also promoted Iraq's pre-Islamic role as the ancient cradle of civilization Mesopotamia, alluding to such historical figures as Nebuchadnezzar and Hammurabi. He devoted resources to archaeological explorations. In effect, Saddam sought to combine pan-Arabism and Iraqi nationalism, by promoting the vision of an Arab world united and led by Iraq.

As a sign of his consolidation of power, Saddam's personality cult pervaded Iraqi society. Thousands of portraits, posters, statues and murals were 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. He appeared in the costumes of the Bedouin, the traditional clothes of the Iraqi peasant (which he essentially was during his childhood), and even Kurdish clothing, but also appeared in Western suits, projecting the image of an urbane and modern leader. Sometimes he would be portrayed as a devout Muslim, wearing full headdress and robe, praying toward Mecca; at other times, he would be shown wearing a Western business suit and sunglasses, brandishing a rifle over his head.

Foreign affairs

Saddam Hussein meeting with , then , during a state visit to in 1976
Saddam Hussein meeting with Jacques Chirac, then Prime Minister of France, during a state visit to Paris in 1976

In foreign affairs, Saddam sought to have Iraq play a leading role in the Middle East. Iraq signed an aid pact with the Soviet Union in 1972, and arms were sent along with several thousand advisers. However, the 1978 executions of Iraqi Communists and a shift of trade toward the West strained Iraqi relations with the Soviet Union, which took on a more Western orientation from then until the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

He made a state visit to France in 1976, cementing close ties with some French business and conservative political circles. Saddam led Arab opposition to the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel (1979). In 1975 he negotiated an accord with Iran that contained Iraqi concessions on border disputes. In return, Iran agreed to stop supporting opposition Kurds in Iraq.

Saddam initiated Iraq's nuclear enrichment project in the 1980s, with French assistance. The first Iraqi nuclear reactor was named by the French Osiraq, after the Egyptian God of the dead. It was destroyed by an Israeli air strike shortly before it became capable of producing weapons grade nuclear material.

After Saddam had negotiated the 1975 treaty with Iran, Shah Pahlavi withdrew support for the Kurds, who suffered a total defeat. Nearly from its founding as a modern state in 1920, Iraq has had to deal with Kurdish separatists in the northern part of the country. Saddam did negotiate an agreement in 1970 with separatist Kurdish leaders, giving them autonomy, but the agreement broke down. The result was brutal fighting between the government and Kurdish groups and even Iraqi bombing of Kurdish villages in Iran, which caused Iraqi relations with Iran to deteriorate.

The Iran–Iraq War

In 1979 Iran's Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown by the Islamic Revolution, thus giving way to an Islamic republic led by the Ayatollah Khomeini. The influence of revolutionary Shi'ite Islam grew apace in the region, particularly in countries with large Shi'ite populations, especially Iraq. Saddam feared that radical Islamic ideas—hostile to his secular rule—were rapidly spreading inside his country among the majority Shi'ite population.

There had also been bitter enmity between Saddam and Khomeini since the 1970s. Khomeini, having been exiled from Iran in 1964, took up residence in Iraq, at the Shi'ite holy city of An Najaf. There he involved himself with Iraqi Shi'ites and developed a strong, worldwide religious and political following. Under pressure from the Shah, who had agreed to a rapprochement between Iraq and Iran in 1975, Saddam agreed to expel Khomeini in 1978. After the Islamic Revolution, Khomeini perhaps regarded toppling Saddam's government as a goal second only to consolidating power in Iran.

After Khomeini gained power, skirmishes between Iraq and revolutionary Iran occurred for ten months over the sovereignty of the disputed Shatt al-Arab waterway, which divides the two countries. Iraq and Iran entered into open warfare on September 22, 1980. The pretext for hostilities with Iran was this territorial dispute, but the war was more likely an attempt by Saddam, supported by both the United States and the Soviet Union, to have Iraq form a bulwark against the expansion of radical Iranian-style revolution.

Saddam Hussein meeting with , at the time 's special envoy to the , during a visit to , in . Video frame capture, see the complete video
Saddam Hussein meeting with Donald Rumsfeld, at the time Ronald Reagan's special envoy to the Middle East, during a visit to Baghdad, Iraq in 1983. Video frame capture, see the complete video

In the first days of the war, there was heavy ground fighting around strategic ports as Iraq launched an attack on Iran's oil-rich, Arab-populated province of Khuzestan. After making some initial gains, Iraq's troops began to suffer losses from human-wave attacks by Iran. By 1982 Iraq was looking for ways to end the war.

Iraq quickly found itself bogged down in one of the longest and most destructive wars of attrition of the twentieth century, with atrocities committed on both sides. During the war, Iraq used chemical weapons against Iranian forces and Kurdish separatists. On March 16, 1988 Iraqi troops, attempting to crush a Kurdish uprising in the Al-Anfal Campaign, attacked the Kurdish town of Halabjah with a mix of poison gas and nerve agents, perhaps killing around five thousand people, mostly civilians. 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. Whether or not Iran had used chemical weapons in that particular battle remains unclear.

Saddam reached out to other Arab governments for cash and political support. Iraq successfully gained the support of the [4] United States and took supply of chemical weapons from them. The Iranians, hoping to bring down Saddam's secular government and instigate a Shi'ite rebellion in Iraq, refused a cease-fire until 1988.

The bloody eight-year war ended in a stalemate. There were hundreds of thousands of casualties. Perhaps upwards of 1.7 million died on both sides. Both economies, previously healthy and expanding, were left in ruins.

Iraq was also stuck with a war debt of roughly $75 billion. Borrowing money from the U.S. was making Iraq into its client state, embarrassing a strongman who had sought to define and dominate Arab nationalism. Saddam also borrowed a tremendous amount of money from other Arab states during the 1980s to fight Iran. Faced with rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure, Saddam desperately sought out cash once again, this time for postwar reconstruction.

Tensions with Kuwait

The end of the war with Iran served to deepen latent tensions between Iraq and its wealthy neighbor Kuwait. Saddam saw his war with Iran as having spared Kuwait from the imminent threat of Iranian domination. Since the struggle with Iran had been fought for the benefit of the other Persian Gulf Arab states as much as for Iraq, he argued, a share of Iraqi debt should be forgiven. Saddam urged the Kuwaits to forgive the Iraqi debt accumulated in the war, some $30 billion, but the Kuwaitis refused.

Also to raise money for postwar reconstruction, Saddam pushed oil-exporting countries to raise oil prices by cutting back oil production. Kuwait refused to cut production. In addition to refusing the request, Kuwait spearheaded the opposition in OPEC to the cuts that Saddam had requested. Kuwait was pumping large amounts of oil, and thus keeping prices low, when Iraq needed to sell high-priced oil from its wells to pay off a huge debt.

Meanwhile, Saddam showed disdain for the Kuwait-Iraq boundary line (actually imposed on Iraq by British imperial officials in 1922) because it cut Iraq off from the sea. One of the few articles of faith uniting the political scene in a nation rife with sharp social, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic divides was the belief that Kuwait had no right to even exist in the first place. For at least half a century, Iraqi nationalists were espousing emphatically the belief that Kuwait was historically an integral part of Iraq, and that Kuwait had only come into being through the maneuverings of British imperialism.

The colossal extent of Kuwaiti oil reserves also intensified tensions in the region. The oil reserves of Kuwait (with a population of a mere 2 million next to Iraq's 25) were roughly equal to those of Iraq. Taken together Iraq and Kuwait sat on top of some 20 percent of the world's known oil reserves; as an article of comparison, Saudi Arabia holds 25 percent.

The Kuwaiti monarchy further angered Saddam by slant drilling oil out of wells that Iraq considered to be within its disputed border with Kuwait. Given that at the time Iraq was not regarded as a pariah state, Saddam was able to complain about the slant drilling to the U.S. State Department. Although this had continued for years, Saddam now needed oil money to stem a looming economic crisis. Saddam still had an experienced and well-equipped army, which he used to influence regional affairs. He later ordered troops to the Iraq–Kuwait border.

As Iraq–Kuwait relations rapidly deteriorated, Saddam was receiving conflicting information about how the U.S. would respond to the prospects of an invasion. For one, Washington had been taking measures to cultivate a constructive relationship with Iraq for roughly a decade. The Reagan administration gave Saddam roughly $40 billion in aid in the 1980s to fight Iran, nearly all of it on credit. The U.S. also sent billions of dollars to Saddam to keep him from forming a strong alliance with the Soviets. 7

U.S. ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie met with Saddam in an emergency meeting on July 25, where the Iraqi leader stated his intention to continue talks. U.S. officials attempted to maintain a conciliatory line with Iraq, indicating that while George H. W. Bush and James Baker did not want force used, they would not take any position on the Iraq–Kuwait boundary dispute and did not want to become involved. Later, Iraq and Kuwait then met for a final negotiation session, which failed. Saddam then sent his troops into Kuwait.

Although no reliable first-hand information on Saddam's appraisal of the situation exists, we can surmise from the prewar standpoint of the Iraqi leader and his interests and the conflicting prewar signals from Washington that the invasion was likely born out of Iraq's postwar debt problem and faltering attempts to gain the resources needed for postwar reconstruction, rebuild the devastated Iraqi economy, and stabilize the domestic political situation.

The Persian Gulf War

On August 2, 1990, Saddam invaded and annexed Kuwait, thus sparking an international crisis. The annexation of Kuwait gave Iraq, with its own substantial oil fields, control of twenty percent of the world's total crude oil reserve. The U.S. provided assistance to Saddam Hussein in the war with Iran, but with Iraq's seizure of the oil-rich emirate of Kuwait in August of 1990 the United States led a United Nations coalition that drove Iraq's troops from Kuwait in February 1991.

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, are extremely concerned with stability in this region.8 The invasion immediately triggered fears that the world's price of oil, and therefore control of the world economy, was at stake; Kuwait controls approximately ten percent of the world's total crude oil reserve. [5] President Bush was perhaps swayed while meeting with the tough British British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a staunch ally of the U.S. during the Reagan-Bush years, who happened to be in the U.S. at the time.9 Britain had a much closer historical relationship with Kuwait than did the U.S., dating back to British colonialism in the region. The country also benefitted from billions of dollars in Kuwaiti investment.

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 US and a group of allies it had hastily rounded up, including countries as diverse as Egypt, Syria and Czechoslovakia, deployed massive amounts of troops along the Saudi border with Kuwait and Iraq in order to encircle the Iraqi army, the largest in the Middle East.

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 connection between the Kuwait crisis and Palestinian issues.

Saddam ignored the Security Council deadline. With unanimous backing from the Security Council, a U.S.-led coalition launched round-the-clock missile and aerial attacks on Iraq, beginning January 16, 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 comprised largely of US and British armored 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 March 6, 1991, referring to the conflict, 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 approximately 20,000 according to U.S. data, with other sources pinning the number as high as 100,000. 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.

Postwar aftermath

Iraq's ethnic and religious divisions, together with the resulting postwar devastation, laid the groundwork for new rebellions within the country. 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 the Iraq, but were ruthlessly repressed.

The United States, which had urged Iraqis to rise up against Saddam, did nothing to assist the rebellions beyond enforcing the "no fly zones". U.S. ally 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 Persian Gulf War. Saddam routinely cited his survival as "proof" that Iraq had in fact won the war against America. This message earned Saddam a great deal of popularity in many sectors of the Arab world.

Saddam 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 (such as the 2001 edict imposing the death penalty for homosexuality and sexual offenses), and the ritual phrase "Allahu Akbar" ("God is great"), in Saddam's handwriting, was added to the national flag.


Relations between the United States and Iraq remained tense following the Persian Gulf War. The U.S. launched a missile attack aimed at Iraq's intelligence headquarters in Baghdad June 26, 1993, citing evidence of repeated Iraqi violations of the "no fly zones" imposed after the Gulf War and for incursions into Kuwait. Some speculated that it was in retaliation for Iraq's alleged sponsorship of a plot to kill former President George H. W. Bush.

The UN sanctions placed upon Iraq when it invaded Kuwait were not lifted, blocking Iraqi oil exports. This caused immense hardship in Iraq and virtually destroyed the Iraqi economy and state infrastructure. Only smuggling across the Syrian border, and humanitarian aid ameliorated the humanitarian crisis. UN organizations (such as UNICEF and the WHO) have estimated between 500,000 and 1.2 million deaths were caused by the sanctions, mostly in the under-5 age group [6]. Skeptics have estimated that only 350,000 excess deaths occurred between 1991 and 2000 [7], and that many deaths were actually due to the bombing of Iraqi infrastructure. On December 9, 1996 the United Nations allowed Saddam's government to begin selling limited amounts of oil for food and medicine. Limited amounts of income from the United Nations started flowing into Iraq through the UN Oil for Food program.

U.S. officials continued to accuse Saddam Hussein of violating the terms of the Gulf War's cease fire, by developing weapons of mass destruction and other banned weaponry, refusing to give out adequate information on these weapons, and violating the UN-imposed sanctions and "no-fly zones." Isolated military strikes by U.S. and British forces continued on Iraq sporadically, the largest being Operation Desert Fox in 1998. 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, December 16-19, 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 Hussein and Qusay Hussein, became increasingly powerful and carried out a private reign of terror. They likely had a leading hand when, in August 1995, two of Saddam Hussein's sons-in-law (Hussein Kamel and Saddam Kamel), who held high positions in the Iraqi military, defected to Jordan. Both were killed after returning to Iraq the following February.

Iraqi co-operation with UN weapons inspection teams was intermittent through much of the 1990s, and access to inspectors was ultimately blocked in 1998. It is speculated that Iraq was playing a game of bluff, hoping to convince the Western powers and the other Arab states that Iraq was still a power to be reckoned with, rather than that Iraq was hiding significant stockpiles of prohibited materials.

2003 invasion of Iraq

Saddam continued to loom large in American consciousness as a major threat to Western allies such as oil-rich Saudi Arabia and Israel, to Western oil supplies from the Gulf states, and to Middle East stability generally. Bush's successor, U.S. President Bill Clinton (1993-2001), maintained sanctions and made occasional air strikes in the "Iraqi no-fly zones" or other restrictions, in the hope that Saddam would be overthrown by his many political enemies.

The domestic political equation changed in the U.S. after the September 11, 2001 attacks, which bolstered the influence of the neoconservative faction in the presidential administration and throughout Washington. In his January 2002 state-of-the-union message to Congress, George W. Bush (the son of George H.W. Bush) spoke of an "axis of evil" comprising Iran, North Korea, and Iraq. Moreover, Bush announced that he would possibly take action to topple the Iraqi government. Bush claimed, "The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade." "Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror," said Bush.11 (No evidence linking Saddam and the attacks of September 11, 2001, appears to have been found.)

As the war was looming on February 24, 2003, Saddam Hussein talked with CBS News anchor Dan Rather for more than three hours—his first interview with a U.S. reporter in over a decade.12 CBS aired the taped interview later that week.

The Iraqi government and military collapsed within three weeks of the beginning of the U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq on March 20. The United States made at least two attempts to kill Saddam with targeted air strikes, but both narrowly failed to hit their target. By the beginning of April, Coalition forces occupied much of Iraq. The resistance of the much-weakened Iraqi Army either crumbled or shifted to guerrilla tactics, and it appeared that Saddam had lost control of Iraq. He was last seen in a video which purported to show him in the Baghdad suburbs surrounded by supporters. When Baghdad fell to the Coalition on April 9, Saddam was nowhere to be found.

Pursuit and capture

Saddam Hussein after his apprehension by U.S. forces
Saddam Hussein after his apprehension by U.S. forces

Saddam's whereabouts remained in question during the weeks following the fall of Baghdad and the conclusion of the major fighting of the war. Various sightings of Saddam were reported in the weeks following the war but none was authenticated. A series of audio tapes claiming to be from Saddam were released at various times, although the authenticity of these tapes remains uncertain.

Saddam was placed at the top of the "most-wanted list," and many of the other leaders of the Iraqi government were arrested, but extensive efforts to find him had little effect. 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 leader Jalal Talabani. These reports were soon confirmed by other members of the Governing Council, by U.S. military sources, and by British prime minister Tony Blair. In a press conference in Baghdad, shortly afterwards, the U.S. civil administrator in Iraq, 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. [8] Bremer presented video footage of Saddam in custody. Some reported that Saddam had actually been captured by the Kurdish Patriotic Front and then drugged before being placed in the spider hole to be found by American troops.[9]

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. 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.

In March of 2005 a former U.S. Marine who reportedly took part in the operation that apprehended Saddam alleged that the capture of Saddam was fictionalized by the U.S. military to make it look like he was found in a hole. The Marine further alleged that Saddam was actually found in a house and fired at the Marines with a pistol. [10]


On June 30, 2004, Saddam Hussein (held in custody by U.S. forces at Camp Cropper in Baghdad), along with 11 senior Ba'athist officials, were handed over legally (though not physically, as there is at present no adequate Iraqi prison to hold them) to the interim Iraqi government to stand trial for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Particular attention will be paid to his activities in violent campaigns against the Kurds in the north during the Iran-Iraq War, and against the Shiites in the south in 1991 and 1999 to put down revolts.

The first legal hearing in Saddam's case was held before the Iraqi Special Tribunal on July 1, 2004. Broadcast later on Arabic and Western television networks, it was his first appearance in footage aired around the world since his capture by U.S. forces the previous December.

The 67-year-old deposed Iraqi leader appeared surprisingly confident and defiant throughout the 26-minute hearing. Alternating between listening to and gesturing at the judge, Saddam questioned the legitimacy of the tribunal set up to try him. He called the court as a "play aimed at Bush's chances of winning the U.S. presidential elections." He emphatically rejected charges against him. "This is all theatre. The real criminal is Bush," he stated. When asked by the judge to identify himself in his first appearance before an Iraqi judge, he answered, "I am Saddam Hussein al-Majid, the President of the Republic of Iraq." "I am still the president of the republic and the occupation cannot take that away," Saddam declared.

Also during the arraignment, Saddam defended Iraq's August 1990 invasion of Kuwait and referred to Kuwait's rulers as "dogs," which led to an admonishment from the judge for using coarse language in court (dogs are widely considered to be unclean animals in the Arab world). Later on July 1, Kuwait's information minister Abul-Hassan said crude language was "expected" of Saddam. "This is how he was raised," said the minister. [11] Unlike the conservative monarchs in the area, which rule every other Arab nation in the Persian Gulf region, Saddam Hussein was born into a hard-scrabble, landless peasant family.

Although no attorneys for Saddam were present at the July 1 hearing, his first wife, Sajida Talfah, has hired a multinational legal team of over 20 attorneys, headed by Jordanian Mohammad Rashdan and including Ayesha Qaddafi (Libya), Curtis Doebbler (United States), Emmanuel Ludot (France), Marc Henzelin (Switzerland) and Giovanni Di Stefano (United Kingdom). Toward the end of the hearing, the deposed president refused to sign on the legal document confirming his understanding of the charges.


Saddam has been married three times. His first marriage was to his first cousin Sajida Talfah, a former teacher in 1963. This union with the eldest daughter of Khairallah Talfah, Saddam's uncle and surrogate , 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 they were suspected of being involved in an attempted assassination of Uday on 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.

Saddam Hussein also married two other women: Samira Shahbandar, whom he married in 1986 after forcing her husband to divorce her (she is rumored to be his favorite 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.

Saddam with his daughter,
Saddam with his daughter, Rana Hussein

In August 1995, Rana and her husband Hussein Kamel al Majid and Raghad and her husband, Saddam Kamel Majid , defected to Jordan, taking their children with them. They returned to Iraq when they received assurances that Saddam Hussein would pardon them. Within three days of their return in February 1996, both of the Majid brothers were executed.

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 politics. Another cousin was Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known in the United States as "Chemical Ali," who was accused of ordering the use of poison gas in 1988. Ali is now in U.S. custody.

As mentioned above, Saddam's sons Uday and Qusay were killed in July 2003 in an engagement with U.S. forces.

In August 2003 Saddam's daughters Raghad and Rana received sanctuary in Amman, Jordan, where they are staying with their nine children. That month, they spoke with CNN and the Arab satellite station Al-Arabiya in Amman. When asked about her father, Raghad told CNN, "He was a very good father, loving, has a big heart." Asked if she wanted to give a message to her father, she said: "I love you and I miss you." Her sister Rana also remarked, "He had so many feelings and he was very tender with all of us." 13


Under his government, this date was his official date of birth. His real date of birth was never recorded, but it is believed to be a date between 1935 and 1939. This is because precise dates of birth were often not recorded in the region where he was born, and peasant children, such as Saddam, were often given a nominal birth date of July 1st, which is why his birth date is sometimes given as July 1, 1939. From Con Coughlin, Saddam The Secret Life Pan Books, 2003 (ISBN 0330393103).

Note 2: Saddam (pronounced "Sad-DAHM" or "Suh-DAM"; during the 1991 Gulf War, President George H.W. Bush pronounced his name "SAD-dum"), his personal name, means the stubborn one or he who confronts in Arabic. Hussein is not a surname in the Western sense but a patronymic; it is his father's given personal name; Abd al-Majid his grandfather's, and al-Tikriti means he was born and raised in (or near) Tikrit. He is commonly referred to as Saddam Hussein, or Saddam for short. Some observers have argued that referring to the deposed Iraqi president as only Saddam may be derogatory and academically inappropriate. Others claim that those who so argue are mistakenly assuming Hussein to be a family name. The New York Times regularly refers to him as "Mr. Hussein" [12], while EncyclopŠdia Britannica prefers to address the man simply as Saddam [13]. A full discussion can be found here.

Note 3: See PBS Frontline (2003), "The survival of Saddam: secrets of his life and leadership: interview with Sa´d K. Aburish" at [14].

Note 4: BBC News, October 16, 2000 [15]

Note 5: From Elisabeth Bumiller's interview of Jerrold M. Post, the founder of the Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior at the CIA in the New York Times (May 15, 2004) on the importance of events during Saddam Hussein's youth. It can be read online at [16].

Note 6: For further details see Khadduri, Majid. Socialist Iraq. The Middle East Institute, Washington, D.C., 1978.

Note 7: A free-access on-line archive relating to U.S.–Iraq relations in the 1980s is offered by The National Security Archive of the George Washington University. It can be read on line at [17]. The Mount Holyoke International Relations Program also provides a free-access document briefing on U.S.–Iraq relations (1904–present); this can be accessed on line at [18].

Note 8: For a statement asserting the overriding importance of oil to U.S. national security and the U.S. economy, see, e.g., the declassified document, "Responding to Iraqi Aggression in the Gulf," The White House, National Security Directive (NSD 54), top secret, January 15, 1991. This document can be read on line in George Washington University's National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 21 at [19].

Note 9: See Margaret Thatcher, The Downing Street Years (1979-1990), 817.

Note 10: For further details see Globe and Mail Update, "Hussein does Baghdad walkabout" [20] Apr. 4, 2003.

Note 11: The full text of Bush's 2002 State of the Union address can be read on line (BBC News) at [21].

Note 12: Dan Rather's interview with Saddam Hussein leading up to the U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq on March 20 can be read on line ( at [22].

Note 13: For coverage of the postwar CNN and Al-Arabiya interviews with Saddam's daughters, see [23]

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