Hussein, Saddam 1937-2006
Saddam Hussein was born on April 28, 1937, in the northern town of Tikrit, Iraq, to a landless family. His mother was widowed and lost Hussein’s older brother while she was pregnant with Saddam. After his mother remarried, the family moved to the tiny village of Uja, a few miles south of Tikrit, where they led an impoverished life. His mother had three more children with her new husband, and Hussein’s stepfather preferred them over him. Being fatherless, Hussein was exposed to abuse on the part of the village’s children. His parents did not want to send him to school, but when he turned ten he insisted on moving to Tikrit to stay with his maternal uncle, Khayr Allah Tilfah, and attended primary school there. In 1955 he moved with his uncle’s family to Baghdad to attend high school, but before graduating he became involved in political activities, having joined the revolutionary underground Baath Party in 1957. Later, as an exile in Cairo, he completed his secondary education and took some classes in law. As vice president of Iraq, he took private lessons in law, but he never completed his formal education.
On July 14, 1958, General Abdul-Karim Qassem (1914–1963) toppled the monarchy in Baghdad and established a semibenevolent dictatorship. Within weeks it became clear that Qassem’s approach to Arab unity was opposed to that of the Baath Arab Socialist Party, Hussein’s chosen venue for political action. With the support of Iraqi communists, Qassem objected to unification with Gamal Abdel Nasser’s (1918–1970) Egypt, and he placed a heavy emphasis on Iraqi identity and Iraqi interests, rather than on pan-Arab ideology and practice. In October 1959 Hussein participated in a failed assassination attempt on Qassem’s life. Hussein and his collaborators managed to wound the Iraqi dictator, but Hussein himself was wounded in his thigh and one of his team was killed, apparently from bullets shot by their own colleagues. Hussein managed to escape to Syria, an odyssey that became the object of a heroic myth weaved by his media after he became president. In Damascus he met the founder and chief ideologue of the Baath Party, the Syrian Christian intellectual Michel Aflaq (1910–1989). Aflaq was impressed by Hussein’s audacity and strength of character, and thereafter Hussein’s position in the party was assured. Hussein soon left Damascus for Cairo, where he lived a modest life sponsored by Nasser.
On February 8, 1963, the Baath Party, in collaboration with a few army officers, staged a coup d’état and killed Qassem. Hussein immediately left Cairo and arrived in Baghdad, where he became a midlevel internal security official. This was also when he married his maternal cousin, Sajidah Khayr Allah Tilfah. Qassem’s downfall was apparently not the exclusive result of his mistake of denying the Communists weapons, nor of the Baath Party’s talent for staging coups. According to reliable sources, the coup was supported, if not actually engineered, by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Starting in 1959, the CIA identified Qassem as a sworn enemy of the United States and a staunch ally of the Soviet Union. Over this issue there were deep disagreements between the CIA and the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. The Israeli analysts were convinced that Qassem was not a Communist, nor a Soviet satellite, and they had sufficient evidence that he was not an enemy of Israel. In fact, his rivalry with Nasser served Israel’s purpose of separating Iraq from Egypt. In 1963 the CIA, if it was indeed involved, had the upper hand. The Baath regime under General Abdul Salam Arif (1920–1966) as a titular figurehead launched a bloody campaign against Iraqi Communists who, despite deep reservations, had supported Qassem. Within six months the regime managed to slaughter around ten thousand men, real or perceived Communists. This, however, was no victory for the United States, because the Baath regime was still seeking Soviet, not American, support.
During the nine months of Baath rule (February to November 1963), Hussein aligned himself with the centrist faction in the party that was also supported by Aflaq. Hussein found it easy to join this faction because the group’s leader, General Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr (1914–1982), the prime minister under General Arif, was his distant relative and a childhood friend of Hussein’s uncle. All three were members of the Albu Nasir tribe, al-Beigat section, and all originated from the Tikrit area. This connection to Bakr proved a crucial step in Hussein’s rise to power.
In November 1963 Arif and the army, with the help of some Baath officers including Bakr, toppled the civilian Baath regime and took full control of the country. After a few months of collaboration with Arif, the Baath leaders, including Hussein and Bakr, were hunted down and imprisoned. In 1964 Hussein escaped from prison. Other party members were released, which enabled them in July 1968 to stage another coup and topple the Arif regime.
There are claims that the second Baath coup was also supported by the CIA, but these claims are less credible than those regarding the 1963 takeover. Whatever the case, the July 1968 “revolution” was almost bloodless, and Arif was sent abroad. Before the coup, Hussein had been deputy secretary-general of the Iraqi “Command” of the (clandestine) Baath Party and in charge of its internal security system. By August 1968 Hussein was already the czar of domestic security. Despite his young age and minimal period of party affiliation, Hussein quickly became the power behind President Bakr. Hussein surrounded the regime’s luminaries and the senior command of the armed forces with bodyguards and internal security apparatchiks who hailed from his own town and tribe. Before they realized it, the party leaders and army officers alike, including President Bakr, became prisoners in golden cages.
In November 1969 Hussein became vice president and deputy chairman of the powerful Revolutionary Command Council. At first his internal security apparatuses destroyed the party’s real and perceived enemies: Communists, radical Islamists, Nasserists, pro-Western politicians, and pro-Syrian officers; and they even hanged in a public square helpless young Jews to demonstrate their Iraqi and Arab patriotism. The next step, however, was to gradually eliminate Hussein’s personal rivals within the party. On July 16, 1979, Hussein replaced Bakr as president. A few days later, he purged all those in the party and armed forces whom he considered a threat. Hundreds were shot by firing squads, and Hussein became an absolute dictator.
Upon taking power in 1968, the Baath Party adopted the most extreme and recalcitrant pan-Arab, anti-Israeli, and anti-imperialist (or anti-American) rhetoric and, to an extent, practice. They launched vitriolic attacks against all the Arab regimes, but mainly those that lost the Six-Day War against Israel in 1967. Animosity with Baathist Syria became a cornerstone in Baghdad’s regional policy. Iraq promised to wage war for the liberation of Palestine and the annihilation of Israel within a year. Iraq also kept some twenty thousand soldiers in Jordan and Syria. Their slogan “everything for the [Palestine] battle” reflected their view that Iraq should be ready to sacrifice everything for the pan-Arab cause of liberating Palestine, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. This position changed dramatically during “Black September” of 1970. Rather than keeping their promise to help the Palestinian armed organizations to topple the Hashemite regime, Iraq’s Baath leaders ordered the Iraqi forces in Jordan to stay put, and by July 1971 the last Iraqi soldier was withdrawn from Jordan and Syria.
During the next decade, Hussein was the driving force behind an about-face in the Baghdad-based Baath Party’s definition of Pan-Arabism. From expressed readiness to sacrifice Iraq on the altar of the supreme pan-Arab causes, he steered party ideology and politics toward an Iraq-centered approach. He promised that Iraq would still liberate Palestine and unite all the Arabs, but only after it became all-powerful, and this could take a decade or two.
During the early 1970s, Hussein embarked on a secret military nuclear program. Detaching Iraq from the day-to-day struggle against Israel (with the brief exception of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War) did not change the rhetoric of the regime. With some exceptions due to overpowering political constraints, Israel and the United States served Hussein as reliable hate objects, matched only by Iran after 1980. By blaming on these three countries all the travails of the Arabs and Muslims, and by promising to rid the Arab world of U.S. influence and Israeli existence, Hussein’s regime sought to gain support and legitimacy among the Shia, as well as in the broader Arab and Islamic worlds.
In the 1970s the concept of Arab unity, too, underwent a metamorphosis. Traditional Ba‘thist doctrine was egalitarian in that it perceived all Arab states as equal, and integrative in that it visualized the united Arab world as an amalgam in which all the existing Arab states and peoples would melt together in a huge crucible. Hussein’s Pan-Arabism, in contrast, was Iraq-centered and hegemonic. The Iraqi people and state were never to melt and disappear, and Arab unity was conceived as a large brotherly federation of Arab states and peoples, rather than a crucible. Iraq was the elder brother in the Arab family, destined to lead. By late 1978 this approach was fully formulated, and on the eve of the Gulf War of 1991, the party leadership defined the Iraqis as “the pearl of the Arab crown.” The Iraqi people were seen as having a glorious future largely because they had a glorious past. History, Hussein and his intellectuals pointed out, began in Sumer some six thousand years ago, and the modern Iraqis are the contemporary cultural heirs and genetic offspring of the glory that was Mesopotamia.
This policy represented a very secular aspect of the Baath regime. At the same time, the party also introduced its version of socialism: They took more land from large landowners and gave it to more peasants than did their predecessors; they created many agricultural cooperatives in the countryside; they nationalized more institutions; and they increased substantially government spending on social projects and development. In the mid- to late 1970s, the country experienced a thrust in the development of infrastructure, industry, social security, and health and education services, and Iraqis saw a general rise in their standard of living. In that respect, Hussein’s June 1972 decision to nationalize the property of the Iraq Petroleum (Oil) Company proved a brilliant gamble: When oil prices went up in 1973 as a result of the Arab oil embargo against the West, Iraq did not participate in the embargo and its revenues quadrupled by 1975. This enabled the regime to spend huge resources on its social and economic programs.
At the same time, the regime also allowed the creation of a large stratum of new millionaires, consisting of regime luminaries and private entrepreneurs who thrived as a result of patron-client relations with the ruling elite. This situation bred widespread corruption. Another part of the regime’s understanding of socialism was the creation of a huge body of state officialdom. This new middle class, which was dependent on state salaries and thus very docile politically, gradually replaced the original Iraqi middle class of economic entrepreneurs. Another mechanism designed for the same purpose was the encouragement of tribalism, which contradicted every tenet of the Ba‘thist faith. Through the promotion of tribal shaykhs with gifts of land, money, and weapons, Hussein managed to better control the countryside. This policy was given full exposure only in the 1990s.
Above all, the 1970s and 1980s saw the mushrooming of state security apparatuses that managed to penetrate almost every corner of society. With Hussein as president, Iraq became a harsh police state characterized by severe repression of all political opponents, real and perceived. Between 1969 and 1971 and again between 1978 and 1980, the Communists were repressed, and many were executed or disappeared in Hussein’s prisons. Likewise, between 1977 and 1980, Shi’i religious activists were executed, jailed, or expelled from Iraq, and the religious universities of Najaf and Karbala were reduced to a shadow of what they had been.
Indeed, once Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1900–1989) came to power in Tehran in 1979, the Shi’i religious threat to Hussein’s regime explains to a large extent his decision to launch an offensive against Iran on September 22, 1980. Khomeini called upon the Iraqis to rise against Hussein’s “infidel” regime, and with slightly more than 50 percent of Iraq’s population consisting of Shia, Hussein regarded the Shia as a great threat. Considerations of balance of power and international circumstances also played a role. While Khomeini had destroyed his own armed forces through purges, the Iraqi army was well equipped and well organized. In addition, the United States had abandoned Iran completely after the hostage incident of November 1979, and it was unlikely to stop Iraq. Furthermore, after mid-1979, Iraqi-American relations began slowly to improve. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December of that year, Hussein criticized it in no unclear terms, fearing similar Soviet support for Iraqi Communists. This common interest brought Iraq and the United States closer still.
But the straw that broke the camel’s back was a slight to Hussein’s sense of pride. In April 1980 a Shi’i activist made an attempt on the life of Tariq Aziz, Hussein’s closest associate. Hussein considered it an Iranian affront, and decided to go to war. Following a few months of hectic preparations on September 22, 1980, Iraq invaded Iran with eleven out of its twelve army divisions. After six days Hussein declared victory, but the war lasted for eight more years. During that war, when religious fervor proved a source of power to the Iranian regime, many secular Iraqis, Sunni and Shia alike, returned to Islam. At first the regime tried to fight this development, but by the mid- to late 1980s, the Iraqi government started to pay far more rhetorical tribute to religion than before. This rediscovery of religion was accelerated by the regime in the 1990s as it tried to harness Islam to win public support under the harsh conditions of the international embargo. During this period, Hussein initiated a faith campaign involving compulsory Qurʾan classes for millions, even party members, and an increase in the number of mosques and Islamic educational institutions. Hussein himself made every effort to portray himself as a pious Muslim. Occasionally he created the impression that he had really became a devout Muslim who expected God to reward him by extricating him from the accumulating disasters in which he had landed himself. In his last meeting with his army’s high command before the American invasion of March 2003 he promised them victory because, as he put it, Iraq was the only country that was guided by true Islam.
By the time the Iraq-Iran War ended in a stalemate, the Iraqi economy was devastated. Iraq entered a dangerous period of economic stagnation that Hussein knew could result in serious civil disturbances. Hussein felt that his regime was again under threat, though for different reasons than in 1980, the year Iraq’s oil revenues reached an unprecedented peak. In 1980 Hussein’s regime was challenged by Khomeini’s mesmerizing influence on the Iraqi Shia, but in 1990 Iraq faced a major crisis of socio-economic expectations on the part of the Iraq population, which expected an economic boom after the eight-year war. Here too, there were additional incentives to go to war. Kuwait was weak militarily and the Soviet-American rivalry had ended, so an occupation of a country friendly to the United States could no longer be seen as part of the cold war. Hussein even believed that he could stay in Kuwait if he would guarantee the United States its basic needs: an undisturbed flow of oil from the Gulf at reasonable prices.
Hussein, however, again allowed his hurt pride to dictate a major strategic step. He saw Kuwait’s overproduction of oil, and was offended by Kuwaiti reluctance to continue its financial support of Iraq and to lease to Iraq two strategic islands. Hussein interpreted these actions as expressions of ingratitude after Iraq had protected Kuwait and other Gulf states from Iran.
In this situation, as in 1980, Hussein was the incurable optimist. In 1980 he was certain that he could beat Iran and bring Khomeini down in a short blitzkrieg. In 1990 he was likewise convinced that the international community and the Arab world would, at worst, satisfy themselves with protests. Even with 500,000 American and international troops in Saudi Arabia, he still believed that the United States was bluffing, and that even if war broke out, Iraq’s formidable army would stop them.
Following a ceasefire agreement with the Allied forces on February 28, 1991, that sealed Iraq’s devastating defeat, a massive Shi’i revolt in the south and a Kurdish revolt in the north almost brought the regime down. The revolts were suppressed with a tremendous effort only because the United States decided to remain aloof. More than one million Kurdish refugees fled their homes for fear of a repeat of the chemical attack ordered by Hussein in 1988. The French, the British, and the United States were forced to establish for them a refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan. Hussein thus lost control over much of the Iraqi north. Iraq thereafter entered into years of weapons inspections and a devastating phase of international sanctions that lasted until 2003.
Following the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, the U.S. approach to “rogue states” changed radically. Hussein was so oblivious to the change that he allowed his media to gloat over the American tragedy. Again, even with 100,000 U.S. soldiers in Kuwait, he believed that President George W. Bush was bluffing when he threatened to invade Iraq. And again, Hussein was convinced that even if the Americans attacked, his army could stop them on the outskirts of Baghdad. He did not even plan for his own escape, nor did he establish safe houses in the Sunni provinces. Hussein was captured on December 13, 2003, by American soldiers as he hid in a spider hole near the Iraqi city of Adwar, ten miles south of Tikrit, a few hundred yards from the place where he had crossed the Tigris in 1959 in his escape to Syria after the failed attempt on Qassem’s life. Following a public trial by an Iraqi court, he was found guilty of ordering the unlawful execution of 148 Shi’i inhabitants of Dujayl, a village north of Baghdad, in retaliation for an attempt on his life there in 1982. Hussein will never be tried for the mass murder of civilians in Kurdistan-Iraq in 1987 and 1988 and in the Shi’i south in 1991 because on December 30, 2006, he was hanged in Baghdad.
SEE ALSO Arab-Israeli War of 1967; Arabs; Black September; Central Intelligence Agency, U.S.; Dictatorship; Gulf War of 1991; Iranian Revolution; Iran-Iraq War; Iraq-U.S. War; Islam, Shia and Sunni; Khomeini, Ayatollah Ruhollah; Nasser, Gamal Abdel; Pan-Arabism; Personality, Cult of; September 11, 2001; Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
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Al-Khalil, Samir (Kanan Makiya). 1989. Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq. Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Baram, Amatzia. 1991. Culture, History, and Ideology in the Formation of Ba’thist Iraq, 1968–89. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Baram, Amatzia. 1996. Re-Inventing Nationalism in Ba’thi Iraq 1968–1994: Supra-Territorial and Territorial Identities and What Lies Below. Princeton Papers 5 (Fall): 29–56.
Bengio, Ofra. 1998. Saddam’s Word: Political Discourse in Iraq. New York: Oxford University Press.
Farouk-Sluglett, Marion, and Peter Sluglett. 2001. Iraq Since 1958: From Revolution to Dictatorship. Rev. ed. New York: Tauris.
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"Hussein, Saddam." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/hussein-saddam
"Hussein, Saddam." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/hussein-saddam
April 28, 1937 • Tikrit, Iraq
Former president of Iraq
Beginning in the 1970s, Saddam Hussein ruled the Republic of Iraq with a tight grip. His supporters maintained that through his many social and economic programs he effectively brought the country into the modern age. His many critics, however, claimed that Saddam was a ruthless dictator who would stop at nothing in his endless push for power. Regardless, the charismatic leader retained control of his country during countless military conflicts, including an eight-year war against Iran in the 1980s and the Persian Gulf War in 1991. He also survived a slew of assassination attempts throughout the course of his presidency, and at times he seemed almost invincible. But in March of 2003, U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq and deposed the defiant leader. Saddam escaped capture, but after a nine-month manhunt, he was caught, imprisoned, and faced multiple charges relating to war crimes and human rights abuses. Many speculated that the once-invincible ruler would ultimately face the death penalty.
A troubled beginning
The ex-president of Iraq had a troubled childhood. Saddam Hussein was born on April 28, 1937, in the village of Al-Awja, near Tikrit, a town just north of the city of Baghdad, in central Iraq. His father, Hussein 'Abd al-Majid, was a peasant sheepherder who by various accounts either died or disappeared before his son's birth. His older brother, who was twelve, died of cancer shortly thereafter. The combined tragedies had a devastating effect on Saddam's mother, Subha Tulfah al-Mussallat, who became extremely depressed during her last months of pregnancy. After her new son was born, she named him Saddam, which means "one who confronts" or "the stubborn one." Because of her depression, however, she was unable to care for him, and young Saddam was sent to live in Baghdad with his uncle, Khairallah Talfah, a retired army officer and Arab nationalist.
"We are ready to sacrifice our souls, our children, and our families so as not to give up Iraq. We say this so no one will think that America is capable of breaking the will of the Iraqis with its weapons."
When he was three years old Saddam returned to live with his mother, but she had remarried and family life was not pleasant. His new stepfather was abusive and treated him harshly over the next several years. As a result, when he was ten years old Saddam ran away to the safety of his uncle's home. Khairallah Talfah served as a role model for his nephew, especially influencing his political beliefs. After Saddam graduated from the al-Karh Secondary School in Baghdad, he officially joined his uncle's political party, the Arab Baa'th Socialist Party, which had been formed in Syria in 1947 with the goal of promoting unity among the various Arab states in the Middle East. In Iraq and neighboring countries the Baa'th Party had become an underground revolutionary force.
In 1959, when Saddam was just twenty-two years old, he played a major part in the assassination attempt of Iraqi Prime Minister Abdul Karim Qassim by the Baa'th Party. He was shot in the leg but managed to escape, first to Syria and then to Cairo, Egypt. While in Egypt he studied law at the University of Cairo. In 1963, after a military overthrow of Qassim's government, Saddam was allowed to return to Iraq. That same year he married his first wife, Sajida, the daughter of his mentor, Khairallah Talfah. His return was short-lived, however, since internal squabbling within the new Baa'th regime led to its downfall. Once again Saddam was forced into hiding, but he was caught in 1964 and imprisoned for the next two years. Although in jail, he remained involved in party politics. Escaping from prison in 1966, Saddam became a rising star in the Baa'th organization, forming close ties with key party officials who were planning a second attempt at taking control of Iraq.
In July of 1968 the Baa'ths organized a successful takeover of the Iraqi government. Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, a retired general and prominent party spokesman who was a distant relative of Saddam, assumed the role of chairman of the Baa'th Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) as well as the presidency of Iraq. Saddam, who had become an integral part of the organization, was named vice president.
Second in command
Although Ahmed Hassan was officially the president of Iraq from 1969 through 1979, it was Saddam Hussein who truly held the reins. And thanks to Saddam, the country enjoyed its most stable and productive period in recent history. After oil prices soared in the 1970s (oil is Iraq's primary natural resource and export), he used the revenues to institute a major system of economic reform and launched an array of wide-ranging social programs. Roads were paved, hospitals and schools were built, and various types of industry, such as mining, were expanded. In particular, Saddam focused attention on the rural areas, where roughly two-thirds of the population lived. Land was brought under the control of the Iraqi government, which meant that large properties were broken up and parcels distributed to small farmers. Saddam also funneled revenues into modernizing the country's agriculture industry. For example, he brought electricity into even some of the most remote communities.
Saddam's social programs benefited both rural and city dwellers. In an effort to wipe out illiteracy, he established free schooling for children through high school and made it a government requirement that all children attend school. Saddam's government also provided free hospitalization to all Iraqis and gave full economic support to families of Iraqi soldiers. Such large-scale social programs were unheard of in any other Middle Eastern country.
When he created his massive reforms, Saddam may have had the benefit of his people in mind, but he was also a shrewd politician. In order to maintain a stable government and to assure that his party would remain in power, it was necessary to gather as much support as possible. By the late 1970s the Baa'th regime enjoyed a widespread following among the working classes, and the party was firmly unified around its second-in-command. Saddam also served as the outward face of the Iraqi government, representing the nation on both the domestic and international fronts. On July 22, 1979, when an ailing Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr decided to step down as president, it came as no surprise that Saddam Hussein stepped into his shoes.
The cult of Saddam Hussein
Support for Saddam Hussein was not universal. The conservative followers of Islam (the national religion of Iraq) did not agree with many of Saddam's innovations, which they felt were directly opposed to Islamic law. This included legislation that gave women more freedoms and the fact that a Western-style legal system had been installed. As a result, Iraq became the only Arab country not ruled by the laws of Islam. Major opposition also came from the Kurds who occupied the northern region of the country. The Kurds are a nomadic people who are concentrated in areas of Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. They are Muslim but not Arabic, and they strongly disagreed with the Baa'thist push for a united Arab front.
Saddam even faced resistance within his own party, and he made it a policy to weed out anyone he viewed as a threat. On July 22, 1979, just days after taking over the presidency, he organized an assembly of Baa'th leaders and read aloud the names of suspected spies; these people were taken from the room and publicly executed by firing squad. A few years later, in 1982, he ordered the execution of at least three hundred officers who had supposedly questioned his military tactics. Once in control, Saddam surrounded himself with a tightly-knit group of family and friends who assumed high levels of responsibility within the government. These individuals, however, were not necessarily immune to Saddam's paranoia. At one point, Adnan Talfah, Saddam's brother-in-law and childhood friend, was killed in a "mysterious" helicopter crash. And in 1996 Saddam had his sons-in-law murdered for being disloyal.
Although he ruled with an iron fist, Saddam also was preoccupied with winning the devotion of the Iraqi people. He promoted himself as a hero of the nation who was dedicated to making Iraq the leader of the Arab world. Images of Saddam were plastered throughout the country. Some of them depicted the ruler as a dedicated Muslim wearing traditional robes and headdress; others featured Saddam in a Western-style business suit, wearing sunglasses and holding a rifle over his head. All were efforts to make a connection at every level of society and to solidify his role as an all-powerful president. Such tactics, however, also solidified his reputation as an insecure and unstable leader. He became known for his paranoia, which was not unjustified, considering he had survived at least seven assassination attempts. As a result he rarely appeared in public. He also slept only a few hours a night, at secret locations, and all of his food was carefully prepared and inspected by official food tasters.
Conflicts with Iran and Kuwait
Outside of Iraq, especially in the West, Saddam was seen as a dictator whose quest for dominance in the Middle East was viewed with particular concern. In 1980 Saddam proved that such fears were founded when he attacked Iran, an invasion that led to an eight-year bloody conflict. Relations between Iran and Iraq had been deteriorating for years, and came to a head in 1979 when the Ayatollah Khomeini (c. 1900–1989) overthrew the government of Iran during an Islamic uprising. Saddam worried that Khomeini would set his sites on spreading his radical religious rule to the secular (nonreligious) state of Iraq. Disputes over territorial boundaries led to skirmishes throughout late 1979 and into 1980, and on September 22, 1980, Iraqi forces crossed the Iranian border and officially declared war.
Over the next eight years, both countries suffered almost irreparable damage, and the healthy economy that Saddam had created during the 1970s was in ruins. Billions of dollars were borrowed from countries such as the United States, Kuwait, the U.S.S.R., and France, to support the war effort. The United States alone gave the Iraqi government nearly $40 billion in food supplies and arms. And both sides suffered a tremendous loss of human life. It is estimated that approximately 1.7 million people were killed during the conflict. In one battle on March 16, 1988, Iraqi troops attacked the Kurdish town of Halabja, using poison nerve gas. Nearly five thousand people died, most of whom were women and children. Various reports claimed that chemical weapons were used by both Iran and Iraq, but these tactics continued to raise the alarm that Saddam Hussein was a military threat who could not be trusted.
In 1989 the war ended in a stalemate, with no side claiming a real victory. Conflicts between Saddam and other nations, however, were just beginning. Faced with the prospect of rebuilding his country, Saddam tried to pressure the neighboring country of Kuwait to forgive the $30 billion loan he had been given. The reason he gave was that the war with Iran had effectively protected Kuwait from an Iranian invasion. Tensions were also sparked between the two countries over territorial boundaries that were especially important because they involved the control of oil reserves in the area. When negotiations failed, Saddam invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990.
The unprovoked attack was denounced by governments throughout the world, especially the United States. The administration of Ronald Reagan (1911–2004) in the 1980s may have seen Saddam as a potential ally, but after the invasion of Kuwait, President George H. W. Bush (1924–) essentially severed all ties between the United States and Saddam Hussein. As a result, when the Iraqi leader refused to leave Kuwait, a combined force of U.S. and United Nations (UN) troops stepped in. Fighting lasted a mere six weeks, but after the Persian Gulf War came to an end, casualties topped over eighty-five thousand. Saddam was successfully evicted from Kuwait, but the tensions were not over. Bush ordered U.S. troops to protect Kuwaiti borders, and in his March of 1991 State of the Union address he told the American people, "We all realize that our responsibility to be the catalyst for peace in the region does not end with the successful conclusion of this war." He called Saddam a brutal dictator "who will do anything, will use any weapon, will commit any outrage, no matter how many innocents suffer."
The United States versus Iraq
In an effort to control Saddam, the cease-fire agreement drawn up between the United Nations and Iraq required the country to destroy all of its chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons. The agreement also stipulated that Saddam had to let UN inspectors oversee the efforts. If Iraq did not comply with the agreement, economic sanctions would be imposed, meaning that all trade with the country would be cut off. Throughout the 1990s the Iraqi leader reportedly concealed the manufacture of weapons from inspectors, and the sanctions continued. Cut off from the world, the people of Iraq suffered. Unemployment rose, agricultural production declined, and the majority of the population suffered from severe malnutrition and lack of medical care. There was increased unrest among the many factions in the country, which prompted Saddam to increase his tactics of repression.
When George W. Bush became president of the United States in 2001, one of his first acts upon taking office was an attempt to reinstate economic sanctions, which had been lifted by the United Nations in the late 1990s. World opinion opposed the effort as inhumane; the Iraqi people had suffered far too much. Anti-Saddam sentiment only escalated, however, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Although the attacks were never linked to Saddam Hussein, Bush insisted that terrorists armed with Iraqi weapons could at any time target the United States. In his State of the Union address in January of 2002, the U.S. president called Iraq part of an "axis of evil," and claimed that the country "continue[d] to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror."
Time and again Bush publicly accused Saddam of concealing weapons, and by 2002 he threatened to invade Iraq if UN inspectors were not allowed back into the country. Saddam countered that there were no weapons, and opened his doors. Although UN inspectors found nothing, Bush maintained that inspectors had simply not found the well-hidden weapons yet. By early 2003, war with Iraq was looming. In January of 2003 Bush gave Saddam an ultimatum: either totally disarm his country or voluntarily leave Iraq. If neither step was taken, the United States would attack.
In February of 2003, in an unprecedented move, Saddam Hussein appeared on television, having agreed to be interviewed by CBS newsman Dan Rather (1931–). The interview was broadcast worldwide, even in Iraq, which meant that the Iraqi people were given a rare glimpse of their reclusive leader who was rarely seen in person. Saddam accused the Bush administration of being part of a "bandwagon of evil," and continued to insist that Iraq did not have concealed weapons and that it had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks. He also explained that he would not leave Iraq and that Iraqis would fight to protect their country if provoked. "We will die here in Iraq," he told Rather. "We will die in this country and we will maintain our honor."
The Saddam regime is toppled
Despite massive international opposition, hundreds of thousands of U.S. and British troops stormed Iraq on March 20, 2003. Several air strikes specifically aimed at assassinating Saddam Hussein were unsuccessful, and ground troops pushed through the country, heading toward Baghdad, the capital of Iraq. In early April, just three weeks after the invasion, the Saddam regime was toppled. When Baghdad fell, however, the Iraqi president was nowhere to be found. Saddam managed to elude capture throughout the remainder of the year. Reports of Saddam sightings popped up occasionally, but proved to be false. In addition, audiotapes by the ousted leader were released to Arab television networks. Whether they were truly from Saddam remained in question.
High-ranking members of the Iraqi government were caught one by one, but Saddam remained at the top of the most-wanted list. In July of 2003 his two sons and political heirs, Uday and Qusay, were killed by U.S. forces. It was thought that perhaps Saddam's capture would be imminent, but the elusive leader remained on the run for the next five months. Finally, on December 13, 2003, Saddam Hussein was located just nine miles outside of his hometown of Tikrit, hiding in an underground cavern known as a "spider hole." Disheveled and dirty, with a graying beard and matted hair, he surrendered without resisting. According to commander of U.S. forces Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, as quoted on CNN.com, "He was a tired man. Also, I think, a man resigned to his fate."
The deposed leader was taken into custody by U.S. forces and held in Baghdad until June 30, 2004, when he was officially handed over to acting Iraqi government officials. On July 1 he faced his first legal hearing before an Iraqi Special Tribunal. During the twenty-six minute hearing he was charged with multiple crimes, including the 1988 attack on the Kurdish village of Halabja, the 1991 invasion of Kuwait, and the killings of political and religious leaders during his thirty years in command. Throughout the accusations Saddam remained defiant, claiming that the tribunal was a farce. He also maintained that he was still the true leader of Iraq. "I am Saddam Hussein al-Majid, the President of the Republic of Iraq," he announced, as quoted in England's Guardian. "I am still the president of the republic and the occupation cannot take that away."
Following the hearing Saddam remained in custody, where he reportedly spent time writing poetry, reading the Koran (the sacred writings of Islam), and tending to a small garden within the walls of his Baghdad prison. There were also reports that the sixty-seven-year-old former president was in poor health and that perhaps he had suffered a stroke. Such reports were denied by doctors. It seemed that Saddam would be well enough to face his accusers in a trial set to begin in January of 2005. Many speculated on the trial's outcome, but people in Iraq voiced their clear expectations. Shortly after U.S. forces turned Saddam Hussein over to Iraqi officials, the Iraqi government reinstated the death penalty, which had been temporarily suspended under U.S. occupation. Hamid al-Bayati, the deputy foreign minister of Iraq, was quoted in the Guardian as saying, "Everyone who lost loved ones to Saddam will want to see this."
For More Information
"Saddam Hussein." In Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2nd ed. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1998.
McCallester, Matthew. "A Day in the Life of Saddam Hussein." Indian Express (July 27, 2004). http://www.indianexpress.com/full_story.php?content_id=51826 (accessed on August 3, 2004).
McCarthy, Rory. "I am Saddam Hussein, the President of Iraq." Guardian (England) (July 2, 2004). http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1252291,00.html (accessed on August 3, 2004).
"President George H. W. Bush's Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress on the State of the Union, January 29, 1991." CSPAN. http://www.c-span.org/executive/transcript.asp?cat=current_event&code=bush_admin&year=1991 (accessed on Augst 3, 2004).
"President George W. Bush's State of the Union Address to the Joint Session of Congress, January 29, 2002." CSPAN Web site. http://www.c-span.org/executive/transcript.asp?cat=current_event&code=bush_admin&year=2002 (accessed on August 3, 2003).
Rather, Dan. "Interview with Saddam Hussein." CBS News (February 24, 2003). http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/02/24/eveningnews/main541817.shtml (accessed on August 3, 2004).
"The Rise and Fall of a Dictator." CNN.com: World (December 14, 2003). http://www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/meast/12/14/sprj.irq.saddam.profile/index.html (accessed on August 2, 2004).
"Saddam Caught Like a Rat in a Hole." CNN.com: World (December 15, 2003). http://www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/meast/12/14/sprj.irq.saddam.operation (accessed on August 2, 2003).
"Hussein, Saddam." UXL Newsmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/general/culture-magazines/hussein-saddam
"Hussein, Saddam." UXL Newsmakers. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/general/culture-magazines/hussein-saddam
Saddam Hussein (born 1937), the socialist president of the Iraqi Republic beginning in 1979 and strongman of the ruling Ba'th regime beginning in 1968, was known for his political shrewdness and ability to survive conflicts. He led Iraq in its long, indecisive war with Iran beginning in 1980. He was defeated in the six week Persian Gulf War in 1990 which was a result of his invasion of Kuwait.
Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti was born in 1937 to a peasant family in a village near Tikrit, a town on the Tigris River north of Baghdad. His father died before his birth and his mother died in childbirth. He was raised by his uncles, particularly his maternal uncle Khairallah Talfah, a retired army officer and an avid Arab nationalist who influenced his political leanings and served as a role model for Hussein. (In 1963 Saddam married Talfah's daughter Sajida.) In 1956 he moved to his uncle's house in Baghdad, where he was caught up in the strong Arab nationalist sentiments sweeping Iraq in the wake of the Suez war that year. In 1957 he joined the Arab Ba'th Socialist Party, founded in Syria in 1947 and dedicated to Arab unity and socialism. The party spread to neighboring Arab countries in the 1950s (including Iraq where it was an underground party) and was especially popular with students. From 1957 on Saddam's life and career were inextricably bound up with the Ba'th Party.
In 1959 Saddam Hussein was one of the party members who attempted to carry out the unsuccessful assassination of the Iraqi dictator, Major General Abdul Karim Qasim (Kassem). Although wounded, he was subsequently able to stage a daring escape to Syria and then Egypt, where he remained in exile until 1963. In Egypt he continued his political activities, closely observing the tactics and movements of Gamal Abdel Nasser and his politics.
In February 1963 a group of Nasserite and Ba'thist officers in Iraq brought down the government of Qasim, and Saddam returned to his country. However, this Ba'thist government did not survive in power past November of the same year, and Saddam was once again forced underground. Between 1963 and 1968 he was involved in clandestine party activities and was captured and jailed, although he later escaped. In 1966 he became a member of the Iraqi branch's regional command and played a major role in reorganizing the Ba'th Party in preparation for a second attempt at power. It was during this period that he formed a close alliance with Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr—a retired officer, a distant relative, and a leading spokesman of the party. It was in this period, too, that Saddam acquired his reputation as a tough, daring Ba'th Party partisan.
The Dual Rule: Bakr and Hussein
In July 1968, after two coups d'etat in short succession—in both of which Saddam played a key role—the Ba'th came back to power in Iraq, temporarily governing through the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC). Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr was elected president of the republic by the RCC and Saddam was elected vice president of the RCC in 1969. Between 1969 and 1979 Iraq was ruled outwardly by al-Bakr and behind the scenes by Saddam. Saddam who proved to be a shrewd manipulator and survivor. No major decisions in this decade were taken without his consent.
In domestic affairs the Ba'th regime implemented its socialist policy by bringing virtually all economic activity under the control of the government. In 1972 Iraq nationalized the foreign-owned oil company IBC, the first Middle Eastern government to do so. Minorities were given cultural rights, generally modeled on the Yugoslav experiment in this field, and the Kurdish area of northern Iraq was given some self-rule in 1974.
Saddam Hussein also oversaw the rapid economic and social development of Iraq which followed the oil price increases of the 1970s. The country received major infusions to the infrastructure, especially schools and medical facilities. A major campaign to wipe out illiteracy was started in 1978 and compulsory schooling was effectively implemented. The status of women was substantially improved through legislation. Petrochemical and iron and steel industries were built.
In international affairs, Iraq improved relations with the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc, signing a treaty of friendship with the U.S.S.R. in 1972; at the same time Iraq distanced itself from the West, except for France. Iraq took a hard line on Israel and attempted to isolate Egypt after Anwar Sadat signed the Camp David agreements with Israel's Menachem Begin.
Between 1974 and 1975 Saddam was involved in a major Kurdish insurrection in northern Iraq; the Kurds were seeking more autonomy and were receiving support from the Shah of Iran. In an effort to bring the conflict to a close, in March 1975 Saddam signed an agreement with Iran, arranged by Algeria, which ended Iranian support for the Kurds in return for rectification of the border with Iran.
Saddam Hussein as President
Iraq was the country most affected by the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979. Iraq needed more energetic leadership than that provided by the aging and ailing President Bakr. On July 16, 1979, al-Bakr resigned and Saddam was elected president of the Iraqi Republic. One of the first things he ordered were posters of himself scattered throughout Iraq, some as tall as 20 feet, depicting himself in various roles: a military man, a desert horseman, a young graduate. He carefully concocted an image of himself as a devoted family man. All in order to win the trust and love of the Iraqi people. He held the titles of Secretary General of the Ba'th party and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.
Throughout 1979 and 1980 relations with Iran had deteriorated, as Ayatollah Khomeini called on Iraq's Shi'ites to revolt against Saddam and the secular Ba'thist regime. (Iraq is about equally divided between members of the Shi'ite and Sunni branches of Islam.) Secret pro-Iranian organizations committed acts of sabotage in Iraq, while Iranians began shelling Iraqi border towns in 1980. In September 1980 the Iraqi army crossed the Iranian border and seized Iranian territory (subsequently evacuated in the course of the war), thus initiating a long, costly, and bitter war, which continued into the late 1980s.
With the continuation of the war, Saddam adopted a more pragmatic stance in international affairs. Relations with conservative countries such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt improved since they provided Iraq with either financial or military aid. Diplomatic relations with the United States, cut in 1967 in protest against U.S. support for Israel in the Six-Day War, were restored in November 1984. However, Iraq did not change its friendly relations with the U.S.S.R. which, together with France, was the main source of its arms. In 1987 the United Nations formally called for a cease-fire, but the fighting continued.
Saddam Hussein was a man with the reputation for ruthless suppression of opposition. When he assumed power, he purged his party of officials and military officers due to an alleged Syrian plot to overthrow his government. He executed another 300 officers in 1982 for rebelling against his tactics in the war with Iran. In order to protect himself, Saddam surrounded himself with a coterie of family and friends in positions of trust and responsibility in the government. This however did not ensure that these individuals were safe from his rages. After Saddam had a much publicized affair with another woman, his brother-in-law, first cousin and childhood companion, and Minster of Defense Adnan Talfah was killed in a "mysterious" helicopter crash for standing by his sister (Saddam's wronged wife). He ordered the murders of his sons-in-law after they defected to Jordan in 1996. His image of a devoted family man was shattered with these acts.
On several occasions (1969, 1973, 1979, and 1981) the regime uncovered plots against it, and at least seven unsuccessful assassination attempts were made against Saddam. The main opposition came from the Kurds, the Communists, pro-Khomeini Shi'ites, and, on occasion, elements within the Ba'th Party itself.
In 1990, Saddam Hussein brought the wrath and combined power of the West and the Arab world down upon Iraq by his unprovoked invasion of Kuwait. The Persian Gulf War lasted for six weeks and caused Iraq's leader worldwide condemnation. However, there are still a great many proponents of Saddam scattered throughout the world. They see him as "someone who is shaking an unacceptable status quo." Despite the sanctions imposed upon Iraq in the years subsequent to the war, Saddam maintained absolute power over his country. In 1997, citizens of Baghdad feared to overtly criticize Saddam and rumors abounded that he had put his wife under house arrest after his son Uday was shot. Whatever the case, Saddam Hussein remained a powerful strongman, in spite of an ongoing embargo of his country's oil, goods and services.
Majid Khadduri, Socialist Iraq, A Study in Iraqi Politics Since 1968 (1978); Phebe Marr, The Modern History of Iraq (1985); Christine Helms, Iraq, Eastern Flank of the Arab World (1984); and Fuad Matar, Saddam Hussein, the Man, the Cause and the Future (London, 1981) provide information on Saddam's role in the leadership of Iraq. Stefoff's Saddam Hussein: Absolute Ruler of Iraq provides valuable insight into the operation of Iraq since the Persian Gulf War. Bob Simon's Forty Days is an excellent memoir of the war. □
"Saddam Hussein." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/saddam-hussein-0
"Saddam Hussein." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/saddam-hussein-0
Born: April 28, 1937
Saddam Hussein, the socialist president of the Iraqi Republic beginning in 1979, is known for his political sharpness and ability to survive conflicts. He led Iraq in its long, indecisive war with Iran beginning in 1980. He was defeated in the six-week Persian Gulf War in 1990 at the hands of the United States after his invasion of Kuwait.
Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti was born in 1937 to a peasant family in a village near Tikrit, Iraq. His father died before his birth and his mother died in childbirth. He was raised by his uncles, particularly Khairallah Talfah, a retired army officer who served as a role model for Hussein. (In 1963 Saddam married Talfah's daughter Sajida.) In 1956 he moved into his uncle's house in Baghdad, where he became involved in the strong Arab nationalist movement sweeping Iraq in the wake of the Suez war that year. In 1957 he joined the Arab Ba'th Socialist Party, founded in Syria in 1947 and dedicated to Arab unity and socialism (a social system where goods and services are distributed by the government). From 1957 on Saddam's life and career were tied to the Ba'th Party.
In 1959 Saddam Hussein was one of the party members who attempted to carry out the unsuccessful assassination of the Iraqi dictator, Major General Abdul Karim Qasim (1914–1963). Although wounded, he was able to escape to Syria and then Egypt, where he remained until 1963. In Egypt he continued his political activities, closely observing the tactics, movements, and politics of Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918–1970).
In February 1963 a group of Nasserite and Ba'thist officers in Iraq brought down the government of Qasim, and Hussein returned to his country. However, this Ba'th party did not remain in power for long. In 1966 Hussein became a member of the Iraqi branch's regional command and played a major role in reorganizing the Ba'th Party in preparation for a second attempt at power. It was in this period that Hussein acquired his reputation as a tough and daring member of the Ba'th Party.
The dual rule: al-Bakr and Hussein
In July 1968, after two attempts to overthrow the government, the Ba'th came back to power in Iraq, temporarily governing through the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC). Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr was elected president of the republic by the RCC and Hussein was elected vice president of the RCC in 1969. Between 1969 and 1979 Iraq was ruled outwardly by al-Bakr and behind the scenes by Hussein, who was a good manipulator and survivor.
In domestic affairs the Ba'th regime applied its socialist policy by bringing almost all economic activity under the control of the government. In 1972 Iraq nationalized (brought under government control) the foreign-owned oil company IBC, the first Middle Eastern government to do so. Hussein oversaw the rapid economic and social development of Iraq which followed the oil price increases of the 1970s. The country began to prosper, especially schools and medical facilities. A major campaign to wipe out illiteracy (the inability to write or read) was started in 1978 requiring children to attend schools. Women's social status was also greatly improved.
In international affairs, Iraq improved relations with the Soviet Union, a former country made up of Russia and other smaller states that are now nations, and signed a treaty of alliance in 1972. At the same time Iraq distanced itself from the West, except for France. Iraq took a hard line on Israel and attempted to isolate Egypt after Anwar Sadat (1918–1981) signed the Camp David agreements with Israel's prime minister, Menachem Begin (1913–1992).
Saddam Hussein as president
On July 16, 1979, al-Bakr resigned and Hussein was elected president of the Iraqi Republic. One of the first things he ordered were posters of himself scattered throughout Iraq, some as tall as twenty feet, depicting himself in various roles: a military man, a desert horseman, a young graduate. He carefully created an image of himself as a devoted family man, all in order to win the trust and love of the Iraqi people. He held the titles of secretary general of the Ba'th party and commander in chief of the armed forces.
Throughout 1979 and 1980 relations with Iran had fallen apart, as Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini (1902–1989) called on Iraq's Shi'ites, a large branch of Islam, to revolt against Hussein and the Ba'thist regime. Secret pro-Iranian organizations committed acts of destruction in Iraq, while Iranians began shelling Iraqi border towns in 1980. In September 1980 the Iraqi army crossed the Iranian border and seized Iranian territory thus beginning a long, costly, and bitter war that continued into the late 1980s.
With the continuation of the war, Hussein adopted a more practical stance in international affairs. Relations with conservative countries such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt improved since they provided Iraq with either financial or military aid. Relations with the United States, cut in 1967 in protest against U.S. support for Israel in the Arab-Israeli conflict, known as the Six-Day War (June 1967), were restored in November 1984. However, Iraq did not change its friendly relations with the Soviet Union which, together with France, was the main source of its arms.
Tightening his grip
Saddam Hussein is a man with the reputation for ruthless crushing of his opposition. When he assumed power, he rid his party of officials and military officers due to an alleged Syrian plot to overthrow his government. He executed another three hundred officers in 1982 for rebelling against his tactics in the war with Iran. In order to protect himself, Saddam surrounded himself with family and friends in positions of trust and responsibility in the government. After a family dispute, his brother-in-law "mysteriously" died in a helicopter accident. He ordered the murders of his sons-in-law after they fled to Jordan in 1996. His image of a devoted family man was shattered with these acts. On at least seven occasions unsuccessful assassination attempts were made against Hussein.
In 1990 Hussein brought the wrath and combined power of the West and the Arab world down upon Iraq by his invasion of Kuwait. The Persian Gulf War, which Iraq fought against U.S. military forces, lasted for six weeks and caused Iraq's leader worldwide criticism. However, there are still a great many supporters of Hussein scattered throughout the world.
Since the Persian Gulf War, the United Nations (UN; a multinational body aimed at world peace) lowered many sanctions (laws) upon Iraq, including letting UN weapons inspectors into certain areas of Iraq to check for illegal possession of chemical warfare items. Despite the pressure by the UN (and Saddam's reluctant acceptance of the sanctions), he has maintained absolute power over his country. In 1997 citizens of Baghdad feared to criticize Hussein, and rumors circulated that he had put his wife under house arrest after his son Uday was shot.
In autumn 1997 Hussein accused UN inspectors of being spies and forced them to leave the country. The situation improved in early 1998, but then after Iraq once again refused to let the inspectors do their jobs, the United States and Great Britain began four days of air strikes against the country. Hussein then stated that Iraq would no longer cooperate with UN inspectors. The air strikes continued throughout 1999 because Iraq continued to fire on planes that were patrolling no-fly zones that had been put in place by the UN.
In September 2001, after terrorist attacks on the United States, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of people in America, Hussein stated that he refused to offer his sympathy to U.S. president George W. Bush (1946–) because he did not agree with U.S. policy toward Iraq. Early in 2002 Hussein made an offer to openly discuss the sanctions with the UN. He later claimed that Iraq was no longer producing weapons that were made for the purpose of mass destruction. Many people believed that Hussein's comments were made in an effort to gain support from countries as President Bush indicated that Iraq could become one of the enemies in the U.S.-led war against terrorism.
Saddam Hussein remains a powerful strongman, in spite of an ongoing embargo (stoppage of trade) of his country's oil, goods, and services.
For More Information
Aburish, Saïd K. Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge. New York: Bloomsbury, 2000.
Karsh, Efraim, and Inari Rautsi. Saddam Hussein: A Political Biography. New York: Free Press, 1991.
Munthe, Turi, ed. The Saddam Hussein Reader. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2002.
Shields, Charles J. Saddam Hussein. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2002.
"Hussein, Saddam." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hussein-saddam-0
"Hussein, Saddam." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hussein-saddam-0
With Iraq nearly bankrupt, despite loans of $80 billion (nearly half from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait), Hussein sought to bully Kuwait into bailing him out. Then, on 2 August 1990, he invaded and conquered the emirate. Hussein was accustomed to taking calculated risks, but he had overreached and found confronted by almost unified opposition from the West and the rest of the Arab world. In January–February 1991, a US-led Coalition army liberated Kuwait in the Persian Gulf War.
Since the international coalition did not attempt to topple Saddam and even refrained from supporting Iraqi uprisings, his regime continued, brutally suppressing Kurds and Shiites. Although Saddam survived attempted coups in 1992 and 1993, and a major defection in 1995, UN sanctions hurt Iraq and prevented its resurgence as a major military threat in the Gulf.
Yet the UN failed to compel Saddam to comply with a string of special resolutions obliging Iraq to destroy, unconditionally and under international supervision, all its nuclear, chemical and biological stockpiles and research facilities. During the 1990s, Saddam repeatedly challenged the Security Council over the implementation of these resolutions, never giving an inch strategically but always leaving enough wriggle room for last-minute tactical concessions when confronted with the threat of force.
Things came to a head after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Though the US administration refrained from linking Saddam directly to the atrocity, it nevertheless made the Iraqi leader, who applauded the attacks as a heroic act, a central target of President Bush's “war on terrorism.” In November 2002 the UN passed Resolution 1441, which charged Iraq of violating preceding Security Council resolutions regarding non-conventional disarmament and warned that Iraq “will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violation of its obligations.” As Saddam remained unimpressed, in March‐April 2003 a lightning attack by a US-led international coalition crushed the Iraqi army and toppled the Ba'ath regime. Saddam himself managed to escape and to remain in hiding for some time, but was eventually captured and put in prison pending a war crimes trial by the first democratically elected government in Iraq's history. He was found guilty by an Iraqi Court of crimes against humanity in November 2006 and was executed on 30 December 2006.
[See also Bush, George; Middle East, U.S. Military Involvement in the; United Nations.]
Efraim Karsh and and Inari Rautsi , Saddam Hussein: A Political Biography, 2003.
Samir al‐Khalil , Republic of Fear, 1991.
Anthony H. Cordesman , Iran and Iraq: The Threat from the Northern Gulf, 1994.
"Hussein, Saddam." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hussein-saddam
"Hussein, Saddam." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hussein-saddam
Saddam Hussein (sädäm´ hōōsān´), 1937–2006, Iraqi political leader. A member of the Ba'ath party, he fled Iraq after participating (1959) in an assassination attempt on the country's prime minister; in Egypt he attended law school. Returning to Iraq in 1963 after the Ba'athists briefly came to power, he played a significant role in the 1968 revolution that secured Ba'ath hegemony. Hussein held key economic and political posts before becoming Iraq's president in 1979.
As president, he focused on strengthening the Iraqi oil industry and military and gaining a greater foothold in the Arab world while using brutal measures to maintain his power. In 1980 he escalated a long-standing dispute with Iran over the Shatt al Arab waterway into a full-scale war (see Iran-Iraq War) lasting eight years. On Aug. 2, 1990, Hussein ordered an Iraqi invasion of neighboring Kuwait; however, Iraq was forced out in early 1991 by an international military coalition (see Iraq; Persian Gulf War).
Following the war, Hussein weathered a Kurdish rebellion in the north and quelled a Shiite insurrection in the south, while his country suffered the effects of international economic sanctions. Hussein's resistance to UN-supervised weapons inspections imposed as part of the conditions for ending the Gulf War led to U.S. and British bombing raids against Iraq beginning in 1998. With the threat of war with the U.S. and Britain looming in 2002, Iraq agreed to let UN inspectors return, but the failure of Iraq to cooperate fully with the United Nations led to a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in Mar., 2003. In a little less than a month Anglo-American forces ended Hussein's control over nearly all Iraq, although guerrillas continued to mount attacks in the following months. Hussein survived the invasion, but was not captured until Dec., 2003.
In 2004 he was transferred to Iraqi legal custody and arraigned on charges stemming from his presidency. The Iraqi government put Hussein on trial in 2005 for crimes against humanity, for ordering the execution of 143 men in the Shiite village of Dujail following an assassination attempt on him there in 1982. In 2006, charges of genocide, resulting from the anti-Kurd Anfal campaign in the late 1980s, also were brought against him. Hussein was convicted and sentenced to death in the Dujail case in Nov., 2006; after an unsuccessful appeal he was hanged in Dec., 2006.
See K. M. Woods et al., ed., The Saddam Tapes (2011).
"Hussein, Saddam." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hussein-saddam
"Hussein, Saddam." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hussein-saddam
"Hussein, Saddam." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hussein-saddam
"Hussein, Saddam." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hussein-saddam
"Saddam Hussein." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/saddam-hussein
"Saddam Hussein." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/saddam-hussein