Hussein, Saddam (Husayn; 1937–)

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HUSSEIN, SADDAM (Husayn; 1937–)

Head of the Iraqi state from 1979 to 2003; Sunni Muslim. Saddam Hussein was born in Auja, near Tikrit. He joined the Baʿth Party in 1956 and was arrested several times in 1958 and 1959 for his political activities against the Iraqi regime. In July 1958 General Abdal Karim Qassim took power in Baghdad, relying on the backing of the communists and banning parties favorable to Egypt, among which was the Baʿth. On 7 October 1959 Hussein participated in an assassination attempt against General Qassim. A few weeks later, after having avoided a death sentence, he left Iraq to take refuge in Syria, and then in Egypt, where he studied law. In March 1963 he returned to Iraq, where the Baʿth Party had taken power on 8 February and named General Abd al-Salam Arif as the head of the National Council of the Revolution. On the following 17 November, General Arif seized all power in Iraq, pushing aside the Baʿthist leaders, who were imprisoned for nearly two years. After his release from prison, Hussein was elected, in September 1966, assistant secretary general of the Baʿth Party. Adhering to the Egyptian-Jordanian mutual defense pact, on 5 June 1967 Iraq joined in the 1967 War against Israel. The conflict ended with the defeat of the Arab armies and Israeli occupation of Sinai, the Golan, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. One year later, a coup d'état overthrew the regime of General Arif, who was replaced by General Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr. A new government was formed, controlled by the Baʿth Party, within which Saddam Hussein proceeded to violently purge the principal leaders and strengthen the position of the party in the Iraqi army.

During the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the Iraqi government supplied significant material help to the Palestinians. On 9 November 1969 Saddam Hussein was named vice president of the Command Council of the Revolution, becoming the second most important figure in the state. In June 1972 he supervised the nationalization of the Iraq Petroleum Company, a Western-owned consortium that held a monopoly on the extraction of oil in Iraq. In October 1973, during the 1973 War, Iraq supported Egypt and Syria against Israel. The Arab armies were again defeated. In 1979, after the success of the Iranian revolution, Hussein, over Bakr's objections, confronted Shiʿa dissidence in Iraq directly. In July 1979 he forced Bakr to resign and had himself elected secretary general of the Baʿth Party, president of the Command Council of the Revolution and president of Iraq. The next day he was promoted to marshal of the Iraqi Army. To make himself an important player in the region, he strengthened his support for the Palestinian cause and tried to replace Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat, who was in a weak position following his peace initiative with Israel, as the leader of the Arab camp. Three months after he came to power, Hussein began to question the validity of the treaty of Algiers, which was signed on 6 March 1975 and fixed the frontier between Iran and Iraq in the Shatt al-Arab.

On 20 June 1980 the Baʿth Party won the majority of seats in parliament in the first Iraqi legislative elections for over twenty years. On 22 September, supported massively by most of the Arab and Western countries, Hussein attacked Iran. During the conflict, the two countries also fought in Lebanon through the intermediaries of Lebanese militias and Palestinian movements. On 18 July 1988, after eight years of war, in the course of which both Iraq and Iran used chemical weapons a number of times, Iran was obliged to agree to a ceasefire. Hussein presented himself as the winner in the war, but it left Iraq in difficult economic straits, not least through its debts to Kuwait.

Two years later, on 19 July 1990, at a meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in Riyadh, Iraq demanded that Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates stay within their oil production quotas. According to Iraq, these two OPEC members, by exceeding their quotas, were impoverishing the Iraqi people. On 2 August Iraqi armies invaded Kuwait. In the eyes of the West—and the Americans in particular—by annexing this country Iraq was doubling its oil reserves and would therefore become the world's second largest oil exporter in the world, behind Saudi Arabia. A majority of Arab countries voted the next day in the Arab League for a resolution condemning Iraq; the Palestine Liberation Organization, Jordan, Yemen, Mauritania, and Sudan abstained; Libya's representative did not attend the meeting; only Iraq voted against the resolution. The Arab League supported negotiation to resolve the crisis and opposed outside intervention but changed its position a week later to support the Gulf states' right to call for outside help in self-defense. During this crisis Hussein presented himself as a new Saladin, "ready to stand up against the Zionist occupier of Palestine." This was appreciated by some Palestinians, who were frustrated at Arab timidity in the face of Israel and who also had good reason to resent the treatment of Palestinians in Kuwait, but the linkage of Hussein's aggression with the Palestinian issue was not generally accepted.

The United States and its allies built up a huge military force in Saudi Arabia over the next several months, and on 29 November the UN Security Council authorized the use of force against Iraq. The Gulf War of 1991 was launched on 16 January and concluded on 28 February—a long campaign of air and missile bombardment followed by only four days of ground fighting—with the rout of the Iraqi army. During these hostilities, Iraq launched a number of SCUD missiles at Israel. At the request of the United States, Israel did not respond. Following the end of the war, the United States undertook to organize, with the participation of the Soviet Union, the Madrid Conference on peace in the Middle East to begin a peace process between Israel and its Arab neighbors, as well as between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Iraqi defeat was total. The army, until then thought to be one of the world's mightiest, was decimated, and the civilian infrastructure—electricity distribution grids, communications, water, sanitation—was deliberately destroyed. Iraq was not occupied but was isolated and subject to the oversight of the U.S. and British military. From 1991 to 2003, Iraq was subject to a regime of weapons inspections and dismantling, military overflights, restrictions on use of its own airspace, the virtual separation of the Kurdish region in the north of the country, and a severe trade embargo (modified somewhat in 1996), which caused great economic damage and much physical suffering. The purpose of all this was to enforce UN resolutions regarding Iraqi armaments and particularly "weapons of mass destruction" (WMDs)—specifically chemical and nuclear weapons. Iraq essentially complied with the resolutions by 1994 and Hussein spent the next nine years campaigning for an end to the embargo. A crisis arose in 1997 when the new chief of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) in charge of disarming Iraq became convinced that Hussein was withholding information about chemical weapons. The dispute was mediated by the UN secretary general, but in late 1998 UNSCOM pulled out of Iraq at the urging of the United States, which that December launched, with Britain, the aerial bombing campaign known as Operation Desert Fox. The result was that in 1999 Saddam Hussein refused to allow the inspectors back under a new UN resolution. He also attempted to develop support in the Arab world by sending assistance to the Palestinians in the al-Aqsa Intifada that began in September 2000, paying compensation to the families of those who had attacked Israelis as suicide bombers.

After the terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001, the George W. Bush administration engaged in a propaganda campaign, despite a lack of evidence, associating Iraq and Saddam Hussein personally with the attacks and claiming that he had built up stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in contravention of UN resolutions. After months of building public sentiment for an attack, despite the lack of support from most of the world (except for Britain) and despite Hussein's grudging delivery of all requested information about Iraqi arms programs and their destruction, and his acceptance of last-minute conditions, the Iraq War of 2003 was launched on 20 March. Iraq's shattered economy, weak military, and lack of weapons of mass destruction ensured that the war ended quickly, on 16 April. The occupation of Iraq by U.S. and British forces, however, and the concomitant armed resistance by various factions, continue. Saddam Hussein disappeared from Baghdad some time in April or May and was captured in a rural hideout in December

SEE ALSO Aqsa Intifada, al-; Arab-Israel War (1967); Arab-Israel War (1973); Baʿth; Desert Fox; Gaza Strip; Gulf War (1991); Iraq War; Madrid Conference; Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries; Palestine Liberation Organization; Sadat, Anwar al-; Saladin; West Bank.