Saddam Hussein

Iraqi political leader
Born: 4/28/1937
Birthplace: Tikrit, Iraq

Hussein was raised in the farming village of Tikrit by his widowed mother. He joined the Ba'ath Socialist party in 1957 and was soon involved in an assassination attempt against the prime minister. The attempt failed but Hussein escaped. Sentenced to death, he fled to Egypt where he continued his education and his political involvement, entering law school in Cairo in 1962.

In 1963, after the Ba'ath party came to power, he returned to Baghdad where he continued his law studies and increased his involvement in the party's activities. The Ba'ath regime was short-lived and without its protection Hussein went into hiding, though he was eventually tracked down and imprisoned for several years.

He escaped from prison and continued his underground activities, playing a significant role in the 1968 revolution that brought the Ba'ath party in to lasting power. As vice president, Hussein wielded considerable power in the government noted for political repression and human rights violations. He also led efforts to modernize the country and develop its weak economy and oil resources. When President Ahmed Hasan al-Bakr resigned in 1979, citing poor health, Hussein became president. Within a month, rivals in the Ba'ath party, accused of plotting a coup, were executed.

From 1980–88 he led a war against Iran, with control of a key river border at stake and fueled by religious differences between Shi'ite and Sunni muslims. He also attacked Kurdish rebels, at times with chemical weapons. In 1990 he invaded Kuwait but was defeated by a coalition of Arab and Western armies and forced to retreat. As a condition of ceased hostilities, Hussein was forced to accept inspections from U.N. representatives to ensure that chemical and biological weapons were dismantled. More military strikes followed in 1993, when he violated the peace terms of the Gulf War. Frequent failure to comply with U.N. weapons inspectors brought repeated threats of further reprisals. Action was avoided until late 1998 when the U.S. and Britain led air strikes against military targets.

In 2002, President Bush identified Iraq as part of an “axis of evil” and began calling for “regime change” to oust Saddam Hussein. Bush cited the existence of weapons of mass destruction, the thwarting of UN weapons inspections, and Saddam Hussein's despotism and human rights abuses as the justification for waging war. In September, Bush addressed the UN, challenging the organization to swiftly enforce its own resolutions against Iraq—for a decade the UN has feebly imposed weapons inspections—or else the U.S. would have no choice but to act on its own. On Nov. 8, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution 1441, imposing tough new arms inspections on Iraq and precise, unambiguous definitions of what constitutes a “material breach” of the resolution. On Nov. 26, new inspections of Iraq's military holdings began.

Over the next several months, Saddam Hussein cooperated with the inspectors in a desultory manner. In his Jan. 2003, report, UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix stated that “Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament that was demanded of it.” In a February UN report, Blix indicated that slight progress had been made in Iraq's cooperation. Both pro- and anti-war nations felt the report supported their point of view. Hussein's borderline cooperation caused a diplomatic crisis at the UN, a divisive role he exulted in. The U.S., Britain, and Spain argued that Saddam had never and would never comply with the UN's numerous resolutions, and that it was finally time to resort to military action. France and Germany (and to a lesser extent Russia, China, and several other security council members) urged that the UN inspectors be given more time to complete their task, calling it premature to rush to war. By March, about 250,000 U.S. and 45,000 British soldiers were deployed to the region, poised for war. Saddam Hussein continued to engage in his characteristic defiant bluster, portraying little concern about the gravity of his situation. On March 17, all diplomatic action ceased when President Bush delivered an ultimatum to Hussein to leave the country within 48 hours or face an invasion. On March 19, the U.S. and Britain declared war against Iraq and began invading the country. A “decapitation attack,” attempted in the first few hours of the war, unsuccessfully targeted Hussein and top Iraqi leaders. By April 9, when U.S. forces took control of Baghdad, it was clear that Saddam Hussein's government had collapsed. By April 14, all significant resistence by Iraqi forces against the U.S. had ceased.

After nine months on the run, Hussein was captured in December 2003 by U.S. troops on an isolated farm near Tikrit, his hometown. He was hiding in an 8-foot hole. He surrendered without a fight. His trial began in Oct. 2005. In Nov. 2006, a court sentenced Saddam to death for the killing of 148 Shiites in Dujail in 1982. On Dec. 28, an Iraqi appellate court chief upheld the death sentence, and the execution was held two days later. American authorities had tried to persuade Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki to postpone the execution until after Id al-Adha, an Islamic holiday, which would have allowed time to resolve legal issues surrounding the execution. Maliki refused, and the hanging proceeded. As he stood at the platform of the gallows with a noose around his neck, Shiite guards and witnesses taunted and mocked Hussein. The chaos was documented on a cell phone camera by a witness. He was executed before facing trial for the 1988 murder of about 50,000 Kurds in what is known as the Anfal campaign.

See also Iraq profile.

See also Encyclopedia: Iraq.

See also Iraq Timeline.

Died: Baghdad, 12/30/2006

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