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Saddam Hussein

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Saddam Hussein
صدام حسين
Saddam in 1998
5th President of Iraq
In office
16 July 1979 – 9 April 2003
Prime Minister
Vice President
Preceded byAhmed Hassan al-Bakr
Succeeded by
Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council
In office
16 July 1979 – 9 April 2003
Preceded byAhmed Hassan al-Bakr
Succeeded byOffice abolished
Prime Minister of Iraq
In office
29 May 1994 – 9 April 2003
Preceded byAhmad Husayn Khudayir as-Samarrai
Succeeded byMohammad Bahr al-Ulloum (as Acting President of the Governing Council of Iraq)
In office
16 July 1979 – 23 March 1991
Preceded byAhmed Hassan al-Bakr
Succeeded bySa'dun Hammadi
Secretary General of the National Command of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party
In office
January 1992 – 30 December 2006
Preceded byMichel Aflaq
Succeeded byIzzat Ibrahim al-Douri
Regional Secretary of the Regional Command of the Iraqi Regional Branch
In office
16 July 1979 – 30 December 2006
National Secretary
Preceded byAhmed Hassan al-Bakr
Succeeded byIzzat Ibrahim ad-Douri
In office
February 1964 – October 1966
Preceded byAhmed Hassan al-Bakr
Succeeded byAhmed Hassan al-Bakr
Vice President of Iraq
In office
17 July 1968 – 16 July 1979
PresidentAhmed Hassan al-Bakr
Preceded byAhmed Hassan al-Bakr
Succeeded byIzzat Ibrahim al-Douri
Member of the Regional Command of the Iraqi Regional Branch
In office
February 1964 – 9 April 2003
Personal details
Born(1937-04-28)28 April 1937[a]
Al-Awja, Saladin Governorate, Kingdom of Iraq
Died30 December 2006(2006-12-30) (aged 69)
Camp Justice, Kadhimiya, Baghdad, Iraq
Cause of deathExecution by hanging
Resting placeAl-Awja
Political party
(m. 1963)
(m. 1986)
Military service
AllegianceIraq Iraq
Branch/serviceIraqi Armed Forces

Saddam Hussein[c] (28 April 1937 – 30 December 2006) was an Iraqi politician and revolutionary who served as the fifth president of Iraq from 1979 to 2003. He also served as prime minister of Iraq from 1979 to 1991 and later from 1994 to 2003. He was a leading member of the revolutionary Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party and later its Iraqi regional branch. Ideologically, he espoused Ba'athism, a mix of Arab nationalism and Arab socialism, while the policies and political ideas he championed are collectively known as Saddamism.

Saddam was born in the village of Al-Awja, near Tikrit in northern Iraq, to a Sunni Arab family.[5] He joined the Ba'ath Party in 1957, and later in 1966 the Iraqi and Baghdad-based Ba'ath parties. He played a key role in the 17 July Revolution and was appointed vice president of Iraq by Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr. During his time as vice president, Saddam nationalized the Iraq Petroleum Company, diversifying the Iraqi economy. He presided over the Second Iraqi–Kurdish War (1974–1975). Following al-Bakr's resignation in 1979, Saddam formally took power, although he had already been the de facto head of Iraq for several years. Positions of power in the country were mostly filled with Sunni Arabs, a minority that made up about a fifth of the population.[6]

Upon taking office, Saddam instituted the 1979 Ba'ath Party Purge. Saddam ordered the invasion of Iran in 1980 in a purported effort to capture Iran's Arab-majority Khuzestan province and thwart Iranian attempts to export their own 1979 revolution to the Arab world, as well as to put an end to Iranian calls for the overthrow of the Sunni-dominated Ba'athist regime. The Iran–Iraq War ended after nearly eight years in a ceasefire after a grueling stalemate that cost somewhere around a million lives and economic losses of $561 billion in Iraq. At the end of the war, Saddam ordered the Anfal campaign against Kurdish rebels that sided with Iran, recognized by Human Rights Watch as an act of genocide. Later, Saddam accused its ally Kuwait of slant-drilling the Iraqi oil reserves and invaded the country, initiating the Gulf War (1990–1991), which saw Iraq defeated by a multinational coalition led by the United States. The United Nations subsequently placed sanctions against Iraq. Saddam suppressed the 1991 Iraqi uprisings of the Kurds and Shias, which sought to gain independence or overthrow the government. Saddam adopted an anti-American stance and established the Faith Campaign, pursuing an Islamist agenda in Iraq.

In 2003, the United States and its coalition of allies invaded Iraq, falsely accusing Saddam of developing weapons of mass destruction and of having ties with al-Qaeda. The Ba'ath Party was banned and Saddam went into hiding. After his capture on 13 December 2003, his trial took place under the Iraqi Interim Government. On 5 November 2006, Saddam was convicted by the Iraqi High Tribunal of crimes against humanity related to the 1982 Dujail massacre and sentenced to death by hanging. He was executed on 30 December 2006.

A highly polarizing and controversial figure, Saddam dominated Iraqi politics for three decades and was the subject of a cult of personality. Many Arabs regard Saddam as a resolute leader who challenged Western imperialism, opposed the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and resisted foreign intervention in the region. Conversely, many Iraqis, particularly Shias and Kurds, perceive him negatively as a dictator responsible for severe authoritarianism, repression, and numerous injustices. Human Rights Watch estimated that Saddam's regime was responsible for the murder or disappearance of 250,000 to 290,000 Iraqis. Saddam's government has been described by several analysts as authoritarian and totalitarian, although the applicability of that label has been contested.

Early life and education

Saddam as a baby, c. 1940

Saddam Hussein was born in al-Awja, a small village near Tikrit, to Hussein Abd Al-Majid and Subha Tulfah Al-Mussallat. They were both from the Al-Bu Nasir tribe, which was descended from Ahmed Bin Hussein 'Nasiruddin', a descendant of Husayn ibn Ali. The Al-Bu Nasir tribe had settled in Tikrit after migrating from Yemen.[7][8] Saddam's name means "the fighter who stands steadfast".[9] His brother and father both died of cancer before his birth. These deaths made Saddam's mother, Subha, so depressed that she unsuccessfully attempted to abort her pregnancy and commit suicide. His mother was saved by a Jewish family.[10] Subha "would have nothing to do with him", and Saddam would eventually be taken in by an uncle.[11] His mother remarried, and Saddam gained three half-brothers through this marriage. His stepfather, Ibrahim al-Hassan, treated Saddam harshly after his return, and (according to a psychological profile created by the CIA) beat him regularly, sometimes to wake him up.[12][13] At around the age of 10, Saddam fled the family and returned to live in Baghdad with his uncle Khairallah Talfah, who became a fatherly figure to Saddam.[14] Talfah, the father of Saddam's future wife, was a devout Sunni Muslim and a veteran of the 1941 Anglo-Iraqi War between Iraqi nationalists and the United Kingdom, which remained a major colonial power in the region.[15] Talfah was appointed the mayor of Baghdad during Saddam's time in power, until his notorious corruption compelled Saddam to force him out of office.[14]

Later in his life, relatives from his native city became some of his closest advisors and supporters. Under the guidance of his uncle, he attended a nationalistic high school in Baghdad. After secondary school, Saddam studied at an Iraqi law school for three years, dropping out in 1957 at the age of 20 to join the revolutionary pan-Arab Ba'ath Party, of which his uncle was a supporter. During this time, Saddam apparently supported himself as a secondary school teacher.[16] Ba'athist ideology originated in Syria and the Ba'ath Party had a large following in Syria at the time, but in 1955 there were fewer than 300 Ba'ath Party members in Iraq, and it is believed that Saddam's primary reason for joining the party as opposed to the more established Iraqi nationalist parties was his familial connection to Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr and other leading Ba'athists through his uncle.[14]

Saddam in his youth, late 1950s
Saddam Hussein and the Ba'ath Party student cell, Cairo, in the period 1959–1963

Revolutionary sentiment was characteristic of the era in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. In Iraq, progressives and socialists assailed traditional political elites (colonial-era bureaucrats and landowners, wealthy merchants and tribal chiefs, and monarchists).[17] Moreover, the pan-Arab nationalism of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt profoundly influenced young Ba'athists like Saddam. The rise of Nasser foreshadowed a wave of revolutions throughout the Middle East in the 1950s and 1960s, with the collapse of the monarchies of Iraq, Egypt, and Libya. Nasser inspired nationalists throughout the Middle East by fighting the British and the French during the Suez Crisis of 1956, modernizing Egypt, and uniting the Arab world politically.[18] Saddam's father-in-law, Khairallah Talfah, was reported to have served five years in prison for his role in fighting against Great Britain in the 1941 Iraqi coup d'état and Anglo-Iraqi War, and often mentored and told tales of his exploits to the young Saddam.[13]

In 1958, a year after Saddam had joined the Ba'ath party, army officers led by General Abd al-Karim Qasim overthrew Faisal II of Iraq in the 14 July Revolution.

Rise to power

The Ba'ath Party was originally represented in Qasim's cabinet; however, Qasim—reluctant to join Nasser's newly formed union between Egypt and Syria—sided with various groups within Iraq (notably the social democrats and the Iraqi Communist Party) that told him such an action would be dangerous. Instead, Qasim adopted a wataniyah policy of "Iraq First".[19][20] To strengthen his own position within the government, Qasim also had an alliance with the Iraqi Communist Party, which was opposed to the notion of pan-Arabism.[21] His policies angered several pan-Arab organisations, including the Ba'ath Party, which later began plotting to assassinate Qasim at Al-Rashid Street on 7 October 1959 and take power. Saddam was recruited to the assassination conspiracy by its ring-leader, Abdul Karim al-Shaikhly, after one of the would-be assassins left.[22] During the ambush, Saddam (who was only supposed to provide cover) began shooting prematurely, which disorganised the whole operation. Qasim's chauffeur was killed and Qasim was hit in the arm and shoulder. The assassins thought they had killed Qasim and quickly retreated to their headquarters, but Qasim survived.[22] Saddam himself is not believed to have received any training outside of Iraq, as he was a late addition to the assassination team.[23]

Richard Sale of United Press International (UPI), citing former U.S. diplomat and intelligence officials, Adel Darwish, and other experts, reported that the unsuccessful assassination attempt on Qasim was a collaboration between the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Egyptian intelligence.[24] Pertinent contemporary records relating to CIA operations in Iraq have remained classified or heavily redacted, thus "allow[ing] for plausible deniability."[25] It is generally accepted that Egypt, in some capacity, was involved in the assassination attempt, and that "[t]he United States was working with Nasser on some level."[26] Sale and Darwish's account has been disputed by historian Bryan R. Gibson who concludes that available U.S. declassified documents show that "while the United States was aware of several plots against Qasim, it had still adhered to [a] nonintervention policy."[27] On the other hand, historian Kenneth Osgood writes that "the circumstantial evidence is such that the possibility of US–UAR collaboration with Ba'ath Party activists cannot be ruled out," concluding that "[w]hatever the validity of [Sale's] charges, at the very least currently declassified documents reveal that US officials were actively considering various plots against Qasim and that the CIA was building up assets for covert operations in Iraq."[26]

At the time of the attack, the Ba'ath Party had fewer than 1,000 members,[28] however the failed assassination attempt led to widespread exposure for Saddam and the Ba'ath within Iraq, where both had previously languished in obscurity, and later became a crucial part of Saddam's public image during his tenure as president of Iraq.[26][29] Kanan Makiya recounts:

The man and the myth merge in this episode. His biography—and Iraqi television, which stages the story ad nauseam—tells of his familiarity with guns from the age of ten; his fearlessness and loyalty to the party during the 1959 operation; his bravery in saving his comrades by commandeering a car at gunpoint; the bullet that was gouged out of his flesh under his direction in hiding; the iron discipline that led him to draw a gun on weaker comrades who would have dropped off a seriously wounded member of the hit team at a hospital; the calculating shrewdness that helped him save himself minutes before the police broke in leaving his wounded comrades behind; and finally the long trek of a wounded man from house to house, city to town, across the desert to refuge in Syria.[30]

Michel Aflaq, the leader of the Ba'athist movement, organized the expulsion of leading Iraqi Ba'athist members, such as Fuad al-Rikabi, on the grounds that the party should not have initiated the attempt on Qasim's life. At the same time, Aflaq secured seats in the Iraqi Ba'ath leadership for his supporters, one of them being Saddam.[31] The assassins, including Saddam, all eventually escaped to Cairo, Egypt "where they enjoyed Nasser's protection for the remainder of Qasim's tenure in power."[32] Saddam initially escaped to Syria and then to Egypt itself in February 1960, and he continued to live there until 1963, graduating from high school in 1961 and unsuccessfully pursuing a law degree[33] at Cairo Law School (1962–1963).[34] It is possible that Saddam visited the U.S. embassy in Cairo during his exile,[35] and some evidence suggests that he was "in frequent contact with US officials and intelligence agents."[26] A former high-ranking U.S. official told historians Marion Farouk–Sluglett and Peter Sluglett that Iraqi Ba'athists, including Saddam, "had made contact with the American authorities in the late 1950s and early 1960s."[36]

Saddam, back in Iraq, and other Ba'athists posing on top of a tank after the successful Ba'athist coup in February 1963

Army officers with ties to the Ba'ath Party overthrew Qasim in the Ramadan Revolution coup of February 1963; long suspected to be supported by the CIA,[37][38] however pertinent contemporary documents relating to the CIA's operations in Iraq have remained classified by the U.S. government,[39][40] although the Ba'athists are documented to have maintained supportive relationships with U.S. officials before, during, and after the coup.[41][42] Ba'athist leaders were appointed to the cabinet and Abdul Salam Arif became president. Arif dismissed and arrested the Ba'athist leaders later that year in the November 1963 Iraqi coup d'état. Being exiled in Egypt at the time, Saddam played no role in the 1963 coup or the brutal anti-communist purge that followed; although he returned to Iraq after the coup, becoming a key organizer within the Ba'ath Party's civilian wing upon his return.[43] Unlike during the Qasim years, Saddam remained in Iraq following Arif's anti-Ba'athist purge in November 1963, and became involved in planning to assassinate Arif. In marked contrast to Qasim, Saddam knew that he faced no death penalty from Arif's government and knowingly accepted the risk of being arrested rather than fleeing to Syria again. Saddam was arrested in October 1964 and served approximately two years in prison before escaping in 1966.[44] In 1966, Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr appointed him Deputy Secretary of the Regional Command. Saddam, who would prove to be a skilled organizer, revitalized the party.[45] He was elected to the Regional Command, as the story goes, with help from Michel Aflaq—the founder of Ba'athist thought.[46] In September 1966, Saddam initiated an extraordinary challenge to Syrian domination of the Ba'ath Party in response to the Marxist takeover of the Syrian Ba'ath earlier that year, resulting in the Party's formalized split into two separate factions.[47] Saddam then created a Ba'athist security service, which he alone controlled.[48]

1979 Ba'ath Party Purge

Saddam convened an assembly of Ba'ath party leaders on 22 July 1979. During the assembly, which he ordered videotaped,[49] Saddam claimed to have found a fifth column within the Ba'ath Party and directed Muhyi Abdel-Hussein to read out a confession and the names of 68 alleged co-conspirators. These members were labelled "disloyal" and were removed from the room one by one and taken into custody. After the list was read, Saddam congratulated those still seated in the room for their past and future loyalty. The 68 people arrested at the meeting were subsequently tried together and found guilty of treason; 22 were sentenced to execution. Other high-ranking members of the party formed the firing squad. By 1 August 1979, hundreds of high-ranking Ba'ath party members had been executed.[50][51]

Paramilitary and police organizations

"There is a feeling that at least three million Iraqis are watching the eleven million others."

—"A European diplomat", quoted in The New York Times, April 3, 1984.[52]

Iraqi society fissures along lines of language, religion and ethnicity. The Ba'ath Party, secular by nature, adopted Pan-Arab ideologies which in turn were problematic for significant parts of the population. Following the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Iraq faced the prospect of régime change from two Shi'ite factions (Dawa and SCIRI) which aspired to model Iraq on its neighbour Iran as a Shia theocracy. A separate threat to Iraq came from parts of the ethnic Kurdish population of northern Iraq which opposed being part of an Iraqi state and favored independence (an ongoing ideology which had preceded Ba'ath Party rule). To alleviate the threat of revolution, Saddam afforded certain benefits to the potentially hostile population. Membership in the Ba'ath Party remained open to all Iraqi citizens regardless of background, and repressive measures were taken against its opponents.[53]

The major instruments for accomplishing this control were the paramilitary and police organizations. Beginning in 1974, Taha Yassin Ramadan (himself a Kurdish Ba'athist), a close associate of Saddam, commanded the People's Army, which had responsibility 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 was the most notorious arm of the state-security system, feared for its use of torture and assassination. Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam's younger half-brother, commanded Mukhabarat. Foreign observers believed that from 1982 this department operated both at home and abroad in its mission to seek out and eliminate Saddam's perceived opponents.[53][54]

Saddam was notable for using terror against his own people. The Economist described Saddam as "one of the last of the 20th century's great dictators, but not the least in terms of egotism, or cruelty, or morbid will to power."[55] Saddam's regime brought about the deaths of at least 250,000 Iraqis[56] and committed war crimes in Iran, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International issued regular reports of widespread imprisonment and torture. Conversely, Saddam used Iraq's oil wealth to develop an extensive patronage system for the regime's supporters.[57]

Although Saddam is often described as a totalitarian leader, Joseph Sassoon notes that there are important differences between Saddam's repression and the totalitarianism practiced by Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, particularly with regard to freedom of movement and freedom of religion.[57]

Vice Presidency (1968–1979)

In July 1968, Saddam participated in a bloodless coup led by Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr that overthrew Abdul Rahman Arif,[58]: 174  Salam Arif's brother and successor. While Saddam's role in the coup was not hugely significant (except in the official account), Saddam planned and carried out the subsequent purge of the non-Ba'athist faction led by Prime Minister Abd ar-Razzaq an-Naif, whose support had been essential to the coup's success.[59] According to a semi-official biography, Saddam personally led Naif at gunpoint to the plane that escorted him out of Iraq.[60] Arif was given refuge in London and then Istanbul. Al-Bakr was named president and Saddam was named his deputy, and deputy chairman of the Ba'athist Revolutionary Command Council. According to biographers, Saddam never forgot the tensions within the first Ba'athist government, which formed the basis for his measures to promote Ba'ath party unity as well as his resolve to maintain power and programs to ensure social stability. Although Saddam was al-Bakr's deputy, he was a strong behind-the-scenes party politician. Al-Bakr was the older and more prestigious of the two, but by 1969 Saddam clearly had become the moving force behind the party.


In 1976, Saddam rose to the position of general in the Iraqi armed forces, and rapidly became the strongman of the government. As the ailing, elderly al-Bakr became unable to execute his duties, Saddam took on an increasingly prominent role as the face of the government both internally and externally. He soon became the architect of Iraq's foreign policy and represented the nation in all diplomatic situations. He was the de facto leader of Iraq some years before he formally came to power in 1979. He slowly began to consolidate his power over Iraq's government and the Ba'ath party. Relationships with fellow party members were carefully cultivated, and Saddam soon accumulated a powerful circle of support within the party.

In 1979, al-Bakr started to make treaties with Syria, also under Ba'athist leadership, that would lead to unification between the two countries. Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad would become deputy leader in a union, and this would drive Saddam to obscurity. Saddam acted to secure his grip on power. He forced the ailing al-Bakr to resign on 16 July 1979, and formally assumed the presidency.

Political program

Promoting women's literacy and education in the 1970s

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, as vice chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, formally al-Bakr's second-in-command, Saddam built a reputation as a progressive, effective politician.[61] At this time, 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 in the late 1960s

After the Ba'athists took power in 1968, Saddam focused on attaining stability in a nation riddled with profound tensions. Long before Saddam, Iraq had been split along social, ethnic, religious, and economic fault lines: Sunni versus Shi'ite, Arab versus Kurd, tribal chief versus urban merchant, nomad versus peasant.[62] The desire for stable rule in a country rife with factionalism led Saddam to pursue both massive repression and the improvement of living standards.[62]

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.[citation needed]

At the center of this strategy was Iraq's oil. On 1 June 1972, Saddam oversaw the seizure of international oil interests, which, at the time, dominated the country's oil sector. A year later, world oil prices rose dramatically as a result of the 1973 energy crisis, and skyrocketing revenues enabled Saddam to expand his agenda.

Saddam talking to Michel Aflaq, the founder of Ba'athist thought, in 1988

Within just a few years, Iraq was providing social services that were unprecedented among Middle Eastern countries. Saddam established 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 most modernized public-health systems in the Middle East, earning Saddam an award from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).[63][64]

With the help of increasing oil revenues, Saddam diversified the largely oil-based Iraqi economy. Saddam implemented a national infrastructure campaign that made great progress in building roads, promoting mining, and developing other industries. The campaign helped Iraq's energy industries. Electricity was brought to nearly every city in Iraq, and many outlying areas. Before the 1970s, most of Iraq's people lived in the countryside and roughly two-thirds were peasants. This number would decrease quickly during the 1970s as global oil prices helped revenues to rise from less than a half billion dollars to tens of billions of dollars and the country invested into industrial expansion. He nationalised independent banks, eventually leaving the banking system insolvent due to inflation and bad loans.[65]

The oil revenue benefited Saddam politically.[55] According to The Economist, "Much as Adolf Hitler won early praise for galvanizing German industry, ending mass unemployment and building autobahns, Saddam earned admiration abroad for his deeds. He had a good instinct for what the "Arab street" demanded, following the decline in Egyptian leadership brought about by the trauma of Israel's six-day victory in the 1967 war, the death of the pan-Arabist hero, Gamal Abdul Nasser, in 1970, and the "traitorous" drive by his successor, Anwar Sadat, to sue for peace with the Jewish state. Saddam's self-aggrandizing propaganda, with himself posing as the defender of Arabism against Zionist or Persian intruders, was heavy-handed, but consistent as a drumbeat. It helped, of course, that his mukhabarat (secret police) put dozens of Arab news editors, writers and artists on the payroll."[55]

Two men signing an agreement, with other men standing behind them
Alexei Kosygin (left) and Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr signing the Iraqi–Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Co-Operation in 1972

In 1972, Saddam signed a 15-year Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union. According to historian Charles R. H. Tripp, the treaty upset "the US-sponsored security system established as part of the Cold War in the Middle East. It appeared that any enemy of the Baghdad regime was a potential ally of the United States."[66] In response, the US covertly financed Kurdish rebels led by Mustafa Barzani during the Second Iraqi–Kurdish War; the Kurds were defeated in 1975, leading to the forcible relocation of hundreds of thousands of Kurdish civilians.[66]

Saddam focused on fostering loyalty to the Ba'athists in the rural areas. After nationalizing foreign oil interests, Saddam supervised the modernization of the countryside, mechanizing agriculture on a large scale, and distributing land to peasant farmers.[67] The Ba'athists established farm cooperatives and the government also doubled expenditures for agricultural development in 1974–1975. Saddam's welfare programs were part of a combination of "carrot and stick" tactics to enhance support for Saddam. The state-owned banks were put under his thumb. Lending was based on cronyism.[65]

Peace treaty with Iran

Saddam Hussein and Reza Shah during the Algiers agreement

A peace treaty, which aimed to address the Shatt al-Arab dispute, was signed in 1975.[68] Under the accord, Iraq was granted sovereignty over the eastern bank of the waterway, while Iran retained control over the western bank.[68] The agreement also allowed for joint navigation and other provisions.[68] The 1975 Algiers Agreement, also known as the Algiers Accord, was a significant diplomatic agreement signed between Iran and Iraq on 6 March 1975, to settle border disputes and improve bilateral relations.[68] The agreement was mediated by the then-President of Algeria, Houari Boumediene.[68] Prior to the Algiers Agreement, Iran and Iraq had been engaged in a long-standing territorial dispute over the Shatt al-Arab waterway, which serves as the border between the two countries.[68] Algeria played a crucial role in mediating the negotiations between Iran and Iraq, with President Boumediene acting as the chief mediator.[68]

The Algiers Agreement was based on the principles of territorial integrity, respect for sovereignty, non-interference in internal affairs, and the peaceful resolution of disputes.[68] The agreement established a new border line along the Shatt al-Arab, dividing the waterway equally between Iran and Iraq up to the midpoint.[68] Iran made significant concessions in the agreement, including relinquishing its claims on the eastern bank of the Shatt al-Arab, which had been under Iranian control.[68] Saddam Hussein aimed to secure Iraq's territorial claims, particularly regarding the Shatt al-Arab waterway, which had been a longstanding source of contention between Iran and Iraq.[68]

Both parties recognized each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity, affirming the principle of non-aggression.[68] The Algiers Agreement called for the restoration of full diplomatic relations between Iran and Iraq, including the exchange of ambassadors.[68] The agreement emphasized the importance of economic cooperation between the two countries, particularly in areas such as trade, transport, and joint development projects.[68] The signing of the Algiers Agreement occurred during a period of relative stability in Iraq, with Saddam Hussein gradually consolidating power within the ruling Ba'ath Party.[68] As Vice President, Saddam Hussein played a pivotal role in the negotiations leading up to the Algiers Agreement, representing Iraq's interests.[68] Saddam Hussein's growing influence within the Iraqi government allowed him to shape Iraq's approach and stance during the negotiation process.[68] Following the agreement, Iraq and Iran restored full diplomatic relations and exchanged ambassadors, representing a significant diplomatic breakthrough.[68] The Algiers Agreement emphasized the importance of economic cooperation between Iraq and Iran, particularly in areas like trade and joint development projects.[68] This agreement, while ultimately unable to prevent future hostilities, remained a notable diplomatic achievement for Iraq during Saddam Hussein's early political career.[68]

Presidency (1979–2003)

Domestic policy

Kurdish autonomy

Although it has been debated his position on Kurdish Politics, Saddam Hussein has allowed autonomy for the Kurds to an extent,[69] with Kurds being allowed to speak Kurdish in schools, on television, and even in newspapers, with textbooks being translated for the Kurdish regions. With Kurds in Iraq being able to elect a Kurdish representative to go to Baghdad.[70] Saddam Hussein had already signed a deal in 1970 to grant the Kurds autonomy, but Mustafa Barazani eventually disagreed with the deal, which incited the Second Iraqi–Kurdish War.

Education and literacy reforms

Under Saddam Hussein's regime, substantial reforms in education and literacy took place, with Saddam Hussein introducing mandatory reading groups for adults, with punishments for not attending consisting of heavy fines, and even jail time. UNESCO awarded Iraq for having "Most effective literacy campaign in the world.",[71] with estimates being that in 1979 alone, over 2 million Iraqi adults were studying in more than 28,735 literacy schools, with over 75,000 teachers.[72] Saddam Hussein's regime also mandated education for primary to high school, with Saddam's regime also mandating free tuition for university students.

Economic reforms

Nationalization of oil was implemented, which aimed to achieve economic independence.[73] By the late 1970s, Iraq experienced significant economic growth, with a budget reserve surpassing US$35 billion. The value of 1 Iraqi dinar was worth more than 3 dollars, making it one of the most notable economic expansions in the region. Saddam Hussein's regime aimed to diversify the Iraqi economy beyond oil. The government invested in various industries, including petrochemicals, fertilizer production, and textile manufacturing, to reduce dependence on oil revenues and promote economic self-sufficiency.[74] By the 1970s, women employment rate also increased.

Following the invasion of Kuwait which initiated the Gulf War, Iraq was sanctioned by the UN, which caused economic decline. In 1995, then U.S. president Bill Clinton introduced Oil-for-Food Programme, in which Iraq sold oil on the world market in exchange for humanitarian needs. The program was accepted by the Ba'athist government in 1996.[75] By 1995, GDP of Iraq dropped to US$9 billion from US$44.36 billion in 1990. Iraq had lost around US$170 billion of oil revenues. The economy of Iraq improved in 2000, as its GDP increased to U$23.73 billion by 2000.[76]

Social reforms

Saddam Hussein also took steps to promote women's rights within Iraq. By the late 1970s, women in Iraq held significant roles in society, representing 46% of all teachers, 29% of all doctors, 46% of all dentist and 70% of all pharmacists. These advancements signaled progress in women's participation in various professional fields.[citation needed] Women also saw drastic increase in rights in other-aspects of life, with women being given equal-rights in marriage, divorce, inheritance, and custody.[77] Women in Iraq also had the ability to pass their citizenship down to their children even if they married a non-Iraqi, which Iraqi women no longer have the ability to do. Women's education no longer was a luxury, with women having the same opportunities as men in higher education.[77]

Saddam Hussein also introduced social security programs, with the notable parts of the program consisting of disability benefits, with disabled people in Iraq becoming eligible for financial assistance.[78] It also introduced healthcare coverage, ensuring Iraqi citizens had access to healthcare and medication when needed,[79] Although during the 90's Iraqi-healthcare decreased in its effectiveness with the sanctions restricting basic-medical equipment and supplies from getting into Iraq.[80]

Freedom of religion

Iraq under Saddam Hussein was known for religious tolerance, as different religious minorities coexisted peacefully. During his tenure, more than 1.2 million Christians lived in Iraq, highlighting the country's diverse religious landscape. Tariq Aziz, who was a Chaldean, held various political positions in the Ba'athist government and was a close advisor to Saddam Hussein. Due to close relations with Chaldeans, Saddam donated heavy amount to Chaldean churches and institutions across the United States, despite having hostile relations.[citation needed]

During Saddam Hussein's rule, the Jewish community in Iraq was treated fairly.[81] They were among the various religious minority groups in the country. They had the freedom to practice their religion.[82] The Iraqi government even helped restore the Baghdad Synagogue about ten years before he was ousted.[83] An incident took place on 4 October 1998, when a Palestinian man opened fire, killing four people including two Jews. Following the arrest of the Palestinian perpetrator, the Iraqi government pledged to ensure prompt justice. As a precautionary measure, police guards were stationed at the synagogue, and the Iraqi Cabinet released a statement denouncing the shooting incident. The Cabinet emphasized that the Jewish community in Iraq are Iraqis that should not be associated with Zionist activities aimed at disrupting the political, economic, social, and health security of Arab countries.[84]

Saddam Hussein was recognized for safeguarding the Mandaean minority in Iraq.[85] with Mandaeans being given state protection under Saddam Hussein, Saddam Hussein also vowed to construct temples for the Mandaeans, with Saddam quoting "Iraqis have religious freedom, whether they are Muslims, Christians or Sabaeans",[86] Mandaeans were some of the best goldsmiths and jewelers in Iraq, with Saddam Hussein's personal jeweler being of Mandaean background. However, after his regime's downfall, Mandaeans faced severe persecution, and constant kidnappings, and often expressed that they were better under Saddam's rule.[87]

Foreign policy

Foreign affairs

Saddam developed a reputation for liking expensive goods, such as his diamond-coated Rolex wristwatch, and sent copies of them to his friends around the world. To his ally Kenneth Kaunda Saddam once sent a Boeing 747 full of presents—rugs, televisions, ornaments.[citation needed] Saddam enjoyed a close relationship with Russian intelligence agent Yevgeny Primakov that dated back to the 1960s; Primakov may have helped Saddam to stay in power in 1991.[88]

Saddam visited only two Western countries. The first visit took place in December 1974, when the Caudillo of Spain, Francisco Franco, invited him to Madrid and he visited Granada, Córdoba and Toledo.[89] In September 1975 he met with Prime Minister Jacques Chirac in Paris, France.[90]

Several Iraqi leaders, Lebanese arms merchant Sarkis Soghanalian and others have claimed that Saddam financed Chirac's party. In 1991 Saddam threatened to expose those who had taken largesse from him: "From Mr. Chirac to Mr. Chevènement, politicians and economic leaders were in open competition to spend time with us and flatter us. We have now grasped the reality of the situation. If the trickery continues, we will be forced to unmask them, all of them, before the French public."[90] France armed Saddam and it was Iraq's largest trade partner throughout Saddam's —rule. Seized documents show how French officials and businessmen close to Chirac, including Charles Pasqua, his former interior minister, personally benefitted from the deals with Saddam.[90]

Because Saddam Hussein rarely left Iraq, Tariq Aziz, one of Saddam's aides, traveled abroad extensively and represented Iraq at many diplomatic meetings.[91] 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. The 1978 crackdown on Iraqi Communists and a shift of trade toward the West strained Iraqi relations with the Soviet Union; Iraq then took on a more Western orientation until the Gulf War in 1991.[92]

After the oil crisis of 1973, France had changed to a more pro-Arab policy and was accordingly rewarded by Saddam with closer ties. He made a state visit to France in 1975, cementing close ties with some French business and ruling political circles. In 1975 Saddam negotiated an accord with Iran that contained Iraqi concessions on border disputes. In return, Iran agreed to stop supporting opposition Kurds in Iraq. Saddam led Arab opposition to the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel (1979).

Saddam Hussein and al-Bakr, de jure president of Iraq alongside Hafiz al-Assad of Syria at an Arab League summit in Baghdad in November 1978

Iraq's relations with the Arab world have been extremely varied. Relations between Iraq and Egypt violently ruptured in 1977, when the two nations broke relations with each other following Iraq's criticism of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's peace initiatives with Israel. In 1978, Baghdad hosted an Arab League summit that condemned and ostracized Egypt for accepting the Camp David Accords. Egypt's strong material and diplomatic support for Iraq in the war with Iran led to warmer relations and numerous contacts between senior officials, despite the continued absence of ambassadorial-level representation. Since 1983, Iraq has repeatedly called for restoration of Egypt's "natural role" among Arab countries. Saddam initiated Iraq's nuclear enrichment project in the 1980s, with French assistance. The first Iraqi nuclear reactor was named by the French "Osirak". Osirak was destroyed on 7 June 1981[93] by an Israeli air strike (Operation Opera). Saddam Hussein was widely known for his commitment to the Palestinian cause and his anti-Israel stance. In 2001, Saddam said on Iraqi television:[94]

Palestine is Arab and must be liberated from the river to the sea and all the Zionists who emigrated to the land of Palestine must leave.

— Saddam Hussein

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.[95] 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 Iraqi bombing of Kurdish villages in Iran, which caused Iraqi relations with Iran to deteriorate. After Saddam negotiated the 1975 treaty with Iran, the Shah withdrew support for the Kurds, who were defeated.

Iran–Iraq War (1980–1988)

In the Iran–Iraq War (1980–1988), Iraq claimed it had the right to hold sovereignty to the east bank of the Shatt al-Arab river held by Iran.[96]

In early 1979, Iran's Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Pahlavi dynasty were overthrown by the Islamic Revolution, thus giving way to an Islamic republic led by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.[97] The influence of revolutionary Shi'ite Islam grew apace in the region, particularly in countries with large Shi'ite populations, especially Iraq.[97] Saddam feared that radical Islamic ideas—hostile to his secular rule—were rapidly spreading inside his country among the majority Shi'ite population.[97] Despite Saddam's fears of massive unrest, Iran's attempts to export its Islamic Revolution were largely unsuccessful in rallying support from Shi'ites in Iraq and the Gulf states. Most Iraqi Shi'ites, who comprised the majority of the Iraqi Armed Forces, chose their own country over their Shi'ite Iranian coreligionists during the Iran–Iraq War that ensued.[98]

There had also been bitter enmity between Saddam and Khomeini since the 1970s.[97] Khomeini, having been exiled from Iran in 1964, took up residence in Iraq, at the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf.[97] There he involved himself with Iraqi Shi'ites and developed a strong religious and political following against the Iranian Government, which Saddam tolerated.[97] When Khomeini began to urge the Shi'ites there to overthrow Saddam and under pressure from the Shah, who had agreed to a rapprochement between Iraq and Iran in 1975, Saddam agreed to expel Khomeini in 1978 to France.[97] Here, Khomeini gained media connections and collaborated with a much larger Iranian community, to his advantage.[97]

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.[97] During this period, Saddam Hussein publicly maintained that it was in Iraq's interest not to engage with Iran, and that it was in the interests of both nations to maintain peaceful relations.[97] In a private meeting with Salah Omar al-Ali, Iraq's permanent ambassador to the United Nations, he revealed that he intended to invade and occupy a large part of Iran within months.[97]

Middle East special envoy Donald Rumsfeld meeting Saddam Hussein on 19–20 December 1983. Rumsfeld, who became US Secretary of Defense during the Presidency of George W. Bush, led the coalition forces during the Iraq War.

Iraq invaded Iran on 22 September 1980, first launching airstrikes on numerous targets in Iran, including the Mehrabad Airport of Tehran, before occupying the oil-rich Iranian province of Khuzestan, which also has a sizable Arab minority.[97] The invasion was initially successful, as Iraq captured more than 25,900 km2 of Iranian territory by 5 December 1980.[99][97] With the support of other Arab states, the United States, and Europe, and heavily financed by the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, Saddam Hussein had become "the defender of the Arab world" against a revolutionary, fundamentalist and Shia Islamist Iran.[97] The only exception was the Soviet Union, which initially refused to supply Iraq on the basis of neutrality in the conflict, although in his memoirs, Mikhail Gorbachev claimed that Leonid Brezhnev refused to aid Saddam over infuriation of Saddam's treatment of Iraqi communists. Consequently, many viewed Iraq as "an agent of the civilized world."[98] The blatant disregard of international law and violations of international borders were ignored. Instead Iraq received economic and military support from its allies, who overlooked Saddam's use of chemical warfare against the Kurds and the Iranians, in addition to Iraq's efforts to develop nuclear weapons.[98]

In the first days of the war, there was heavy ground fighting around strategic ports as Iraq launched an attack on Khuzestan. After making some initial gains, Iraq's troops began to suffer losses from human wave attacks by Iran. By 1982, Iraq was on the defensive and looking for ways to end the war.[97]

Saddam greeting Carlos Cardoen, a Chilean businessman who provided Iraq with weapons during the war in the 1980s

Iraq quickly found itself bogged down in one of the longest and most destructive wars of attrition of the 20th century.[97] During the war, Iraq used chemical weapons against Iranian forces fighting on the southern front and Kurdish separatists who were attempting to open up a northern front in Iraq with the help of Iran.[97] Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz later acknowledged Iraq's use of chemical weapons against Iran, but said that Iran had used them against Iraq first.[100] These chemical weapons were developed by Iraq from materials and technology supplied primarily by West German companies as well as using dual-use technology imported following the Reagan administration's lifting of export restrictions.[101] The US government also supplied Iraq with "satellite photos showing Iranian deployments.",[102] which were later deemed to be misleading intelligence information designed to prolong the war with Iran and increase US influence in the region, contributing to the Iraqi defeat in the First Battle of al-Faw in February 1986.[103] In a US bid to open full diplomatic relations with Iraq, the country was removed from the US list of State Sponsors of Terrorism in February 1982.[104] Ostensibly, this was because of improvement in the regime's record, although former US Assistant Secretary of Defense Noel Koch later stated, "No one had any doubts about [the Iraqis'] continued involvement in terrorism ... The real reason was to help them succeed in the war against Iran."[105] The Soviet Union, France, and China together accounted for over 90% of the value of Iraq's arms imports between 1980 and 1988.[106] While the United States supplied Iraq with arms, dual-use technology and economic aid, it was also involved in a covert and illegal arms deal, providing sanctioned Iran with weaponry. This political scandal became known as the Iran–Contra affair.[107]

Saddam reached out to other Arab governments for cash and political support during the war, particularly after Iraq's oil industry severely suffered at the hands of the Iranian navy in the Persian Gulf.[97] Iraq successfully gained some military and financial aid, as well as diplomatic and moral support, from the Soviet Union, China, France, and the US, which together feared the prospects of the expansion of revolutionary Iran's influence in the region.[97] The Iranians, demanding that the international community should force Iraq to pay war reparations to Iran, refused any suggestions for a cease-fire. Despite several calls for a ceasefire by the United Nations Security Council, hostilities continued until 20 August 1988.[97]

The bloody eight-year war ended in a stalemate. Encyclopædia Britannica states: "Estimates of total casualties range from 1,000,000 to twice that number. The number killed on both sides was perhaps 500,000, with Iran suffering the greatest losses."[108] Neither side had achieved what they had originally desired and the borders were left nearly unchanged.[97] The southern, oil rich and prosperous Khuzestan and Basra area (the main focus of the war, and the primary source of their economies) were almost completely destroyed and were left at the pre-1979 border, while Iran managed to make some small gains on its borders in the Northern Kurdish area. Both economies, previously healthy and expanding, were left in ruins.[97]

Saddam borrowed tens of billions of dollars from other Arab states and a few billions from elsewhere during the 1980s to fight Iran, mainly to prevent the expansion of Shi'a radicalism.[97] This backfired on Iraq and the Arab states, for Khomeini was widely perceived as a hero for managing to defend Iran and maintain the war with little foreign support against the heavily backed Iraq and only managed to boost Islamic radicalism not only within the Arab states, but within Iraq itself, creating new tensions between the Sunni Ba'ath Party and the majority Shi'a population.[97] Faced with rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure and internal resistance, Saddam desperately re-sought cash, this time for postwar reconstruction.[97]

Anfal campaign

The Anfal campaign was a genocidal campaign[109] that took place during the Iran–Iraq War against the Kurdish people (and many others) in Kurdish regions of Iraq led by the government of Saddam Hussein and headed by Ali Hassan al-Majid. The campaign takes its name from Qur'anic chapter 8 (al-ʾanfāl), which was used as a code name by the former Iraqi Ba'athist administration for a series of attacks against the peshmerga rebels and the mostly Kurdish civilian population of rural Northern Iraq, conducted between 1986 and 1989 culminating in 1988. This campaign also targeted Shabaks and Yazidis, Assyrians, Turkoman people and many villages belonging to these ethnic groups were also destroyed. Human Rights Watch estimates that between 50,000 and 100,000 people were killed.[110] Some Kurdish sources put the number higher, estimating that 182,000 Kurds were killed.[111][112][56]

On 16 March 1988, the Kurdish town of Halabja was attacked with a mix of mustard gas and nerve agents during the Halabja massacre, killing between 3,200 and 5,000 people, and injuring 7,000 to 10,000 more, mostly civilians.[113][114][115] The attack occurred in conjunction with the Anfal campaign designed to reassert central control of the mostly Kurdish population of areas of northern Iraq and defeat the Kurdish peshmerga rebel forces. Following the incident, The U.S. State Department took the official position that Iran was partly to blame for the Halabja massacre.[116] A study by the Defense Intelligence Agency held Iran responsible for the attack. This assessment was subsequently used by the Central Intelligence Agency for much of the early 1990s.[117] Despite this, few observers today doubt that it was Iraq that executed the Halabja massacre.[118]

Tensions with Kuwait

Saddam Hussein justified the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 by claiming that Kuwait had always been an integral part of Iraq and only became an independent nation due to the interference of the British Empire.[119]

The end of the war with Iran served to deepen latent tensions between Iraq and its wealthy neighbor Kuwait. Saddam urged the Kuwaitis to waive the Iraqi debt accumulated in the war, some $30 billion, but they refused.[120] Saddam pushed oil-exporting countries to raise oil prices by cutting back production; Kuwait refused, then led 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 its huge debt.[120]

Saddam had consistently argued that Kuwait had historically been an integral part of Iraq, and had only come into being as a result of interference from the British government; echoing a belief that Iraqi nationalists had supported for the past fifty years. This belief was one of the few articles of faith uniting the political scene in a nation rife with sharp social, ethnic, religious, and ideological divides.[120] The extent of Kuwaiti oil reserves also intensified tensions in the region. The oil reserves of Kuwait (with a population of 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; Saudi Arabia held another 25 percent. 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.[120]

As Iraq–Kuwait relations rapidly deteriorated, Saddam was receiving conflicting information about how the US 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 Iraq roughly $4 billion in agricultural credits to bolster it against Iran.[121] Saddam's Iraq became "the third-largest recipient of US assistance."[122]

Reacting to Western criticism in April 1990, Saddam threatened to destroy half of Israel with chemical weapons if it moved against Iraq.[123] In May 1990 he criticized US support for Israel warning that "the US cannot maintain such a policy while professing friendship towards the Arabs."[124] In July 1990 he threatened force against Kuwait and the UAE saying "The policies of some Arab rulers are American ... They are inspired by America to undermine Arab interests and security."[125] The US sent warplanes and combat ships to the Persian Gulf in response to these threats.[126]

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie calls upon Saddam for an emergency meeting.

The US ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, met with Saddam in an emergency meeting on 25 July 1990, where the Iraqi leader attacked American policy with regards to Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE):[127]

So what can it mean when America says it will now protect its friends? It can only mean prejudice against Iraq. This stance plus maneuvers and statements which have been made has encouraged the UAE and Kuwait to disregard Iraqi rights. If you use pressure, we will deploy pressure and force. We know that you can harm us although we do not threaten you. But we too can harm you. Everyone can cause harm according to their ability and their size. We cannot come all the way to you in the US, but individual Arabs may reach you. We do not place America among the enemies. We place it where we want our friends to be and we try to be friends. But repeated American statements last year made it apparent that America did not regard us as friends.

Glaspie replied:[127]

I know you need funds. We understand that and our opinion is that you should have the opportunity to rebuild your country. But we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait. ... Frankly, we can only see that you have deployed massive troops in the south. Normally that would not be any of our business. But when this happens in the context of what you said on your national day, then when we read the details in the two letters of the Foreign Minister, then when we see the Iraqi point of view that the measures taken by the UAE and Kuwait is, in the final analysis, parallel to military aggression against Iraq, then it would be reasonable for me to be concerned.

Saddam stated that he would attempt last-ditch negotiations with the Kuwaitis but Iraq "would not accept death."[127] US 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.[128] Later, Iraq and Kuwait met for a final negotiation session, which failed. Saddam then sent his troops into Kuwait. As tensions between Washington and Saddam began to escalate, the Soviet Union, under Mikhail Gorbachev, strengthened its military relationship with the Iraqi leader, providing him military advisers, arms and aid.[129]

Gulf War

On 2 August 1990, Saddam invaded Kuwait, initially claiming assistance to "Kuwaiti revolutionaries", thus sparking an international crisis. On 4 August an Iraqi-backed "Provisional Government of Free Kuwait" was proclaimed, but a total lack of legitimacy and support for it led to an 8 August announcement of a "merger" of the two countries. On 28 August Kuwait formally became the 19th Governorate of Iraq. Just two years after the 1988 Iraq and Iran truce, "Saddam Hussein did what his Gulf patrons had earlier paid him to prevent." Having removed the threat of Iranian fundamentalism he "overran Kuwait and confronted his Gulf neighbors in the name of Arab nationalism and Islam."[98]

Saddam in duty uniform

When later asked why he invaded Kuwait, Saddam first claimed that it was because Kuwait was rightfully Iraq's 19th province and then said "When I get something into my head I act. That's just the way I am."[55] Saddam Hussein could pursue such military aggression with a "military machine paid for in large part by the tens of billions of dollars Kuwait and the Gulf states had poured into Iraq and the weapons and technology provided by the Soviet Union, Germany, and France."[98] It was revealed during his 2003–2004 interrogation that in addition to economic disputes, an insulting exchange between the Kuwaiti emir Al Sabah and the Iraqi foreign minister – during which Saddam claimed that the emir stated his intention to turn "every Iraqi woman into a $10 prostitute" by ruining Iraq financially – was a decisive factor in triggering the Iraqi invasion.[130] Shortly before he invaded Kuwait, he shipped 100 new Mercedes 200 Series cars to top editors in Egypt and Jordan. Two days before the first attacks, Saddam reportedly offered Egypt's Hosni Mubarak 50 million dollars in cash, "ostensibly for grain."[131]

US 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 the most friendly relations with the Soviets.[132] On the other hand, Washington foreign policymakers, along with Middle East experts, military critics, and firms heavily invested in the region, were extremely concerned with stability in this region.[133] The invasion immediately triggered fears that the world's price of oil, and therefore control of the world economy, was at stake. Britain profited heavily from billions of dollars of Kuwaiti investments and bank deposits. Bush was perhaps swayed while meeting with British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who happened to be in the US at the time.[134]

Cooperation between the US and the Soviet Union made possible the passage of resolutions in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) giving Iraq a deadline to leave Kuwait and approving the use of force if Saddam did not comply with the timetable. US 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, including countries as diverse as Egypt, Syria and Czechoslovakia, deployed a massive number of troops along the Saudi border with Kuwait and Iraq in order to encircle the Iraqi army, the largest in the Middle East. Saddam's officers looted Kuwait, stripping even the marble from its palaces to move it to Saddam's own palace.[65]

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 US- and Western-supported Arab states against the Palestinians. The allies ultimately rejected any linkage between the Kuwait crisis and Palestinian issues.

Saddam ignored the Security Council deadline. Backed by the Security Council, a US-led coalition launched round-the-clock missile and aerial attacks on Iraq, beginning 16 January 1991. Israel, though subjected to attack by Iraqi missiles, refrained from retaliating in order not to provoke Arab states into leaving the coalition. A ground force consisting largely of 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.[135] On 6 March 1991, Bush announced "What is at stake is more than one small country, it is a big idea—a new world order, where diverse nations are drawn together in common cause to achieve the universal aspirations of mankind: peace and security, freedom, and the rule of law."[136]

In the end, the Iraqi army proved unable to compete on the battlefield with the highly mobile coalition land forces and their overpowering air support. Some 175,000 Iraqis were taken prisoner and casualties were estimated at over 85,000. As part of the cease-fire agreement, Iraq agreed to scrap all poison gas and germ weapons and allow UN observers to inspect the sites. UN trade sanctions would remain in effect until Iraq complied with all terms. Saddam publicly claimed victory at the end of the war.


Saddam in 1996

Iraq's ethnic and religious divisions, together with the brutality of the conflict that this had engendered, laid the groundwork for postwar rebellions. In the aftermath of the fighting, social and ethnic unrest among Shi'ite Muslims, Kurds, and dissident military units threatened the stability of Saddam's government. Uprisings erupted in the Kurdish north and Shi'a southern and central parts of Iraq, but were ruthlessly repressed. Uprisings in 1991 led to the death of 100,000–180,000 people, mostly civilians.[137]

The US, which had urged Iraqis to rise up against Saddam, did nothing to assist the rebellions. The Iranians, despite the widespread Shi'ite rebellions, had no interest in provoking another war, while Turkey opposed any prospect of Kurdish independence, and the Saudis and other conservative Arab states feared an Iran-style Shi'ite revolution. Saddam, having survived the immediate crisis in the wake of defeat, was left firmly in control of Iraq, although the country never recovered either economically or militarily from the Gulf War.[98]

Saddam routinely cited his survival as "proof" that Iraq had in fact won the war against the US. This message earned Saddam a great deal of popularity in many sectors of the Arab world. John Esposito wrote, "Arabs and Muslims were pulled in two directions. That they rallied not so much to Saddam Hussein as to the bipolar nature of the confrontation (the West versus the Arab Muslim world) and the issues that Saddam proclaimed: Arab unity, self-sufficiency, and social justice." As a result, Saddam Hussein appealed to many people for the same reasons that attracted more and more followers to Islamic revivalism and also for the same reasons that fueled anti-Western feelings.[98]

One US Muslim observer[who?] noted: "People forgot about Saddam's record and concentrated on America ... Saddam Hussein might be wrong, but it is not America who should correct him." A shift was, therefore, clearly visible among many Islamic movements in the post war period "from an initial Islamic ideological rejection of Saddam Hussein, the secular persecutor of Islamic movements, and his invasion of Kuwait to a more populist Arab nationalist, anti-imperialist support for Saddam (or more precisely those issues he represented or championed) and the condemnation of foreign intervention and occupation."[98]

Some elements of Sharia law were re-introduced, and the phrase "Allahu Akbar" ("God is great"), in Saddam's handwriting, was added to the national flag. Saddam also commissioned the production of a "Blood Qur'an", written using 27 litres of his own blood, to thank God for saving him from various dangers and conspiracies.[138]

The United Nations-placed sanctions against Iraq for invading Kuwait were not lifted, blocking Iraqi oil exports. During the late 1990s, the UN considered relaxing the sanctions imposed because of the hardships suffered by ordinary Iraqis. Studies dispute the number of people who died in south and central Iraq during the years of the sanctions.[139][140][141][142][143] On 9 December 1996, Saddam's government accepted the Oil-for-Food Programme that the UN had first offered in 1992.

Relations between the US and Iraq remained tense following the Gulf War. The US launched a missile attack aimed at Iraq's intelligence headquarters in Baghdad 26 June 1993, citing evidence of repeated Iraqi violations of the "no fly zones" imposed after the Gulf War and for incursions into Kuwait. US officials continued to accuse Saddam of violating the terms of the Gulf War's cease fire, by developing weapons of mass destruction and other banned weaponry, and violating the UN-imposed sanctions. Also during the 1990s, President Bill Clinton maintained sanctions and ordered air strikes in the "Iraqi no-fly zones" (Operation Desert Fox), in the hope that Saddam would be overthrown by political enemies inside Iraq. Western charges of Iraqi resistance to UN access to suspected weapons were the pretext for crises between 1997 and 1998, culminating in intensive US and British missile strikes on Iraq, 16–19 December 1998. After two years of intermittent activity, US and British warplanes struck harder at sites near Baghdad in February 2001. Former CIA case officer Robert Baer reports that he "tried to assassinate" Saddam in 1995,[144] amid "a decade-long effort to encourage a military coup in Iraq."[145]

Saddam continued involvement in politics abroad. Video tapes retrieved after show his intelligence chiefs meeting with Arab journalists, including a meeting with the former managing director of Al-Jazeera, Mohammed Jassem al-Ali, in 2000. In the video Saddam's son Uday advised al-Ali about hires in Al-Jazeera: "During your last visit here along with your colleagues we talked about a number of issues, and it does appear that you indeed were listening to what I was saying since changes took place and new faces came on board such as that lad, Mansour." He was later sacked by Al-Jazeera.[146]


Saddam addresses state television, in January 2001.

In 2002, Austrian prosecutors investigated Saddam government's transactions with Fritz Edlinger that possibly violated Austrian money laundering and embargo regulations.[147] Fritz Edlinger, president of the General Secretary of the Society for Austro-Arab relations (GÖAB) and a former member of Socialist International's Middle East Committee, was an outspoken supporter of Saddam Hussein. In 2005, an Austrian journalist revealed that Fritz Edlinger's GÖAB had received $100,000 from an Iraqi front company as well as donations from Austrian companies soliciting business in Iraq.[148]

In 2002, a resolution sponsored by the European Union was adopted by the Commission for Human Rights, which stated that there had been no improvement in the human rights crisis in Iraq. The statement condemned President Saddam Hussein's government for its "systematic, widespread and extremely grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law." The resolution demanded that Iraq immediately put an end to its "summary and arbitrary executions ... the use of rape as a political tool and all enforced and involuntary disappearances."[149]

Political and cultural image

Stamped brick at the ancient city of Babylon bearing the name of Saddam Hussein
Stamped brick at the ancient city of Babylon bearing the name of Saddam Hussein
Saddam's palace near the ruins of the North Palace of Nebuchadnezzar II at Babylon
Propaganda art to glorify Saddam after Iran–Iraq War, 1988

The political ideas and politics pursued by Saddam Hussein became known as Saddamism. This doctrine was officially endorsed by his government and promoted by the Iraqi daily newspaper Babil owned by his son Uday Hussein.[150]

During his leadership, Saddam promoted the idea of dual nationalism which combines Iraqi nationalism and Arab nationalism, a much broader form of ethnic nationalism which supports Iraqi nationalism and links it to matters that impact Arabs as a whole.[151] Saddam Hussein believed that the recognition of the ancient Mesopotamian origins and heritage of Iraqi Arabs was complementary to supporting Arab nationalism.[151]

In the course of his reign, the Ba'athist regime officially included the historic Kurdish Muslim leader Saladin as a patriotic symbol in Iraq, while Saddam called himself son of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar and had stamped the bricks of ancient Babylon with his name and titles next to him.[152][153] During the Gulf War, Saddam claimed the historic roles of Nebuchadnezzar, Saladin and Gamal Abdel Nasser.[98]

He also conducted two show elections, in 1995 and 2002. In the 1995 referendum, conducted on 15 October, he reportedly received 99.96% of the votes in a 99.47% turnout, getting 3,052 negative votes among an electorate of 8.4 million.[154][155]

In the 15 October 2002 referendum he officially achieved 100% of approval votes and 100% turnout, as the electoral commission reported the next day that every one of the 11,445,638 eligible voters cast a "Yes" vote for the president.[156]

He erected statues around the country, which Iraqis toppled after his fall.[157][158]

2003 invasion and Iraq War

Many members of the international community, especially the US, continued to view Saddam as a bellicose tyrant who was a threat to the stability of the region. In his January 2002 state of the union address to Congress, President George W. Bush spoke of an "axis of evil" consisting of Iran, North Korea, and Iraq. Moreover, Bush announced that he would possibly take action to topple the Iraqi government, because of the threat of its weapons of mass destruction. Bush stated that "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."[159][160]

After the passing of UNSC Resolution 1441, which demanded that Iraq give "immediate, unconditional and active cooperation" with UN and IAEA inspections,[161] Saddam allowed U.N. weapons inspectors led by Hans Blix to return to Iraq. During the renewed inspections beginning in November 2002, Blix found no stockpiles of WMD and noted the "proactive" but not always "immediate" Iraqi cooperation as called for by Resolution 1441.[162]

Statue of Saddam being toppled in Firdos Square after the invasion

With war still looming on 24 February 2003, Saddam Hussein took part in an interview with CBS News reporter Dan Rather. Talking for more than three hours, he denied possessing any weapons of mass destruction, or any other weapons prohibited by UN guidelines. He also expressed a wish to have a live televised debate with George W. Bush, which was declined. It was his first interview with a US reporter in over a decade.[163] CBS aired the taped interview later that week. Saddam Hussein later told an FBI interviewer that he once left open the possibility that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction in order to appear strong against Iran.[164][130]

The Iraqi government and military collapsed within three weeks of the beginning of the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq on 20 March. By the beginning of April, US-led 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 US-led forces on 9 April, marked symbolically by the toppling of his statue,[165] Saddam was nowhere to be found.

Capture and interrogation

Saddam after being captured and shaven to confirm his identity
Saddam Hussein's fingerprints, obtained by the National Security Archive

In April 2003, 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 were authenticated. At various times Saddam released audio tapes promoting popular resistance to his ousting.

Saddam was placed at the top of the US list of most-wanted Iraqis. In July 2003, his sons Uday and Qusay and 14-year-old grandson Mustapha were killed in a three-hour gunfight with US forces in Mosul.[166][167]

On 13 December 2003, in Operation Red Dawn, Saddam was captured by American forces after being found hiding in a hole in the ground near a farmhouse in ad-Dawr, near Tikrit. Following his capture, Saddam was transported to a US base near Tikrit, and later taken to the American base near Baghdad. Documents obtained and released by the National Security Archive detail FBI interviews and conversations with Saddam while he was in US custody.[168] On 14 December, US administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer confirmed that Saddam Hussein had indeed been captured at a farmhouse in ad-Dawr near Tikrit.[169] Bremer presented video footage of Saddam in custody.

Saddam was shown with a full beard and hair longer than his familiar appearance. He was described by US officials as being in good health. Bremer reported plans to put Saddam on trial, but claimed that the details of such a trial had not yet been determined. Iraqis and Americans who spoke with Saddam after his capture generally reported that he remained self-assured, describing himself as a "firm, but just leader."[170]

British tabloid newspaper The Sun posted a picture of Saddam wearing white briefs on the front cover of a newspaper. Other photographs inside the paper show Saddam washing his trousers, shuffling, and sleeping. The US government stated that it considered the release of the pictures a violation of the Geneva Convention and that it would investigate the photographs.[171][172] During this period Saddam was interrogated by FBI agent George Piro.[173]

The guards at the Baghdad detention facility called their prisoner "Vic", which stands for "Very Important Criminal" and let him plant a small garden near his cell. The nickname and the garden are among the details about the former Iraqi leader that emerged during a March 2008 tour of the Baghdad prison and cell where Saddam slept, bathed, kept a journal, and wrote poetry in the final days before his execution; he was concerned to ensure his legacy and how the history would be told. The tour was conducted by US Marine Maj. Gen. Doug Stone, overseer of detention operations for the US military in Iraq at the time. During his imprisonment he exercised and was allowed to have his personal garden; he also smoked his cigars and wrote his diary in the courtyard of his cell.[174]


Saddam speaks in court.

On 30 June 2004, Saddam Hussein, held in custody by US forces at the US base "Camp Cropper", along with 11 other senior Ba'athist leaders, was handed over to the interim Iraqi government to stand trial for crimes against humanity and other offences.

A few weeks later, he was charged by the Iraqi Special Tribunal with crimes committed against residents of Dujail in 1982, following a failed assassination attempt against him. Specific charges included the murder of 148 people, torture of women and children and the illegal arrest of 399 others.[175][176] Among the many challenges of the trial were:

  • Saddam and his lawyers contesting the court's authority and maintaining that he was still the President of Iraq.[177]
  • The assassinations and attempted assassinations of several of Saddam's lawyers.
  • The replacement of the chief presiding judge midway through the trial.

On 5 November 2006, Saddam was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death by hanging. Saddam's half-brother, Barzan Ibrahim, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, head of Iraq's Revolutionary Court in 1982, were convicted of similar charges. The verdict and sentencing were both appealed, but subsequently affirmed by Iraq's Supreme Court of Appeals.[178]


Saddam was hanged on the first day of Eid ul-Adha, 30 December 2006,[179] despite his wish to be executed by firing squad (which he argued was the lawful military capital punishment, citing his military position as the commander-in-chief of the Iraqi military).[180] The execution was carried out at Camp Justice, an Iraqi army base in Kadhimiya, a neighborhood of northeast Baghdad.

Saudi Arabia condemned Iraqi authorities for carrying on with the execution on a holy day. A presenter from the Al-Ikhbariya television station officially stated: "There is a feeling of surprise and disapproval that the verdict has been applied during the holy months and the first days of Eid al-Adha. Leaders of Islamic countries should show respect for this blessed occasion ... not demean it."[181]

Video of the execution was recorded on a mobile phone and his captors could be heard insulting Saddam. The video was leaked to electronic media and posted on the Internet within hours, becoming the subject of global controversy.[182] It was later claimed by the head guard at the tomb where his remains lay that Saddam's body had been stabbed six times after the execution.[183] Saddam's demeanor while being led to the gallows has been discussed by two witnesses, Iraqi Judge Munir Haddad and Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie. The accounts of the two witnesses are contradictory as Haddad describes Saddam as being strong in his final moments whereas al-Rubaie says Saddam was clearly afraid.[184]

Saddam's last words during the execution, "May God's blessings be upon Muhammad and his household. And may God hasten their appearance and curse their enemies." Then one of the crowd repeatedly said the name of the Iraqi Shiite cleric, Moqtada Al-Sadr. Saddam laughed and later said, "Do you consider this manhood?" The crowd shouted, "go to Hell." Saddam replied, "To the hell that is Iraq!?" Again, one of the crowd asked those who shouted to keep quiet for God. Saddam Hussein started recitation of final Muslim prayers, "I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah." One of the crowd shouted, "The tyrant [dictator] has collapsed!" Saddam said, "May God's blessings be upon Muhammad and his household (family)". He recited the shahada one and a half times, as while he was about to say 'Muhammad' on the second shahada, the trapdoor opened, cutting him off mid-sentence. The rope broke his neck, killing him instantly.[185]

Not long before the execution, Saddam's lawyers released his last letter.[186]

A second unofficial video, apparently showing Saddam's body on a trolley, emerged several days later. It sparked speculation that the execution was carried out incorrectly as Saddam Hussein had a gaping hole in his neck.[187]

Saddam was buried at his birthplace of Al-Awja in Tikrit, Iraq, on 31 December 2006. He was buried 3 km (2 mi) from his sons Uday and Qusay Hussein.[188] His tomb was reported to have been destroyed in March 2015.[189] Before it was destroyed, a Sunni tribal group reportedly removed his body to a secret location, fearful of what might happen.[190]

Personal life and family

Saddam Hussein's family, mid-late 1980s
  • Saddam married his first wife and cousin Sajida Talfah (or Tulfah/Tilfah)[191] in 1963 in an arranged marriage. Sajida is the daughter of Khairallah Talfah, Saddam's uncle and mentor; the two were raised as brother and sister. Their marriage was arranged for Saddam at age five when Sajida was seven. They became engaged in Egypt during his exile, and married in Iraq after Saddam's 1963 return.[192] The couple had five children.[191]
    • Uday Hussein (1964–2003), was Saddam's older son, who ran the Iraqi Football Association, Fedayeen Saddam, and several media corporations in Iraq including Iraqi TV and the newspaper Babel. Uday, while originally Saddam's favorite son and likely successor, eventually fell out of favor with his father due to his erratic behavior; he was responsible for many car crashes and rapes around Baghdad, constant feuds with other members of his family, and killing his father's favorite valet and food taster Kamel Hana Gegeo at a party in Egypt honoring Egyptian first lady Suzanne Mubarak. He became well known in the west for his involvement in looting Kuwait during the Gulf War, allegedly taking millions of dollars worth of gold, cars, and medical supplies (which were in short supply at the time) for himself and close supporters. He was widely known for his paranoia and his obsession with torturing people who disappointed him in any way, which included tardy girlfriends, friends who disagreed with him and, most notoriously, Iraqi athletes who performed poorly. He was briefly married to Izzat Ibrahim ad-Douri's daughter, but later divorced her. The couple had no children.
    • Qusay Hussein (1966–2003), was Saddam's second—and, after the mid-1990s, his favorite—son. Qusay was believed to have been Saddam's later intended successor, as he was less erratic than his older brother and kept a low profile. He was second in command of the military (behind his father) and ran the elite Iraqi Republican Guard and the SSO. He was believed to have ordered the army to kill thousands of rebelling Marsh Arabs and was instrumental in suppressing Shi'ite rebellions in the mid-1990s. He was married once and had three children.
    • Raghad Hussein (b. 1968) is Saddam's oldest daughter. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Raghad fled to Amman, Jordan where she received sanctuary from the royal family. She is currently wanted by the Iraqi Government for allegedly financing and supporting the insurgency of the now banned Iraqi Ba'ath Party.[193][194] The Jordanian royal family refused to hand her over. She was married to Hussein Kamel al-Majid and has had five children from this marriage.
    • Rana Hussein (b. 1969), is Saddam's second daughter. She, like her sister, fled to Jordan and has stood up for her father's rights. She was married to Saddam Kamel and has had four children from this marriage.
    • Hala Hussein (b. 1972), is Saddam's third and youngest daughter. Very little information is known about her. Her father arranged for her to marry General Kamal Mustafa Abdallah Sultan al-Tikriti in 1998. She fled with her children and sisters to Jordan. In June 2021, an Iraqi court ordered the release of her husband after 18 years in prison.[195]
  • Saddam married his second wife, Samira Shahbandar,[191] in 1986. She was originally the wife of an Iraqi Airways executive, but later became the mistress of Saddam. Eventually, Saddam forced Samira's husband to divorce her so he could marry her.[191] After the war, Samira fled to Beirut, Lebanon. She is believed to have been the mother of Saddam's sixth child.[191] Members of Saddam's family have denied this.
Saddam Hussein's sons Qusay and Uday were killed in a gun battle in Mosul on 22 July 2003.
  • Saddam had allegedly married a third wife, Nidal al-Hamdani, the general manager of the Solar Energy Research Center in the Council of Scientific Research.[196]
  • Wafa Mullah Huwaysh is rumored to have married Saddam as his fourth wife in 2002. There is no firm evidence for this marriage. Wafa is the daughter of Abd al-Tawab Mullah Huwaysh, a former minister of military industry in Iraq and Saddam's last deputy Prime Minister.

In August 1995, Raghad and her husband, Hussein Kamel al-Majid, and Rana and her husband, Saddam Kamel al-Majid, defected to Jordan, taking their children with them. They returned to Iraq when they received assurances that Saddam would pardon them. Within three days of their return in February 1996, both of the Kamel brothers were attacked and killed in a gunfight with other clan members who considered them traitors.

In August 2003, Saddam's daughters Raghad and Rana received sanctuary in Amman, Jordan. 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."[197]


In 1979, Jacob Yasso of Sacred Heart Chaldean Church in Detroit, Michigan congratulated Saddam Hussein on his presidency. In return, Yasso said that Saddam Hussein donated US$250,000 to his church, which is made up of at least 1,200 families of Middle Eastern descent. In 1980, Detroit Mayor Coleman Young allowed Yasso to present the key to the city of Detroit to Saddam Hussein. At the time, Saddam then asked Yasso, "I heard there was a debt on your church. How much is it?" After the inquiry, Saddam then donated another $200,000 to Chaldean Sacred Heart Church. Yasso said that Saddam made donations to Chaldean churches all over the world, and even went on record as saying "He's very kind to Christians."[198]

Honors and awards

In 1991, the Iraqi government awarded Saddam the Rafidain medal, also known as Order of the Two Rivers, the country's highest honor, as a recognition of his "historic role" and "noble services to Iraq".[199][200] This announcement was made following a Cabinet meeting, and Information Minister Hamid Youssef Hummadi stated that the decision was unanimous.[199][200] The award was bestowed on Saddam Hussein, during his 54th birthday, in appreciation of his exceptional contributions and significant impact on Iraq.[199]

He was honored by titles such as "Field Marshal" and "Comrade". Saddam Hussein is one of the recipients of the Key to the City.[198][201] In 1980, Saddam Hussein was awarded a key to the city of Detroit after he donated almost half a million dollars to a church in the city of Detroit.[202] The Ba'ath government led by Saddam Hussein, successfully turned Iraq into a leading hub for healthcare and education.[203] This improved quality of life in Iraq.[204] For improving quality of life of Iraqis, Saddam was honored by an award from UNESCO.[205]

Saddam received a number of medals, which were displayed at a museum in Johannesburg, South Africa.[206] He received or Order of Merit (Wisam al-Jadara), which is rare and was awarded to only a few Iraqi rulers.[207] Order of the Mother of Battles was awarded to Saddam Hussein for his role in the 1991 Gulf War against Kuwait and the United States.[208] Saddam received medals for the 1948–'49 Palestinian War, crushing the Kurdish rebellion, the 1963 and 1968 revolutions, cooperation with Syria, peace in 1970, and the 1973 war with Israel.[209]

Reception and legacy

Saddam Hussein in 1980

Many Arabs praise Saddam as a true leader who stood up to Western imperialism, Israeli occupation of Palestine, and foreign intervention in the region, while many Iraqis, especially Shias and Kurds, view him negatively as a dictator responsible for brutal authoritarianism, repression and injustices.[210]

Saddam is sometimes accused of a repressive totalitarian government.[57][211][212] His regime was notorious for its repressive tactics, including widespread surveillance, torture, and extrajudicial killings.[213][214] Human rights organizations documented numerous cases of human rights abuses committed by his government.[215] Saddam's regime suppressed political dissent and opposition through a combination of violence, intimidation, and censorship.[214] Freedom of speech and freedom of the press were severely curtailed, and political opponents were often executed or imprisoned.[216] Saddam initiated several military conflicts, including the Iran-Iraq War, Invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf War.[217] These actions resulted in significant loss of life and destabilized the region.[218] While there were economic development initiatives, Saddam's regime was also marked by mismanagement and widespread corruption.[219] The economic sanctions imposed on Iraq during his rule further exacerbated economic hardships for the country's population.[220]

During his rule, he implemented various policies and initiatives that some people viewed as beneficial for Iraq and the broader Middle Eastern region. Iraq during Saddam was developed in terms of education and Saddam Hussein's government invested heavily in infrastructure projects, such as roads, bridges, and public buildings.[221][222] This development contributed to the modernization of Iraq's cities and improved the country's overall infrastructure.[223] Under Saddam Hussein's regime, there was an emphasis on improving access to education and healthcare.[223][224][225] The government invested in building schools and hospitals, and literacy rates in Iraq increased significantly during his rule.[226][227][228] Saddam Hussein's government implemented policies aimed at advancing women's rights in Iraq.[229] Women were encouraged to participate in education and the workforce, and many held high-ranking positions in government and public institutions.[230][231] Saddam Hussein's regime had a secular character, which meant that religion did not play a dominant role in the government's policies. This allowed for a degree of religious diversity and tolerance within Iraq. Still today, many Iraqi Jews respect Saddam, for his treatment of Jews.[232] This was also seen for the Iraqi Mandaeans, with many Iraqi Mandaeans holding strong-respect for Saddam's protection of the Mandaeans; Saddam even constructed temples for the Mandaean people.[233][234][235] Saddam's regime later placed greater emphasis on Islam in all sectors of Iraqi life from 1993 through the Faith Campaign. In 1977, Saddam stated "our Party does not take a neutral stance between faith and atheism; it is always on the side of faith."[236]

In the Arab world, Saddam is well-regarded, especially for his support of the Palestinian cause.[237] A memorial dedicated to Saddam was built in Qalqilya, Palestine.[238][239][240] Additionally, many portraits and other forms of memorials are found throughout Palestine.[241][242] During his regime, Iraq and India shared a strong relationship.[243] Even today, Saddam has a huge fan following in India.[244] Indian singer Sidhu Moose Wala mentioned Saddam in his song "Bambiha Bole," stating that he was a well-reputed person. Saddam was an admirer of Indira Gandhi, whom he met in 1974 during an international trip to India.[245] Former US president Donald Trump praised Saddam for militant suppression and stability during his presidency in Iraq.[246] A beach near the Indian city of Malappuram has been named Saddam Beach. Saddam is still loved by many Jordanians.[247] Despite having tense relations with Kurdish separatists, Saddam developed good relations with some Kurds who supported him.[248] Many Iraqi Jews regard Saddam as he granted protection to them.[232]

Cultural depictions of Saddam can be found in various movies, including three documentary movies made on Saddam. Saddam's Tribe, released in 2007, explores the complex relationship between Saddam Hussein and the Albu Nasir tribe, a powerful tribal group in Iraq. In 2008, a TV series based on his life — House of Saddam was released. Irish actor Barry Keoghan will appear in a new movie about Saddam which was announced in 2024.[249] Saddam dominated politics of Iraq for 35 years and developed a cult of personality in the world.

List of government and party positions held

See also


  1. ^ 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 between 1935 and 1939.[1]
  2. ^ Saddam (Arabic: صدام), pronounced [sˤɑdˈdæːm] in Modern Standard Arabic, is his personal name, and means "the stubborn one" or "he who confronts". Hussein (sometimes also transliterated as Hussayn or Hussain) is not a surname in the Western sense but a patronymic or nasab, his father's given personal name; Abd al-Majid his grandfather's; al-Tikriti is a laqab meaning he was born and raised in, or near, Tikrit. He was commonly referred to as Saddam Hussein, or Saddam for short. The observation that referring to the deposed Iraqi president as only Saddam is derogatory or inappropriate may be based on the assumption that Hussein is a family name, thus The New York Times refers to him as "Mr. Hussein",[3] while Encyclopædia Britannica uses just Saddam.[4] A full discussion can be found in the reference preceding this note.
  3. ^ /səˈdɑːm hˈsn/ sə-DAHM hoo-SAYN; Arabic: صدام حسين, Mesopotamian Arabic: [sˤɐdˈdɑːm ɜħˈsɪe̯n]; also known by his full name Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti; Arabic: صدام حسين عبد المجيد التكريتي. He is known mononymously as Saddam.[2][b]


  1. ^ Con Coughlin, Saddam: The Secret Life Pan Books, 2003 (ISBN 978-0-330-39310-2).
  2. ^ Shewchuk, Blair (February 2003). "Saddam or Mr. Hussein?". CBC News. This brings us to the first, and primary, reason many newsrooms use 'Saddam' – it's how he's known throughout Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.
  3. ^ Burns, John F. (2 July 2004). "Defiant Hussein Rebukes Iraqi Court for Trying Him". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 July 2004.
  4. ^ "Saddam Hussein". Encyclopædia Britannica. 29 May 2023.
  5. ^ "Saddam Hussein". Oxford Reference. Retrieved 17 December 2023.
  6. ^ Karsh, Efraim; Rautsi, Inari (2002). Saddam Hussein: A Political Biography. Grove Press. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-8021-3978-8.
  7. ^ "جريدة الرياض | أحمد حسن البكر رجل المقاومة الأول ضد بريطانيا". 23 September 2020. Archived from the original on 23 September 2020. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  8. ^ Baram, Amatzia (8 July 2003). "The Iraqi Tribes and the Post-Saddam System". Brookings. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  9. ^ Post, Jerrold (June 1991). "Saddam Hussein of Iraq: A Political Psychology Profile". Political Psychology. 12 (2): 279–289. doi:10.2307/3791465.
  10. ^ "Not mad, just bad and dangerous". The Sydney Morning Herald. 16 November 2002. Retrieved 17 February 2024.
  11. ^ Bumiller, Elisabeth (15 May 2004). "Was a Tyrant Prefigured by Baby Saddam?". The New York Times. ISSN 1553-8095. OCLC 1645522. Archived from the original on 11 September 2016. Retrieved 21 November 2018.
  12. ^ Jack, Anderson. "Saddam's Roots an Abusive Childhood". The Washington Post. Retrieved 8 November 2021.
  13. ^ a b Post, Jerrold. "Saddam is Iraq: Iraq is Saddam" (PDF). Maxwell Airforce Base. Archived (PDF) from the original on 21 May 2021. Retrieved 20 November 2021.
  14. ^ a b c Karsh, Efraim; Rautsi, Inari (2002). Saddam Hussein: A Political Biography. Grove Press. pp. 13–15. ISBN 978-0-8021-3978-8.
  15. ^ Eric Davis, Memories of State: Politics, History, and Collective Identity in Modern Iraq, University of California Press, 2005.
  16. ^ Batatu, Hanna (1979). The Old Social Classes & The Revolutionary Movement in Iraq. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-05241-0.
  17. ^ R. Stephen Humphreys, Between Memory and Desire: The Middle East in a Troubled Age, University of California Press, 1999, p. 68.
  18. ^ Humphreys, 68
  19. ^ Polk, William Roe (2005). Understanding Iraq. I.B. Tauris. p. 111. ISBN 978-0857717641.
  20. ^ Simons, Geoff (1996). Iraq: From Sumer to Saddam. St. Martin's Press. p. 221. ISBN 978-0312160524.
  21. ^ Coughlin 2005, pp. 25–26.
  22. ^ a b Coughlin 2005, p. 29.
  23. ^ Osgood, Kenneth (2009). "Eisenhower and regime change in Iraq: the United States and the Iraqi Revolution of 1958". America and Iraq: Policy-making, Intervention and Regional Politics. Routledge. p. 22. ISBN 978-1-134-03672-1.
  24. ^ Sale, Richard (10 April 2003). "Exclusive: Saddam Key in Early CIA Plot". United Press International. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  25. ^ Osgood, Kenneth (2009). "Eisenhower and regime change in Iraq: the United States and the Iraqi Revolution of 1958". America and Iraq: Policy-making, Intervention and Regional Politics. Routledge. p. 16. ISBN 9781134036721. The documentary record is filled with holes. A remarkable volume of material remains classified, and those records that are available are obscured by redactions – large blacked-out sections that allow for plausible deniability. While it is difficult to know exactly what actions were taken to destabilize or overthrow Qasim's regime, we can discern fairly clearly what was on the planning table. We also can see clues as to what was authorized.
  26. ^ a b c d Osgood, Kenneth (2009). "Eisenhower and regime change in Iraq: the United States and the Iraqi Revolution of 1958". America and Iraq: Policy-making, Intervention and Regional Politics. Routledge. pp. 21–23. ISBN 9781134036721.
  27. ^ Gibson, Bryan R. (2015). Sold Out? US Foreign Policy, Iraq, the Kurds, and the Cold War. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 25–26. ISBN 978-1-137-48711-7.
  28. ^ Coughlin 2005, p. 30.
  29. ^ Karsh, Efraim; Rautsi, Inari (2002). Saddam Hussein: A Political Biography. Grove Press. pp. 15–22, 25. ISBN 978-0-8021-3978-8.
  30. ^ Makiya, Kanan (1998). Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq, Updated Edition. University of California Press. p. 118. ISBN 978-0-520-92124-5.
  31. ^ Coughlin, Con (2005). Saddam: His Rise and Fall. Harper Perennial. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-06-050543-1.
  32. ^ Wolfe-Hunnicutt, Brandon (2021). The Paranoid Style in American Diplomacy: Oil and Arab Nationalism in Iraq. Stanford University Press. pp. 53–54. ISBN 978-1-5036-1382-9.
  33. ^ Karsh, Efraim; Rautsi, Inari (2002). Saddam Hussein: A Political Biography. Grove Press. pp. 15–22. ISBN 978-0-8021-3978-8.
  34. ^ "Saddam Hussein". Britannica. 29 May 2023.
  35. ^ Karsh, Efraim; Rautsi, Inari (2002). Saddam Hussein: A Political Biography. Grove Press. pp. 20–21. ISBN 978-0-8021-3978-8.
  36. ^ Farouk–Sluglett, Marion; Sluglett, Peter (2001). Iraq Since 1958: From Revolution to Dictatorship. I.B. Tauris. p. 327. ISBN 9780857713735.
  37. ^ For sources that agree or sympathize with assertions of U.S. involvement, see:
    • Wolfe-Hunnicutt, Brandon; Middle East Studies Pedagogy Initiative (MESPI) (20 July 2018). "Essential Readings: The United States and Iraq before Saddam Hussein's Rule". Jadaliyya. CIA involvement in the 1963 coup that first brought the Ba'th to power in Iraq has been an open secret for decades. American government and media have never been asked to fully account for the CIA's role in the coup. On the contrary, the US government has put forward and official narrative riddled with holes–redactions that cannot be declassified for "national security" reasons.
    • Citino, Nathan J. (2017). "The People's Court". Envisioning the Arab Future: Modernization in US-Arab Relations, 1945–1967. Cambridge University Press. pp. 182–183. ISBN 978-1-108-10755-6. Washington backed the movement by military officers linked to the pan-Arab Ba'th Party that overthrew Qasim in a coup on February 8, 1963.
    • Jacobsen, E. (1 November 2013). "A Coincidence of Interests: Kennedy, U.S. Assistance, and the 1963 Iraqi Ba'th Regime". Diplomatic History. 37 (5): 1029–1059. doi:10.1093/dh/dht049. ISSN 0145-2096. There is ample evidence that the CIA not only had contacts with the Iraqi Ba'th in the early sixties, but also assisted in the planning of the coup.
    • Ismael, Tareq Y.; Ismael, Jacqueline S.; Perry, Glenn E. (2016). Government and Politics of the Contemporary Middle East: Continuity and Change (2nd ed.). Routledge. p. 240. ISBN 978-1-317-66282-2. Ba'thist forces and army officers overthrew Qasim on February 8, 1963, in collaboration with the CIA.
    • Little, Douglas (14 October 2004). "Mission Impossible: The CIA and the Cult of Covert Action in the Middle East". Diplomatic History. 28 (5): 663–701. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7709.2004.00446.x. ISSN 1467-7709. Such self-serving denials notwithstanding, the CIA actually appears to have had a great deal to do with the bloody Ba'athist coup that toppled Qassim in February 1963. Deeply troubled by Qassim's steady drift to the left, by his threats to invade Kuwait, and by his attempt to cancel Western oil concessions, U.S. intelligence made contact with anticommunist Ba'ath activists both inside and outside the Iraqi army during the early 1960s.
    • Osgood, Kenneth (2009). "Eisenhower and regime change in Iraq: the United States and the Iraqi Revolution of 1958". America and Iraq: Policy-making, Intervention and Regional Politics. Routledge. pp. 26–27. ISBN 9781134036721. Working with Nasser, the Ba'ath Party, and other opposition elements, including some in the Iraqi army, the CIA by 1963 was well positioned to help assemble the coalition that overthrew Qasim in February of that year. It is not clear whether Qasim's assassination, as Said Aburish has written, was 'one of the most elaborate CIA operations in the history of the Middle East.' That judgment remains to be proven. But the trail linking the CIA is suggestive.
    • Sluglett, Peter. "The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq: A Study of Iraq's Old Landed and Commercial Classes and of its Communists, Ba'thists and Free Officers (Review)" (PDF). Democratiya. p. 9. Batatu infers on pp. 985–86 that the CIA was involved in the coup of 1963 (which brought the Ba'ath briefly to power): Even if the evidence here is somewhat circumstantial, there can be no question about the Ba'ath's fervent anti-communism.
    • Wolfe-Hunnicutt, Brandon (2021). The Paranoid Style in American Diplomacy: Oil and Arab Nationalism in Iraq. Stanford University Press. p. 119. ISBN 978-1-5036-1382-9. Weldon Matthews, Malik Mufti, Douglas Little, William Zeman, and Eric Jacobsen have all drawn on declassified American records to largely substantiate the plausibility of Batatu's account. Peter Hahn and Bryan Gibson (in separate works) argue that the available evidence does support the claim of CIA collusion with the Ba'th. However, each makes this argument in the course of a much broader study, and neither examines the question in any detail.
    • Mitchel, Timothy (2002). Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity. University of California Press. p. 149. ISBN 9780520928251. Qasim was killed three years later in a coup welcomed and possibly aided by the CIA, which brought to power the Ba'ath, the party of Saddam Hussein.
    • Weiner, Tim (2008). Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA. Doubleday. p. 163. ISBN 9780307455628. The agency finally backed a successful coup in Iraq in the name of American influence.
  38. ^ For sources that dispute assertions of U.S. involvement, see:
    • Gibson, Bryan R. (2015). Sold Out? US Foreign Policy, Iraq, the Kurds, and the Cold War. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 58. ISBN 978-1-137-48711-7. Barring the release of new information, the balance of evidence suggests that while the United States was actively plotting the overthrow of the Qasim regime, it did not appear to be directly involved in the February 1963 coup.
    • Hahn, Peter (2011). Missions Accomplished?: The United States and Iraq Since World War I. Oxford University Press. p. 48. ISBN 9780195333381. Declassified U.S. government documents offer no evidence to support these suggestions.
    • Barrett, Roby C. (2007). The Greater Middle East and the Cold War: US Foreign Policy Under Eisenhower and Kennedy. I.B. Tauris. p. 451. ISBN 9780857713087. Washington wanted to see Qasim and his Communist supporters removed, but that is a far cry from Batatu's inference that the U.S. had somehow engineered the coup. The U.S. lacked the operational capability to organize and carry out the coup, but certainly after it had occurred the U.S. government preferred the Nasserists and Ba'athists in power, and provided encouragement and probably some peripheral assistance.
    • West, Nigel (2017). Encyclopedia of Political Assassinations. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 205. ISBN 9781538102398. Although Qasim was regarded as an adversary by the West, having nationalized the Iraq Petroleum Company, which had joint Anglo-American ownership, no plans had been made to depose him, principally because of the absence of a plausible successor. Nevertheless, the CIA pursued other schemes to prevent Iraq from coming under Soviet influence, and one such target was an unidentified colonel, thought to have been Qasim's cousin, the notorious Fadhil Abbas al-Mahdawi who was appointed military prosecutor to try members of the previous Hashemite monarchy.
  39. ^ Wolfe-Hunnicutt, Brandon (2021). The Paranoid Style in American Diplomacy: Oil and Arab Nationalism in Iraq. Stanford University Press. p. 117. ISBN 978-1-5036-1382-9. What really happened in Iraq in February 1963 remains shrouded behind a veil of official secrecy. Many of the most relevant documents remain classified. Others were destroyed. And still others were never created in the first place.
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Further reading

  • Al-Ani, Dr. Abdul-Haq. The Trial of Saddam Hussein. ISBN 978-0-932863-58-4. Clarity Press. 2008.
  • Ashton, Nigel John et al. The Iran-Iraq War: New International Perspectives. ISBN 978-1-139-50546-8. Routledge. 2013.
  • Balaghi, Shiva. Saddam Hussein: A Biography. ISBN 978-0-313-33077-3. Greenwich Press. 2008.
  • Baram, Amatzia. Saddam Husayn and Islam, 1968–2003: Ba'thi Iraq from Secularism to Faith. ISBN 978-1-4214-1582-6. Woodrow Wilson Center Press/Johns Hopkins University Press. 2014.
  • Bozo, Frédéric. A History of the Iraq Crisis: France, the United States, and Iraq, 1991–2003 (Columbia University Press, 2016). xviii, 381 pp.
  • Braut-Hegghammer, Målfrid. 2020. "Cheater's Dilemma: Iraq, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the Path to War." International Security.
  • Faust, Aaron M. The Ba'thification of Iraq: Saddam Hussein's Totalitarianism. ISBN 978-1-4773-0557-7. University of Texas Press. 2015.
  • Gibson, Bryan R. Sold Out? US Foreign Policy, Iraq, the Kurds, and the Cold War. ISBN 978-1-137-48711-7. Palgrave Macmillan. 2015.
  • Karsh, Efraim and Inari Rautsi. Saddam Hussein: A Political Biography. ISBN 978-0-8021-3978-8. Grove Press. 2002.
  • MacKey, Sandra. The Reckoning: Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein. ISBN 978-0-393-32428-0. W. W. Norton & Company. 2003.
  • Makiya, Kanan. Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq (Updated Edition). ISBN 978-0-520-21439-2. University of California Press. 1998.
  • Murray, Williamson; Woods, Kevin M. (2014). The Iran–Iraq War: A Military and Strategic History. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-06229-0.
  • Newton, Michael A. and Michael P. Scharf. Enemy of the State: The Trial and Execution of Saddam Hussein. ISBN 978-0-312-38556-9. St. Martin's Press. 2008.
  • Sassoon, Joseph. Saddam Hussein's Ba'th Party: Inside an Authoritarian Regime. ISBN 978-0-521-14915-0. Cambridge University Press. 2011.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by President of Iraq
Succeeded by
Prime Minister of Iraq
Succeeded by
Preceded by Prime Minister of Iraq
Succeeded byas Acting President of the Governing Council of Iraq
Party political offices
Preceded by Leader of the Ba'ath Party
Succeeded by