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Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti (Arabic: صدام حسين عبد المجيد التكريتي Ṣaddām Ḥusayn ʿAbd al-Maǧīd al-Tikrītī;28 April 1937 – 30 December 2006) was the fifth President of Iraq, serving in this capacity from 16 July 1979 until 9 April 2003. A leading member of the revolutionary Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party, and later, the Baghdad-based Ba'ath Party and it's regional organisation Ba'ath Party – Iraq Region, which espoused a mix of Arab nationalism and Arab socialism, Saddam played a key role in the 1968 coup that brought the party to long-term power of Iraq.
As vice president under the ailing General Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, and at a time when many groups were considered capable of overthrowing the government, Saddam created security forces through which he tightly controlled conflict between the government and the armed forces. In the early 1970s, Saddam nationalized oil and other industries. The state-owned banks were put under his control, leaving the system eventually insolvent mostly due to the Iran–Iraq War, the Gulf War and UN sanctions. Through the 1970s, Saddam cemented his authority over the apparatuses of government as oil money helped Iraq's economy to grow at a rapid pace. Positions of power in the country were filled with Sunnis, a minority that made up only a fifth of the population.
Saddam suppressed several movements, particularly Shi'a and Kurdish movements seeking to overthrow the government or gain independence, respectively. Saddam maintained power during the Iran–Iraq War of 1980 through 1988. In 1990 he invaded and looted Kuwait. An international coalition came to free Kuwait in the Gulf War of 1991, but did not end Saddam's rule. Whereas some venerated him for his aggressive stance against Israel, including firing missiles at Israeli targets he was widely condemned for the brutality of his dictatorship.
In March 2003, a coalition of countries led by the U.S. and U.K. invaded Iraq to depose Saddam, after U.S. President George W. Bush accused him of possessing weapons of mass destruction and having ties to al-Qaeda. Saddam's Ba'ath party was disbanded and the nation made a transition to a democratic system. Following his capture on 13 December 2003 (in Operation Red Dawn), the trial of Saddam took place under the Iraqi interim government. On 5 November 2006, he was convicted of charges related to the 1982 killing of 148 Iraqi Shi'ites and was sentenced to death by hanging. The execution of Saddam Hussein was carried out on 30 December 2006.
Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti was born in the town of Al-Awja, 13 km (8 mi) from the Iraqi town of Tikrit, to a family of shepherds from the al-Begat tribal group, a sub-group of the Al-Bu Nasir (البو ناصر) tribe. His mother, Subha Tulfah al-Mussallat, named her newborn son Saddam, which in Arabic means "One who confronts"; he is always referred to by this personal name, which may be followed by the patronymic and other elements. He never knew his father, Hussein 'Abid al-Majid, who disappeared six months before Saddam was born. Shortly afterward, Saddam's 13-year-old brother died of cancer. The infant Saddam was sent to the family of his maternal uncle Khairallah Talfah until he was three
His mother remarried, and Saddam gained three half-brothers through this marriage. His stepfather, Ibrahim al-Hassan, treated Saddam harshly after his return. At about age 10, Saddam fled the family and returned to live in Baghdad with his uncle Kharaillah Tulfah. Tulfah, the father of Saddam's future wife, was a devout Sunni Muslim and a veteran from the 1941 Anglo-Iraqi War between Iraqi nationalists and the United Kingdom, which remained a major colonial power in the region. Later in his life relatives from his native Tikrit 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.
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, monarchists). 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.
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. The Ba'athists opposed the new government, and in 1959 Saddam was involved in the unsuccessful United States-backed plot to assassinate Qasim.
Rise to powerArmy officers with ties to the Ba'ath Party overthrew Qasim in a coup in 1963. 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. Saddam returned to Iraq, but was imprisoned in 1964. Just prior to his imprisonment and until 1968, Saddam held the position of Ba'ath party secretary. He escaped from prison in 1967 and quickly became a leading member of the party. In 1968, Saddam participated in a bloodless coup led by Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr that overthrew Abdul Rahman Arif. 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.
Iraq was a strategic buffer state for the United States against the Soviet Union, and Saddam was often seen as an anti-Soviet leader in the 1960s and 1970s. Some even suggested that John F. Kennedy's administration supported the Ba'ath party's takeover.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 Hussein clearly had become the moving force behind the party.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, as vice chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, formally the al-Bakr's second-in-command, Saddam built a reputation as a progressive, effective politician. 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.
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. Stable rule in a country rife with factionalism required[dubious ] both massive repression and the improvement of living standards.
Saddam actively fostered the modernization of the Iraqi economy along with the creation of a strong security apparatus to prevent coups within the power structure and insurrections apart from it. Ever concerned with broadening his base of support among the diverse elements of Iraqi society and mobilizing mass support, he closely followed the administration of state welfare and development programs.
At the center of this strategy was Iraq's oil. On 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.
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).
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.
Saddam was lucky for the revenue. The Economist described the sentiments, stating that "Much as Adolf Hitler won early praise for galvanising 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-aggrandising propaganda, with himself posing as the defender of Arabism against Jewish 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."
In 1972 Saddam started developing his chemical weapons program. In 1973 he signed a 15-year Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union.
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. 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
Development went forward at such a fevered pitch that two million people from other Arab countries and even Yugoslavia worked in Iraq to meet the growing demand for labor.
SuccessionIn 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 Hafez 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.
Shortly afterwards, he convened an assembly of Ba'ath party leaders on 22 July 1979. During the assembly, which he ordered videotaped (viewable via this reference), 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.