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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 December 2006, 05:37 GMT
Obituary: Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein was president of Iraq from 1979 until 2003
During more than two decades as leader of Iraq, Saddam Hussein's violent methods and uncompromising stance thrust his country onto the world stage.

Saddam Hussein's road to absolute power began in Tikrit, central Iraq, where he was born in 1937.

His stepfather beat him as a child, introducing him to the brutality and bullying which would mark his own life.

Joining up with the clandestine Baath party in 1956, he participated in a failed attempt to assassinate military ruler General Abdul Karim Qassem.

In a country where politics was always a violent game, his talents took him swiftly to the top.

Saddam Hussein with General al-Bakr
Saddam Hussein (left) with General al-Bakr (centre)

Saddam was forced to flee Iraq in 1959 and spent four years in exile in Cairo.

Back in Iraq, he rose through the party ranks. When it finally seized power from Abdul Rahman Mohammed Aref in 1968, Saddam Hussein emerged as the number two figure behind Gen Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr.

Now the power behind the throne, he took over when Bakr was quietly shunted aside in July 1979 and began the reign of terror that was to keep him in power for so long.

Saddam Hussein took the posts of prime minister, chairman of the Revolution Command Council and armed forces commander-in-chief.

Within a year, he launched Iraq into a massive and risky adventure.

Iran-Iraq conflict

Seeing himself as the new leader and champion of all Arabs, Saddam Hussein poured his army across the border into western Iran in September 1980, hoping to defuse a potential threat from the new Islamic revolution.

The disastrous war lasted eight years and claimed a million lives.

An Iraqi missile is paraded
The president strengthened Iraq's military capability

The US quietly backed him, ignoring Iraq's human rights record and atrocities like the killing of 148 people in the mostly Shia town of Dujail after a failed assassination attempt against him in July 1982, and the gassing of 5,000 Kurdish villagers of Halabja in March 1988.

After the ceasefire with Iran that August, Saddam Hussein's constant striving for regional supremacy intensified.

His experts produced special long-range missiles and pursued ambitious nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programmes.


But war with Iran had crippled the Iraqi economy and the Iraqi leader desperately needed to increase his oil revenues.

In August 1990, he accused Kuwait of driving the price of oil down, invaded and annexed the emirate.

A Kuwaiti oil well on fire in 1991
1991: Kuwait's oilfields ablaze

Weeks of US-led bombing, during what Saddam Hussein had famously described as the "Mother of All Battles", reduced Iraq's infrastructure to ruins, and wrought havoc among front-line troops.

Operation Desert Storm, the subsequent ground assault in January 1991 to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait left thousands of Iraqi soldiers dead, wounded or captured.

Retreating troops set fire to the country's oil wells, turning day to night and precipitating a vast ecological disaster.

Kurds flee

But this time, the Iraqi president's blunders did lead to consequences at home. Encouraged by the first US President George Bush to rise up, the Shia of southern Iraq revolted.

But the Western powers did nothing, as Saddam Hussein ruthlessly restored his grip on the south.

Kurdish refugees
Tide of humanity: Kurdish refugees

In the north, he attacked the rebellious Kurds. Millions fled into the freezing mountains and the West was forced to impose a "safe haven", maintained by a constant air umbrella, over the area.

The following year, the Western powers imposed a no-fly zone in the south, to give some sort of protection to the Shia.

To add to his humiliations, after his ejection from Kuwait, the Iraqi leader was forced to agree to the elimination of all his weapons of mass destruction by the UN.

'Regime change'

Stringent international sanctions remained in full force in the years after the Gulf War, causing a near-collapse of the Iraqi currency and leading to infighting in the power structure.

A bombed-out Iraqi bridge
The first Gulf War destroyed much of Iraq's infrastructure

His two sons-in-law defected, but both were murdered after being persuaded to return to Iraq.

President George W Bush's election in 2000 increased the pressure. Washington now talked openly of "regime change".

And, following the 11 September 2001 attacks on Washington and New York, the US named Iraq a "rogue state".

UN weapons inspectors returned to Iraq in November 2002 and resumed their search. Iraq destroyed a number of missiles and said it had neutralised its stocks of anthrax.

As an Iranian, I hated Saddam for what he did to my country. But, as a human being, I feel sorry for him
Farhad Assar, Edinburgh

Mr Bush remained suspicious, claiming that the Iraqi leader was building and hiding weapons to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilised world.

Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix reported that Iraq had accelerated its co-operation and there was no evidence of a new weapons programme, but the US and UK declared the diplomatic process over.

Coalition forces invaded Iraq in March 2003, despite not securing a new UN resolution authorising such action.

Saddam Hussein's reign was brought to a violent end and he disappeared after the fall of Baghdad on 9 April, becoming the US military's most wanted fugitive in Iraq.


His two sons, Uday and Qusay, were killed by US troops in a raid on a house near Mosul, northern Iraq, on 22 July.

Saddam Hussein after his capture
The US said Saddam Hussein offered no resistance

And in December 2003, US officials announced that the former president had been captured near Tikrit.

While world leaders and many Iraqis welcomed the capture, there were angry protests in towns throughout the Iraqi area known as the Sunni Triangle.

Saddam Hussein was transferred to the Iraqi authorities on 30 June 2004 following the handover of sovereignty to Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's interim government. His trial opened in Baghdad the next day.


Saddam Hussein was defiant. He challenged the legality of the proceedings, which he said were brought about by the "invasion forces", and refused to sign the charge sheet without his lawyers present.

Saddam Hussein kisses a woman in Dujail (1982 TV footage)
Saddam Hussein was filmed on a visit to the town of Dujail in 1982
In July 2005, the tribunal laid the first charges against Saddam Hussein and seven other former regime members for crimes against humanity in Dujail.

The case was chosen by prosecutors because they believed it would be the easiest to compile and prosecute.

Saddam Hussein pleaded not guilty when his trial opened in Baghdad on 19 October, 2005.

His co-defendants included Barzan al-Tikriti, Saddam Hussein's half-brother and former head of Iraq's intelligence service and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, former Revolutionary Court chief judge.

All three were sentenced to death by an Iraqi court on 5 November 2006 after a year-long trial.

The former president was executed 56 days after the death sentence was passed, after Iraq's highest court rejected an appeal on 25 December.

Saddam Hussein's rule was characterised by a mixture of megalomania and paranoia. His monuments were everywhere.

He even had Nebuchadnezzar's palace rebuilt, with his own name printed on the bricks.

Scared for his own security, he slept in a different place every night and used up to eight doubles.

Beneath the surface, his power was wielded through the armed forces and a complex web of intelligence organisations.

Though he failed in his ambition of unifying the Arabs under his leadership, Saddam Hussein remained, even after being put on trial, defiant as ever.

Saddam Hussein's fall from power

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