When Saddam Hussein became Iraq’s fifth President, the world had no idea that the Middle East was about to enter a period of struggle, war, and sectarian violence. With the power he possessed, he presented Iraq with a picture of the future that, if realized, would have been a reality that even the rich West would have admired. Indeed, Iraq was on its way to grandeur like it hadn’t seen in centuries within the first couple decades of his reign. It is generally said that he presided over the country’s brightest and worst days. His ideas for resolving what seemed like an endless religious unrest in Iraq were beyond praise, and he received widespread acclaim from both his compatriots and the rest of the world. During his reign, illiteracy, unemployment, and poverty were long forgotten, and Iraq’s development was accelerated. Until the commencement of the Iraq-Iran conflict, Saddam basked in the splendor of his country’s economic, social, and industrial progress. The glory days were short-lived, and the country was reduced to a barren wasteland as a result of never-ending skirmishes and battles with neighboring countries, and then with the West.
Childhood and Adolescence
Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti was born into a shepherd family and was given the name ‘Saddam’ by his mother, which means ‘one who confronts’ in Arabic.
His father abandoned the family when he was just six months old, leaving him completely in the care of his mother. To make matters worse, his teenage brother died of cancer, and he was placed in the care of his maternal uncle Khairallah Talfah, where he resided until he was three years old.
His mother remarried soon after, and the toddler was returned to her. Saddam, then ten years old, escaped to Baghdad to live with his uncle again, upset by his stepfather’s frequent mistreatment.
The Ba’ath Party: An Overview
He attended al-Karh Secondary School in Baghdad before dropping out. Soon after, he was introduced to the Ba’ath Party, which takes its name from Ba’athism, an Arab nationalist philosophy that advocates for the establishment of single-party nations to remove the political pluralism that exists in the Arabian Peninsula. He was greatly affected by this philosophy and joined the party as an active member in 1957.
In what is known as the 14 July Revolution, an army led by General Abd al-Karim Qasim, a Ba’athist, overthrew Faisal II, Iraq’s final king, in 1958.
Iraq was declared a republic, and Qasim was appointed Prime Minister, despite the fact that he was a Ba’athist who opposed Iraq joining the United Arab Republic. His association with the Iraqi Communist Party enraged the Ba’ath Party, prompting other members to take action against him.
A plot to assassinate the prime minister was devised, and Saddam was tasked with carrying it out. On October 7, 1959, the group opened fire in an attempt to kill Qasim, but the prime minister was only wounded due to a significant blunder on their part. The assassins, on the other hand, concluded Qasim was dead and departed the scene.
Fearing arrest after the plot failed, Saddam Hussein fled to Syria, where he was promised sanctuary by Michel Aflaq, one of Ba’athism’s co-founders. Aflaq was so pleased by his devotion to Ba’athism that he later made him one of the Ba’ath party’s leaders in Iraq.
With the support of the Ba’athists, members of the Free Officers of Iraq, an undercover militant organization, overthrew Qasim in 1963. Abdul Salam Arif, a member of the Iraqi Free Officers, was elected president and named a number of Ba’ath figures to his new cabinet. Saddam and other expatriate leaders returned to Iraq with high aspirations for a better future, but Arif surprised them by dismissing all of the Ba’athists from his government and ordering their imprisonment.
Saddam was appointed Deputy Secretary of the Ba’ath Party’s Regional Command in 1966, while still in prison. In 1967, he escaped from prison and determined to rebuild and revitalize his organization, as well as improve its position in Iraq.
Ascend to the top
In a bloodless coup led by his party, then-president Abdul Rahman Arif was deposed, and Ba’athist leader Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr was elected president, with Saddam as his deputy.
Despite the fact that al-Bakr was the president, it was his deputy who wielded actual authority at the center, introducing himself as Iraq’s revolutionary leader, addressing the country’s major domestic challenges while striving toward advancement.
Saddam’s political initiatives were mostly motivated by his desire to pacify his country, which was beset by internal strife at the time. In accordance with this objective, he pushed Iraq’s modernisation and began restoring the infrastructure, industry, and health-care system, unlike his traditional predecessors.
Iraq prospered under this new system, with the standard of life of Iraqis rising and the social services system becoming so powerful that the socio-economic indicators of neighboring countries were dwarfed by leaps and bounds.
Thousands of children attended schools as a result of his initiatives, such as the “National Campaign for the Eradication of Illiteracy” and “Compulsory Free Education in Iraq,” which significantly increased the country’s literacy rate.
Soldiers’ families began to be recognized as national duties, and financial help was offered to them as part of a series of extraordinary progressive reforms in Iraq. Hospitalization was made free for all, and farmers were given incentives to boost agriculture.
One of his key reform achievements was nationalizing Iraq’s oil industry soon before the 1973 energy crisis, which resulted in massive revenue for the country. Around the same time, he aided the construction of Iraq’s first chemical weapons system and implemented advanced security systems to prevent future coups.
Ascension to the Presidency and the Iran-Iraq Conflict
President al-Bakr began his efforts to unify Iraq and Syria in 1979, which would have made Syrian President Hafez al-Assad the new government’s deputy leader. Saddam clearly saw this as a threat, as Assad’s popularity would have overshadowed him.
He forced al-Bakr to quit and declared himself president, putting an end to the unification efforts. Following his appointment as cabinet chief, he called a meeting in which the names of 68 people, purportedly his political opponents, were read aloud, and they were all tried and found guilty of treason. While just 22 of his opponents were sentenced to death, by early 1979, the majority of his opponents had been executed.
In the same year, an Islamic revolution in Iran led by Ayatollah Khomeini began to spread into Iraq. As the uprising had a major impact on Shi’ite Iran and the risks of a similar revolution in Iraq mounted, this tyrant, whose power and stability were based primarily on his country’s minority Sunni population, grew concerned.
On September 22, 1980, Hussein dispatched his armed forces to take the oil-rich area of Khuzestan in Iran in order to prevent any internal uprisings in Iraq. This move was the final straw for neighboring Iran, and what may have remained a minor disagreement escalated into a full-fledged war between the two countries.
During the conflict, Europe and the United States, as well as the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, overlooked his brutal use of weapons of mass destruction, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians. All of these countries were concerned about the growth of Islamic radicalism in the Arab world, so they put their faith in his modernist worldview.
Finally, on August 20, 1988, after the conflict had wreaked havoc on both sides and claimed the lives of at least a million people, a ceasefire was announced and the war was declared over.
The conflict had taken a toll on Iraq’s economy and infrastructure, necessitating rapid government attention, and the country was faced with the job of rebuilding itself. The president was searching for a method to reclaim his region’s socioeconomic dominance.
His first action was to approach Kuwait, a wealthy and prosperous country, to have a $30 million debt forgiven that he had incurred during the conflict. Later, however, tensions between the two countries arose as a result of Kuwait’s refusal to boost exporting oil prices in response to Iraq’s demands.
Saddam besieged Kuwait, saying that it was historically a part of Iraq and even possessed oil riches within its disputed borders, frustrated by Kuwait’s insubordination and desperate for an immediate financial rebirth of his country. On August 2, 1990, he attacked this oil-rich country based on the same basis.
The Kuwaiti invasion
Kuwait was captured by Iraq on August 28, 1990, and was designated as the 19th governorate province of Iraq. The Gulf countries reacted angrily to his invasion of Kuwait, and practically all of them turned against him.
The US was also opposed to this plan, and in August 1990, it worked with the UN to approve a resolution ordering the Iraqi forces to leave Kuwait by January 1991.
This belligerent dictator’s flagrant violation of the resolution prompted the United States to send troops into Kuwait in February 1991 to drive Iraqi troops out.
Iraq was urged to relinquish and dismantle its chemical weapons after a ceasefire deal was reached. Despite a humiliating setback, Iraq’s president brazenly declared victory in the Gulf war.
The Internal Disputes
The Gulf War exacerbated Iraq’s economic problems and fueled existing conflicts such as Shi’as vs. Sunnis and Arabs vs. Kurds, resulting in many upheavals.
Rebellions erupted in several places of Iraq, especially in the north, where Kurds made up the bulk of the population, and in the south, where Shi’as predominated. Angry and angry revolutionaries vowed to put an end to the totalitarian regime that threatened the president’s position.
These upheavals were sparked by the United States, which incited Iraqis to revolt against their president, but did little to support the revolutionaries when he deployed his security forces to quell the protests. Because the uprisings were unorganized, the armed forces had little trouble smashing them.
Saddam, who had already declared victory in the Gulf War, now saw the destruction of the insurgents as “evidence” of his victory over the United States. His win drew praise from many Arab factions, who pledged their support. They all considered the United States as a shared enemy and despised foreign meddling in their own affairs.
He pretended to be a devoted Muslim in order to placate the orthodox Muslim elements and began cooperating with them. He even had a ‘Blood Qur’an’ written in his own blood to thank God for rescuing him and his nation from such dire circumstances.
His troops repeatedly violated the ‘no-fly zone’ imposed after the Gulf War in 1993. On June 26, 1993, the United States retaliated by bombing Iraq’s intelligence headquarters in Baghdad. Following a brief period of compliance, Iraq violated the no-fly zone once more in 1998, much to the chagrin of the United States.
The United States also accused Iraq of continuing its weapons development projects, and initiated a series of missile attacks on Baghdad that lasted until February 2001.
When the twin towers were attacked in September 2001, the US stated that Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda were both responsible. As a result, the Bush administration declared “War on Terror” in 2003, and US soldiers invaded Iraq.
Iraqi Invasion and Saddam Hussein’s Fall (Seizure, Trial & Execution)
After a series of attacks, the US controlled the majority of Iraq on March 20, 2003, and ordered Saddam Hussein’s arrest. He went underground, but continued to release audio records critical of the US invasion. Meanwhile, in July 2003, his sons Uday and Qusay, as well as his 14-year-old grandson Mustapha, were slain in an encounter with US troops.
Finally, on December 13, 2003, his locations were discovered and he was apprehended hiding in a shallow trench near a farmhouse in ad-Dawr. He was transferred to a US facility in Baghdad and remained there until June 30, 2004, when he was handed over to the interim Iraqi government for trial.
On November 5, 2006, this former Iraqi president was sentenced to death after being found guilty of many crimes against humanity. He was hanged on the first day of Eid ul-Adha, December 30, 2006, against his wishes to be shot, which he considered a more respectable manner of dying.
Personal Experiences of Saddam Hussein
Sajida Talfah, his first wife, was his cousin, whom he married in 1958. Khairallah Talfah, his maternal uncle, was her father. Uday Hussein, Qusay Hussein, Raghad Hussein, Rana Hussein, and Hala Hussein are the five children he had with her.
Samira Shahbandar was his second wife, whom he married in 1986. Shahbandar was married to an Iraqi Airways executive before they married, but she stayed with the dictator as his mistress. Saddam later compelled Shahbandar’s spouse to divorce her in order for them to marry.
His third wife was Nidal al-Hamdani, the general manager of the Council of Scientific Research’s Solar Energy Research Center. He was also said to have married Wafa el-Mullah al-Howeish for the fourth time in 2002.
Estimated Net Worth
Hussein had a net worth of $2 billion dollars.
This former president formally accepted Islam in 1999 to demonstrate his dedication to the religion after being labeled “unIslamic” by the Arab world. He also claimed to be the Prophet Muhammad’s direct descendant.
This dictator commissioned the ‘Blood Qur’an’ in 1997, for which he gave many liters of his own blood over a two-year period. This well-known dictator amassed a sizable collection of gold-plated firearms.