A leading member of the revolutionary Ba'ath Party, which espoused secular pan-Arabism, economic modernization, and Arab socialism, Saddam played a key role in the 1968 coup that brought the party to long-term power. As vice president under the ailing General Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, Saddam tightly controlled conflict between the government and the armed forces — at a time when many other groups were considered capable of overthrowing the government — by creating repressive security forces. In the early 1970s, Saddam spearheaded Iraq's nationalization of the Western-owned Iraq Petroleum Company, which had long held a monopoly on the country's oil. Through the 1970s, Saddam cemented his authority over the apparatuses of government as Iraq's economy grew at a rapid pace.
As president, Saddam maintained power during the Iran–Iraq War (1980-1988) and the first Persian Gulf War (1991). During these conflicts, Saddam repressed movements he considered threatening to the stability of Iraq, particularly Shi'a and Kurdish movements seeking to overthrow the government or gain independence, respectively. Whereas some Arabs looked upon him as a hero for his aggressive stance against foreign intervention and for his support for the Palestinians, United States leaders continued to view Saddam with deep suspicion following the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Saddam was deposed by the U.S. and its allies during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Captured by U.S. forces on December 13, 2003, Saddam was brought to trial under the Iraqi interim government set up by U.S.-led forces. On November 5, 2006, he was convicted of charges related to the executions of 148 Iraqi Shi'ites suspected of planning an assassination attempt against him, and was sentenced to death by hanging. Saddam was executed on December 30, 2006.
His mother remarried, and Saddam gained three half-brothers through this marriage. His stepfather, Ibrahim al-Hassan, treated Saddam harshly after his return. At around ten, 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 would become some of his closest advisors and supporters. According to Saddam, he learned many things from his uncle, a militant Iraqi nationalist. 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, prior to dropping out in 1957, at the age of twenty, 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 would profoundly influence young Ba'athists like Saddam. The rise of Nasser foreshadowed a wave of revolutions throughout the Middle East in the 1950s and 1960s, which would see the collapse of the monarchies of Iraq, Egypt, and Libya. Nasser inspired nationalists throughout the Middle East for standing up to the British and the French during the Suez Crisis of 1956, and for striving to modernize Egypt and unite the Arab world politically. (Humphreys, 68)
In 1958, a year after Saddam had joined the Ba'ath party, army officers led by General Abdul Karim Qassim overthrew Faisal II of Iraq. The Ba'athists opposed the new government, and in 1959, Saddam was involved in the attempted United States-backed plot to assassinate Qassim.
Army officers with ties to the Ba'ath Party overthrew Qassim 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 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 Baathist 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.
Various U.S. diplomats and intelligence officials have asserted that Saddam was strongly linked with the CIA, and that U.S. intelligence, under President John F. Kennedy, helped Saddam's party seize power for the first time in 1963.
Saddam Hussein in the past was seen by U.S. intelligence services as a bulwark of anti-communism in the 1960s and 1970s. His first contacts with U.S. officials date back to 1959, when he was part of a CIA-authorized six-man squad tasked with ousting then Iraqi Prime Minister Abdul Karim Qassim.
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 Baathists 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. (Humphreys, 78) Stable rule in a country rife with factionalism required both massive repression and the improvement of living standards. (Humphreys, 78)
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 June 1, 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).
To diversify 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 revolutionized 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, where Saddam himself was born and raised, and roughly two-thirds were peasants. But this number would decrease quickly during the 1970s as the country invested much of its oil profits into industrial expansion.
Nevertheless, Saddam focused on fostering loyalty to the Ba'athist government 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, in which profits were distributed according to the labors of the individual and the unskilled were trained. The government's commitment to agrarian reform was demonstrated by the doubling of expenditures for agricultural development in 1974-1975. Moreover, agrarian reform in Iraq improved the living standard of the peasantry and increased production, though not to the levels for which Saddam had hoped.
Saddam became personally associated with Ba'athist welfare and economic development programs in the eyes of many Iraqis, widening his appeal both within his traditional base and among new sectors of the population. These programs were part of a combination of "carrot and stick" tactics to enhance support in the working class, the peasantry, and within the party and the government bureaucracy.
Saddam's organizational prowess was credited with Iraq's rapid pace of development in the 1970s; development went forward at such a fevered pitch that two million persons from other Arab countries and even Yugoslavia worked in Iraq to meet the growing demand for labor.
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 July 16, 1979, and formally assumed the presidency.
Shortly afterwards, he convened an assembly of Ba'ath party leaders on July 22, 1979. During the assembly, which he ordered videotaped, Saddam claimed to have found spies and conspirators within the Ba'ath Party and read out the names of 68 members that he alleged to be such fifth columnists. 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 put on trial, and 22 were sentenced to execution for treason.
Domestic conflict impeded Saddam's modernizing projects. Iraqi society is divided along lines of language, religion and ethnicity; Saddam's government rested on the support of the 20% minority of largely working class, peasant, and lower middle class Sunnis, continuing a pattern that dates back at least to the British colonial authority's reliance on them as administrators.
The Shi'a majority were long a source of opposition to the government's secular policies, and the Ba'ath Party was increasingly concerned about potential Shi'a Islamist influence following the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The Kurds of northern Iraq (who are Sunni Muslims but not Arabs) were also permanently hostile to the Ba'athist party's pan-Arabism. To maintain power Saddam tended either to provide them with benefits so as to co-opt them into the regime, or to take repressive measures against them. The major instruments for accomplishing this control were the paramilitary and police organizations. Beginning in 1974, Taha Yassin Ramadan, a close associate of Saddam, commanded the People's Army, which was responsible 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 (Mukhabarat) was the most notorious arm of the state security system, feared for its use of torture and assassination. It was commanded by Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam's younger half-brother. Since 1982, foreign observers believed that this department operated both at home and abroad in their mission to seek out and eliminate Saddam's perceived opponents.
Saddam justified Iraqi nationalism by claiming a unique role of Iraq in the history of the Arab world. As president, Saddam made frequent references to the Abbasid period, when Baghdad was the political, cultural, and economic capital of the Arab world. He also promoted Iraq's pre-Islamic role as Mesopotamia, the ancient cradle of civilization, alluding to such historical figures as Nebuchadrezzar II and Hammurabi. He devoted resources to archaeological explorations. In effect, Saddam sought to combine pan-Arabism and Iraqi nationalism, by promoting the vision of an Arab world united and led by Iraq.
As a sign of his consolidation of power, Saddam's personality cult pervaded Iraqi society. Thousands of portraits, posters, statues and murals were erected in his honor all over Iraq. His face could be seen on the sides of office buildings, schools, airports, and shops, as well as on Iraqi currency. Saddam's personality cult reflected his efforts to appeal to the various elements in Iraqi society. He appeared in the costumes of the Bedouin, the traditional clothes of the Iraqi peasant (which he essentially wore during his childhood), and even Kurdish clothing, but also appeared in Western suits, projecting the image of an urbane and modern leader. Sometimes he would also be portrayed as a devout Muslim, wearing full headdress and robe, praying toward Mecca.
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. However, 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 Persian Gulf War in 1991.
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 1976, 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 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 June 7, 1981 by an Israeli air strike (Operation Opera).
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. (Humphreys, 120) 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 even Iraqi bombing of Kurdish villages in Iran, which caused Iraqi relations with Iran to deteriorate. However, after Saddam had negotiated the 1975 treaty with Iran, the Shah withdrew support for the Kurds, who suffered a total defeat.
In 1979 Iran's Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown by the Islamic Revolution, thus giving way to an Islamic republic led by the Ayatollah Khomeini. The influence of revolutionary Shi'ite Islam grew apace in the region, particularly in countries with large Shi'ite populations, especially Iraq. Saddam feared that radical Islamic ideas — hostile to his secular rule — were rapidly spreading inside his country among the majority Shi'ite population.
There had also been bitter enmity between Saddam and Khomeini since the 1970s. Khomeini, having been exiled from Iran in 1964, took up residence in Iraq, at the Shi'ite holy city of An Najaf. There he involved himself with Iraqi Shi'ites and developed a strong, worldwide religious and political following. Under pressure from the Shah, who had agreed to a rapprochement between Iraq and Iran in 1975, Saddam agreed to expel Khomeini in 1978.
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. 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. However, 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. Iraq invaded Iran, first attacking Mehrabad Airport of Tehran and then entering the oil-rich Iranian land of Khuzestan, which also has a sizeable Arab minority, on September 22, 1980 and declared it a new province of Iraq. With the support of the Arab states, the United States, the Soviet Union, 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 Iran. Consequently, many viewed Iraq as 'an agent of the civilized world'. The blatant disregard of international law and violations of international borders were ignored. Instead Iraq received economic and military support from its allies, who conveniently overlooked Saddam's use of chemical warfare against the Kurds and the Iranians and Iraq's efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
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. At this point, Saddam asked his ministers for candid advice. Health Minister Riyadh Ibrahim suggested that Saddam temporarily step down to promote peace negotiations. Pieces of Ibrahim’s dismembered body were delivered to his wife the next day.
Iraq quickly found itself bogged down in one of the longest and most destructive wars of attrition of the twentieth century. 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. These chemical weapons were developed by Iraq from materials and technology supplied primarily by West German companies.
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. Iraq successfully gained some military and financial aid, as well as diplomatic and moral support, from the Soviet Union, China, France, and the United States, which together feared the prospects of the expansion of revolutionary Iran's influence in the region. 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 August 20, 1988.
On March 16, 1988, the Kurdish town of Halabja was attacked with a mix of mustard gas and nerve agents, killing 5,000 civilians, and maiming, disfiguring, or seriously debilitating 10,000 more. (see Halabja poison gas attack) The attack occurred in conjunction with the 1988 al-Anfal campaign designed to reassert central control of the mostly Kurdish population of areas of northern Iraq and defeat the Kurdish peshmerga rebel forces. The United States now maintains that Saddam ordered the attack to terrorize the Kurdish population in northern Iraq, but Saddam's regime claimed at the time that Iran was responsible for the attack and US analysts supported the claim until several years later.
The bloody eight-year war ended in a stalemate. There were hundreds of thousands of casualties with estimates of up to one million dead for both sides total. Both economies, previously healthy and expanding, were left in ruins.
Iraq was also stuck with a war debt of roughly $75 billion . Borrowing money from the U.S. was making Iraq dependent on outside loans, embarrassing a leader who had sought to define Arab nationalism. Saddam also borrowed a tremendous amount of money from other Arab states during the 1980s to fight Iran. Faced with rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure, Saddam desperately sought out cash once again, this time for postwar reconstruction.
Also to raise money for postwar reconstruction, Saddam pushed oil-exporting countries to raise oil prices by cutting back oil production. Kuwait refused to cut production. In addition to refusing the request, Kuwait spearheaded 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 a huge debt.
On another compelling level, Saddam Hussein and many Iraqis considered the boundary line between Iraq and Kuwait, cutting Iraq off from the sea, a historical wrong imposed by British imperial officials in 1922. (Humphreys, 105) Saddam was not alone in this belief. For at least half a century, Iraqi nationalists were espousing emphatically the belief that Kuwait was historically an integral part of Iraq, and that Kuwait had only come into being through the maneuverings of British imperialism. 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. (Humphreys, 105)
The colossal extent of Kuwaiti oil reserves also intensified tensions in the region. The oil reserves of Kuwait (with a population of a mere 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; as an article of comparison, Saudi Arabia holds 25 percent. (Humphreys, 105)
Furthermore Saddam argued that the Kuwaiti monarchy had slant drilled oil out of wells that Iraq considered to be within its disputed border with Kuwait. Given that at the time Iraq was not regarded as a pariah state, Saddam was able to complain about the slant drilling to the U.S. State Department. Although this had continued for years, Saddam now needed oil money to stem a looming economic crisis. 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.
As Iraq-Kuwait relations rapidly deteriorated, Saddam was receiving conflicting information about how the U.S. 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 Saddam roughly $40 billion in aid in the 1980s to fight Iran, nearly all of it on credit. The U.S. also sent billions of dollars to Saddam to keep him from forming a strong alliance with the Soviets. Saddam's Iraq became "the third-largest recipient of US assistance .
U.S. ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie met with Saddam in an emergency meeting on July 25, where the Iraqi leader stated his intention to continue talks. U.S. 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. Whatever Glapsie did or did not say in her interview with Saddam, the Iraqis assumed that the United States had invested too much in building relations with Iraq over the 1980s to sacrifice them for Kuwait. (Humphreys, 106) Later, Iraq and Kuwait then met for a final negotiation session, which failed. Saddam then sent his troops into Kuwait.
Although no reliable first-hand information on Saddam's appraisal of the situation exists, we can surmise from the prewar standpoint of the Iraqi leader and his interests and the conflicting prewar signals from Washington that the invasion was likely born out of Iraq's postwar debt problem and faltering attempts to gain the resources needed for postwar reconstruction, rebuild the devastated Iraqi economy, and stabilize the domestic political situation.
On August 2, 1990, Saddam invaded and annexed Kuwait, thus sparking an international crisis. 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.'
The U.S. had provided assistance to Saddam Hussein in the war with Iran, but with Iraq's seizure of the oil-rich emirate of Kuwait in August 1990 the United States led a United Nations coalition that drove Iraq's troops from Kuwait in February 1991. The ability for Saddam Hussein to pursue such military aggression was from 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.'
U.S. 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 had the most friendly relations with the Soviets. 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. 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. President Bush was perhaps swayed while meeting with the tough British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who happened to be in the U.S. at the time.
Co-operation between the United States and the Soviet Union made possible the passage of resolutions in the United Nations Security Council giving Iraq a deadline to leave Kuwait and approving the use of force if Saddam did not comply with the timetable. U.S. 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 U.S. and a group of allies, including countries as diverse as Egypt, Syria and Czechoslovakia, deployed massive amounts of troops along the Saudi border with Kuwait and Iraq in order to encircle the Iraqi army, the largest in the Middle East.
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 U.S.- 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 U.S.-led coalition launched round-the-clock missile and aerial attacks on Iraq, beginning January 16, 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 comprised largely of U.S. and British armoured and infantry divisions ejected Saddam's army from Kuwait in February 1991 and occupied the southern portion of Iraq as far as the Euphrates.
On March 6, 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."
In the end, the over-manned and under-equipped 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.
The United States, which had urged Iraqis to rise up against Saddam, did nothing to assist the rebellions. The Iranians, who had earlier called for the overthrow of Saddam, had lost all interest in removing him from power after the disastrous war ended, and when Khomeini died his successor Ayatollah Khamenei, who promised he would remove Saddam from power once and for all, did little and simply sat back and watched. U.S. ally 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. Saddam routinely cited his survival as "proof" that Iraq had in fact won the war against America. This message earned Saddam a great deal of popularity in many sectors of the Arab world. John Esposito, however, claims that '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. 'As one U.S. Muslim observer 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.'
Saddam, therefore, increasingly portrayed himself as a devout Muslim, in an effort to co-opt the conservative religious segments of society. Some elements of Sharia law were re-introduced, and the ritual phrase "Allahu Akbar" ("God is great"), in Saddam's handwriting, was added to the national flag.
Relations between the United States and Iraq remained tense following the Gulf War. The U.S. launched a missile attack aimed at Iraq's intelligence headquarters in Baghdad June 26, 1993, citing evidence of repeated Iraqi violations of the "no fly zones" imposed after the Gulf War and for incursions into Kuwait. Some speculated that it was in retaliation for Iraq's sponsorship of a plot to kill former President George H. W. Bush.
The UN sanctions placed upon Iraq when it invaded Kuwait were not lifted, blocking Iraqi oil exports. This caused immense hardship in Iraq and virtually destroyed the Iraqi economy and state infrastructure. Only smuggling across the Syrian border, and humanitarian aid ameliorated the humanitarian crisis. On December 9, 1996 the United Nations allowed Saddam's government to begin selling limited amounts of oil for food and medicine. Limited amounts of income from the United Nations started flowing into Iraq through the UN Oil for Food program.
U.S. 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 and "no-fly zones." Isolated military strikes by U.S. and British forces continued on Iraq sporadically, the largest being Operation Desert Fox in 1998. Western charges of Iraqi resistance to UN access to suspected weapons were the pretext for crises between 1997 and 1998, culminating in intensive U.S. and British missile strikes on Iraq, December 16-19, 1998. After two years of intermittent activity, U.S. and British warplanes struck harder at sites near Baghdad in February, 2001.
Saddam's support base of Tikriti tribesmen, family members, and other supporters was divided after the war, and in the following years, contributing to the government's increasingly repressive and arbitrary nature. Domestic repression inside Iraq grew worse, and Saddam's sons, Uday Hussein and Qusay Hussein, became increasingly powerful and carried out a private reign of terror. They likely had a leading hand when, in August 1995, two of Saddam Hussein's sons-in-law (Hussein Kamel and Saddam Kamel), who held high positions in the Iraqi military, defected to Jordan. Both were killed after returning to Iraq the following February.
Iraqi co-operation with UN weapons inspection teams was intermittent throughout the 1990s. It now appears more likely that Iraq was playing a game of bluff, hoping to convince the Western powers and the other Arab states that Iraq was still a power to be reckoned with, than that Iraq was hiding significant stockpiles of prohibited materials.
The U.S. continued to view Saddam as a bellicose tyrant who was a threat to the stability of the region. Saddam, meanwhile, was embittered by the aftermath of the Gulf War, which he viewed as a betrayal by a nation that once considered him an indispensable ally. 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.
The domestic political equation changed in the U.S. after the September 11, 2001 attacks, which bolstered the influence of the neoconservative faction in the presidential administration and throughout Washington. In his January 2002 state of the union address to Congress, 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 alleged threat of its "weapons of mass destruction." Bush claimed, "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," said Bush.
As the war was looming on February 24, 2003, Saddam Hussein talked with CBS News reporter Dan Rather for more than three hours — his first interview with a U.S. reporter in over a decade. CBS aired the taped interview later that week.
The Iraqi government and military collapsed within three weeks of the beginning of the U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq on March 20. The United States made at least two attempts to kill Saddam with targeted air strikes, but both failed to hit their target, killing civilians instead. By the beginning of April, U.S.-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 U.S-led forces on April 9, Saddam was nowhere to be found.
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 was authenticated. At various times Saddam released audio tapes promoting popular resistance to the U.S.-led occupation.
On December 14, 2003, U.S. administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer announced that Saddam Hussein had been captured at a farmhouse in ad-Dawr near Tikrit. 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 U.S. 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.'
According to U.S. military sources, following his capture by U.S. forces on December 13, Saddam was trasported to a U.S. base near Tikrit, and later taken to the U.S. base near Baghdad. The day after his capture he was reportedly visited by longtime opponents such as Ahmed Chalabi. It is believed he remained there in high security during most of the time of his detention. Details of his interrogations remain unclear.
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 United States Government stated that it considers the release of the pictures a violation of the Geneva Convention, and that it would investigate the photographs.
The guards at the Baghdad detention facility called their prisoner "Vic," and let him plant a little garden near his cell. The nickname and the garden are among the details about the former Iraqi dictator that emerged during a March 27, 2008-tour of prison of the Baghdad-cell where Hussein slept, bathed, and kept a journal in the final days before he was executed on December 30, 2006.
On June 30, 2004, Saddam Hussein, held in custody by U.S. forces at the U.S. base "Camp Cropper," along with 11 other senior Baathist leaders, were handed over legally (though not physically) to the interim Iraqi government to stand trial for alleged "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. Among the many challenges of the trial were:
On November 5, 2006, Saddam Hussein 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 as well. The verdict and sentencing were both appealed but subsequently affirmed by Iraq's Supreme Court of Appeals. On December 30, 2006, Saddam was hanged.
Saddam was hanged on the first day of Eid ul-Adha, December 30, 2006, despite his wish to be shot (which he felt would be more dignified). The execution was carried out at "Camp Justice," an Iraqi army base in Kadhimiya, a neighborhood of northeast Baghdad.
The execution was videotaped on a mobile phone, showing Saddam being taunted before his hanging, and he and his captors insulting each other. The video was leaked to electronic media and posted on the Internet within hours, becoming the subject of global controversy.
Not long before the execution, Saddam's lawyers released his last letter:
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 massive gaping hole in his neck.
In August 1995, Rana and her husband Hussein Kamel al-Majid and Raghad 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 Majid brothers were attacked and killed in a gunfight with other clan members who considered them traitors. Saddam had made it clear that although pardoned, they would lose all status and would not receive any protection.
In August 2003, Saddam's daughters Raghad and Rana received sanctuary in Amman, Jordan, where they are currently staying with their nine children. 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."