Military


Saddam Hussein

President of Iraq since 1979 (Vice President from 1968-79), Saddam Hussein [Husayn] was a dictator who stopped at nothing to preserve personal power and regime survival. After the 1968 Ba'athist Coup, he began his career as Chief of Iraq's security services, and he executed opponents and suspected potential rivals, including scores of high-level government officials and thousands of political prisoners. Since the 1970s, he escalated and made routine the systematic torture and execution of political prisoners. Saddam Hussein ordered the use of chemical weapons against Iranian forces in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, and against Iraq's Kurdish population in 1988. The 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war left 150,000 to 340,000 Iraqis and 450,000 to 730,000 Iranians dead. Saddam Hussein ordered the invasion and destruction of Kuwait in 1990-91 with 1,000 Kuwaitis killed. Directed the 1991 bloody suppression of Kurdish and Shi'a insurgencies in northern and southern Iraq with at least 30,000 to 60,000 killed. he later ordered the destruction of southern marshes to extinguish the Shi'a insurgency.

Saddam was born in 1937, and reared in a mud hut near Tikrit, north of Baghdad. From the age of ten, Saddam was reared by an uncle, who encouraged him to dream of becoming a nationalist Arab hero, like Saladin. The chief influences during Hussein's childhood and teenage years were his mother and his uncle Khairullah Tulfah. Tulfah, an Iraqi army officer who introduced Hussein to the evils of colonialism in Iraq, was imprisoned by the British for his activism against the English-backed monarchy of King Feisal I.

The Baath (renaissance) Party, which Muslim Salah Bitar and Christian Michel Aflaq originally established, became a vehicle for Hussein. He became an enforcer for the party, and like Joseph Stalin, who fascinated Hussein, he left the intellectuals behind and climbed the ladder of Iraq politics, using a combination of intimidation, fear, nepotism, and outright murder.

In 1958, Feisal's monarchy came to a bloody end, and General Adel Karim Kasim took power. A year later, Hussein participated in a failed attempt on Kasim's life. Hussein was exiled to Egypt, where he became enamored of President Gamal abd-al-Nasser, who espoused Arab nationalism. Hussein was also instrumental in organizing Baath cells at the University of Cairo. In 1963, General Abdel-Rahman Arif overthrew Kasim, and the Baaths were in power.

By 1968 close family and tribal ties bound the Baath's ruling clique. Most notable in this regard was the emergence of Tikritis -- Sunni Arabs from the northwest town of Tikrit -- related to Ahmad Hasan al Bakr. Three of the five members of the Baath's Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) were Tikritis; two, Bakr and Hammad Shihab, were related to each other. The cabinet posts of president, prime minister, and defense minister went to Tikritis. Saddam Hussein [Husayn], a key leader behind the scenes, also was a Tikriti and a relative of Bakr. Less than two months after the formation of the Bakr government in 1968, a coalition of pro-Nasser elements, Arif supporters, and conservatives from the military attempted another coup. This event provided the rationale for numerous purges directed by Bakr and Saddam Husayn.

Saddam Hussein was a consummate party politician whose formative experiences were in organizing clandestine opposition activity. He was adept at outmaneuvering -- and at times ruthlessly eliminating -- political opponents. Although Bakr was the older and more prestigious of the two, by 1969 Saddam Hussein clearly had become the moving force behind the party. He personally directed Baathist attempts to settle the Kurdish question and he organized the party's institutional structure. Hussein was put into control of the internal security apparatus, and within a decade, he had created a police state within Iraq that was so oppressive that it has often received criticism from moderate Arab states. Between 1968 and 1973, through a series of sham trials, executions, assassinations, and intimidations, the party ruthlessly eliminated any group or person suspected of challenging Baath rule.

Despite Baath attempts to institutionalize its rule, real power remained in the hands of a narrowly based elite, united by close family and tribal ties. By 1977 the most powerful men in the Baath thus were all somehow related to the triumvirate of Saddam Hussein, Bakr, and General Adnan Khayr Allah Talfah, Saddam Hussein's brother-in-law who became minister of defense in 1978. All were members of the party, the RCC, and the cabinet, and all were members of the Talfah family of Tikrit, headed by Khayr Allah Talfah. Khayr Allah Talfah was Saddam Hussein's uncle and guardian, Adnan Khayr Allah's father, and Bakr's cousin. Saddam Hussein was married to Adnan Khayr Allah's sister and Adnan Khayr Allah was married to Bakr's daughter. Increasingly, the most sensitive military posts were going to the Tikritis.

Beginning in the mid-1970s, Bakr was beset by illness and by a series of family tragedies. He increasingly turned over power to Saddam Husayn. By 1977 the party bureaus, the intelligence mechanisms, and even ministers who, according to the Provisional Constitution, should have reported to Bakr, reported to Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein, meanwhile, was less inclined to share power, and he viewed the cabinet and the RCC as rubber stamps. On July 16, 1979, President Bakr resigned, and Saddam Hussein officially replaced him as president of the republic, secretary general of the Baath Party Regional Command, chairman of the RCC, and commander in chief of the armed forces. On July 17, 1979, he was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal.

Saddam has been married to the same woman, former schoolteacher Sajida, since 1958. She has been described as a first cousin, not unusual for Mideast marriages of that era. They have five children, three daughters and two sons.

Saddam Hussein was captured by forces from the 4th Infantry Division, coalition forces and special operations forces at approximately 8 p.m. local time on December 13, 2003, in a remote farm house near Tikrit, Iraq.



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