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Fort Worth Star Telegram (Texas) April 08, 2003

Saddam's Story

Who is Iraq's leader, and how did he come to power?

By Amanda Rogers

His name and his face have become as familiar as our own president's, but who is Saddam Hussein? Saddam, one of the most powerful dictators in the Middle East, is an evil man who kills his own people, according to President George W. Bush. So how did he become the president of Iraq, and what drives him?

Where did Saddam come from?

Saddam Hussein was born April 28, 1937, in Al-Auja, a small village near Tikrit, about 100 miles north of Baghdad. His father died about the time of his birth. The family was poor, living in a mud hut, without electricity or running water.

Saddam lived with his mother and stepfather, a shepherd who abused him and refused to let him go to school. When he was 10 years old, Saddam went to live with an uncle, Khayrallah Tulfah, in Baghdad, where he attended school.

How did he get involved in politics?

His uncle, an Iraqi army officer, taught Saddam about politics. In 1957, Saddam applied for admission to the Baghdad Military Academy but was turned down, probably because he had not finished high school. So instead, he joined the Iraqi branch of the Arab Baath Socialist Party.

In the mid-'50s, he was sentenced to prison, where he spent six months for trying to overthrow King Faisal II of Iraq. In 1959, Saddam took part in an attempted assassination of Iraqi Prime Minister Abdul Karim Qassim, who took over after ousting King Faisal II. The assassination attempt failed, and Saddam was shot in a leg. He fled to Syria, then Cairo, Egypt, where he finished high school and entered law school. He was sentenced to death in 1960 for his part in the assassination attempt.

In 1963, Baath party members assassinated Qassim, and Saddam returned to Iraq to become one of the leaders of the Baath party.

How did he get so much power?

In the mid-'60s, Saddam rose through the Baath regime, although he was arrested and jailed for trying to oust other leaders. He escaped and took part in a coup to oust the leadership in 1968, becoming the head of internal security in Iraq.

His second cousin, Ahmed Hassan Bakr, became president, and Saddam was elected vice president on Nov. 9, 1969. Saddam began eliminating anyone who was not a member of the Baath party.

On July 16, 1979, Saddam forced Bakr to resign and appointed himself president of Iraq and commander-in-chief of the military. Hundreds of people were executed, accused of plotting against Saddam.

In September 1980, Saddam attacked Iran, using arms supplied by Western countries in an eight-year war that caused more than a million people to be injured or killed. Saddam also used chemical weapons to kill thousands of unarmed civilian Kurds, a tribe that lives in northern Iraq. The Iran-Iraq war ended with a cease-fire in August 1988.

On Aug. 2, 1990, Iraq annexed Kuwait, claiming the country was its 19th province. The action led to the Persian Gulf War, which ended Feb. 28, 1991. Allied forces against Iraq, led by the United States, allowed Saddam to remain in Iraq.

Does he have a family?

Saddam's marriage to his first cousin Sajida Khayrallah was arranged when he was a child. The couple married in 1958 and have five children: two sons and three daughters.

Saddam is reported to have three more wives, although he has not divorced Sajida.

His oldest son, Uday, heads the Iraqi Olympic Committee. He was paralyzed in an assassination attempt in 1996.

Younger son Qusay leads the military, intelligence services and internal security in Iraq.

Two of Saddam's sons-in-law defected to Jordan in 1996 and told people there of Saddam's power and chemical weapons. Uday asked them to return to Iraq, saying that all was forgiven. The two were killed in a gunbattle a few days after returning.

Saddam facts

* People in Iraq call him Saddam, not Hussein. Following Arab custom, Hussein is his father's first name. Saddam's last name, by Western standards, is al-Khatab, the name of his clan.

* He graduated from the College of Law in Baghdad in 1968.

* He is 6 feet, 2 inches tall.

* He dyes his gray hair black.

* He walks with a limp, either from a stroke or disc problems in his back.

* He loves to read, especially biographies of Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill and books by Ernest Hemingway.

* He has written two romance novels.

Sources: abcnews.go.com, www.jewishagency-ed.org, usgovinfo.about.com, www.emergency.com, www.pbs.org, www.globalsecurity.org, Encyclopedia Americana, Star-Telegram archives, www.yahoo.com, The Associated Press, www.globeandmail.com

Copyright 2003, Star-Telegram Newspaper, Inc.