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Just Who Is Saddam Hussein?

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 22, 2003 – He's a madman danger to the world. He's a revolutionary leader. He's a savior of his people.

Just who is Saddam Hussein?

The Iraqi president is secretive about just about everything from his whereabouts to his methods. But some things are known.

Hussein was born in Tikrit, Iraq on April 28, 1937. The city is the seat of Saladdin province northwest of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. Tikrit is still Hussein's base.

Hussein grew up in the town of Al Dawr. Visitors to the area described it as a mud-brick town on the banks of the Tigris River. Hussein's parents were poor farmers, but he came under the influence of his uncle, who was an Iraqi army officer. Even as a teenager, Hussein gravitated toward the military and politics.

The means into politics was the Ba'ath Party. He joined the socialist party when he was 19 and three years later participated in an assassination attempt against Iraqi Prime Minister Abdul Karim Qassim. Hussein was wounded in the leg during the attempt and fled the country. Iraqi courts sentenced him to death in absentia on Feb. 25, 1960.

He went first to Syria and then to Egypt where he went to the College of Law in Cairo.

In February 1963, the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party overthrew Qassim. Hussein returned to the country and was elected a leader in the Ba'ath Party. The Ba'athists were deposed that November in a military coup led by Col. Abd-al-Salam Muhammad Arif, who'd been co-leader in the 1958 coup that brought Qassim to power.

Hussein was arrested in 1964 and imprisoned in an Arif crackdown on the Ba'athists. He escaped in 1966.

Arif died in a helicopter crash in April 1966 and was succeeded by his older brother. Hussein then figured prominently in a Ba'athist-led coup that ousted the brother in July 1968. Gen. Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr, the new president, was Hussein's cousin.

Hussein became vice president and also took charge of the secret police. He immediately purged and murdered dozens of Iraqi government officials suspected of disloyalty. He also formulated policies to suppress the Kurds living in the north and the Shi'ia "Marsh Arabs" living near Al Basrah in the south. Over the course of the next 30 years, thousands of Kurds and Shi'ia Muslims were murdered, arrested or deported. Whole villages were razed, and property was confiscated and turned over to loyal Hussein supporters.

Hussein led the effort to nationalize foreign oil companies in Iraq in 1972.

He expanded the secret police and appointed men to the force loyal to him. Bakr resigned in 1979, and Hussein took over as president. Again, he lost no time in purging and murdering those in the government he deemed insufficiently loyal.

In 1980, Hussein thought to take advantage of a weak Iran and trumped up a border dispute over the Shatt al Arab waterway into a full-scale war. At first, the Iraqi army swept the field, but Iran refused to admit defeat. Human waves of Iranian "martyrs," some going to the front with their death shrouds with them, entered the fray. By 1984, Iran had driven Iraq from its soil and was invading Iraq.

This was when Hussein shifted strategies and started using chemical weapons on the invading Iranians and on the Kurdish people in the north of Iraq who opposed him. Thousands are estimated to have died in these attacks.

The war ended in 1988 with the Iran-Iraq border pretty much back where it had started. Casualties are estimated at between 1 million and 1.5 million people.

In August 1990, Saddam Hussein made another miscalculation. He sent his troops into Kuwait, invoking Iraq's claim on Kuwait as its 19th province. The invasion also threatened Saudi Arabia, and the international community responded immediately. The United States led an international coalition to expel Iraq from Kuwait. Then, as now, the United Nations tried to reason with Saddam, but he would not go along.

Finally, on Jan. 17, 1991, the Persian Gulf War began with a coalition air campaign. The ground war started Feb. 24 and Kuwait was liberated in 72 hours. By the time Iraq signed a cease-fire on March 3, tens of thousands of its soldiers were dead or wounded and coalition forces had taken tens of thousands more prisoner.

In the pact that ended hostilities, Iraq agreed to stop persecuting minorities, return prisoners and to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction.

Following the war, Hussein survived a Kurdish rebellion in the north and viciously put down a Shi'ite insurrection in the south. The Northern and Southern No-fly zones were imposed, in part, so Saddam could not murder his own people.

Since the Gulf War, Iraq has been under U.N.-imposed economic sanctions. These sanctions would be lifted if the Iraqi dictator decided to honor his word to the United Nations.

Saddam Hussein has violated every U.N. Security Council resolution directed at Iraq in the 12 years since the end of the war. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, passed Nov. 8, 2002, states he's in "material breach" of those resolutions and now must prove to the United Nations that he is complying with the will of the international community.

Hussein is married and has two sons and three daughters.

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Related Sites:
Saddam Hussein's Iraq
Timeline: Saddam Hussein's Iraq
Apparatus of Lies: Saddam's Disinformation and Propaganda 1990-2003

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