Saddam Hussein (April 28, 1937-December 30, 2006) was the ruthless dictator of Iraq from 1979 until 2003. He was the adversary of the United States during the Persian Gulf War and found himself once again at odds with the U.S. in 2003 during the Iraq War. Captured by U.S. troops, Saddam Hussein was put on trial for crimes against humanity (he killed thousands of his own people) and was ultimately executed on December 30, 2006.
Fast Facts: Saddam Hussein
- Known For: Dictator of Iraq from 1979-2003
- Also Known As: Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti, "The Butcher of Baghdad"
- Born: April 28, 1937 in Al-ʿAwjah, Iraq
- Parents: Hussein 'Abd al-Majid, Subha Tulfah al-Mussallat
- Died: December 30, 2006 in Baghdad, Iraq
- Education: High school in Baghdad; law school for three years (did not graduate)
- Published Works: Novels including Zabiba and the King, The Fortified Castle, Men and the City, Begone Demons
- Spouses: Sajida Talfah, Samira Shahbandar
- Children: Uday Hussein, Qusay Hussein, Raghad Hussein, Rana Hussein,
- Notable Quote: "We are ready to sacrifice our souls, our children, and our families so as not to give up Iraq. We say this so no one will think that America is capable of breaking the will of the Iraqis with its weapons."
Saddam, which means "he who confronts," was born in 1937 a village called al-Auja, outside of Tikrit in northern Iraq. Either just before or just after his birth, his father disappeared from his life. Some accounts say that his father was killed; others say he abandoned his family. At almost the same time, Saddam's older brother died of cancer. His mother's depression made it impossible for her to care for the young Saddam, and he was sent to live with his uncle Khairullah Tulfah who was briefly imprisoned for political activity.
Several years later, Saddam's mother remarried a man who was illiterate, immoral, and brutal. Saddam returned to his mother but hated living with his stepfather and as soon as his uncle Khairullah Tulfah (his mother's brother) was released from prison in 1947, Saddam insisted that he go live with his uncle.
Saddam didn't start primary school until he moved in with his uncle at age 10. At age 18, Saddam graduated from primary school and applied to military school. Joining the military had been Saddam's dream and when he wasn't able to pass the entrance exam, he was devastated. (Though Saddam was never in the military, he frequently wore military-style outfits later in life.) Saddam then moved to Baghdad and started law school, but he found school boring and enjoyed politics more.
Saddam Hussein Enters Politics
Saddam's uncle, an ardent Arab nationalist, introduced him to the world of politics. Iraq, which had been a British colony from the end of World War I until 1932, was bubbling with internal power struggles. One of the groups vying for power was the Baath Party, to which Saddam's uncle was a member.
In 1957 at age 20, Saddam joined the Baath Party. He started out as a low-ranking member of the Party responsible for leading his schoolmates in rioting. In 1959, however, he was chosen to be a member of an assassination squad. On October 7, 1959, Saddam and others attempted but failed to assassinate the prime minister. Wanted by the Iraqi government, Saddam was forced to flee. He lived in exile in Syria for three months and then moved to Egypt, where he lived for three years.
In 1963, the Baath Party successfully overthrew the government and took power, which allowed Saddam to return to Iraq from exile. While home, he married his cousin, Sajida Tulfah. However, the Baath Party was overthrown after only nine months in power and Saddam was arrested in 1964 after another coup attempt. He spent 18 months in prison, where he was tortured before he escaped in July 1966.
During the next two years, Saddam became an important leader within the Baath Party. In July 1968, when the Baath Party again gained power, Saddam was made vice president.
Over the next decade, Saddam became increasingly powerful. On July 16, 1979, the president of Iraq was forced to resign and Saddam officially took the position.
The Dictator of Iraq
Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq with a brutal hand, using fear and terror to stay in power. He established a secret police force that suppressed internal dissenters and developed a "cult of personality" to build public support. His goal was to become the leader of the Arab world, with territory to include the oil fields of the Persian Gulf.
Saddam led Iraq in a war against Iran from 1980 to 1988, which ended in a stalemate. Also during the 1980s, Saddam used chemical weapons against Kurds within Iraq, including gassing the Kurdish town of Halabja which killed 5,000 in March 1988.
In 1990, Saddam ordered Iraqi troops to take the country of Kuwait. In response, the United States defended Kuwait in the Persian Gulf War.
On March 19, 2003, the United States attacked Iraq. Saddam fled Baghdad during the fighting. On December 13, 2003, U.S. forces found him hiding in a hole in al-Dwar, near Tikrit.
In October 2005, Saddam was tried by the Iraqi High Tribunal on charges of killing the people of the town of Al-Dujay. After a dramatic nine-month trial, he was found guilty of crimes against humanity, including killing and torture, and was sentenced to death. On December 30, 2006, Saddam Hussein was executed by hanging; his body was later removed to a secret location.
The actions of Saddam Hussein have had a powerful impact on international politics for the 21st century. America's relationship with Iraq and other nations of the Middle East were strongly influenced by the conflicts with Saddam's Iraq.
The fall of Saddam in 2003 was pictured around the world with images of his statue being pulled down by cheering Iraqis. Since Saddam's fall, however, a number of challenges made life in Iraq extraordinarily difficult; employment remains low, and the rise of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS) led to violence.
- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Saddam Hussein.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 18 Jan. 2019.
- “Saddam Hussein Biography.” Encyclopedia of World Biography, Advameg, Inc.
- "Saddam Caught Like a Rat in a Hole." CNN.com, 15 December 2003.
- “Saddam Hussein Biography.” Encyclopedia of World Biography.