Arabic: saddām hussayn
(1937-2006) President and prime minister of Iraq 1979-2003. Saddam Hussein’s political platform was a combination of moderate social democracy approximating the European model, combined with a struggle to keep the various ethnic and religious groups in the country together.
In the West, the image of Saddam Hussein went through a dramatic change, from being one of Europe’s and USA’s favorites into becoming the most negatively presented dictator in the world. The change in this image was not related to any change in his political platform, nor to greater suppression of his opposition, but to one act alone: The invasion and occupation of Kuwait.
Saddam Hussein brought to his homeland a system of economic security for all inhabitants of Iraq; relative freedom in the economic sector; a vital cultural life in the fields of theater, arts, and music; freedom for women; free education; internal stability in most parts of the country; and a high level of private security.
The cost of maintaining this system was, however, excessive, especially because tens of thousands were killed, the Sunni majority enjoyed benefits and positions in a society in which Shi’is had only a restricted status. Yet, he was tactful to show respect for Shi’i shrines and allow for their improvement.
Saddam Hussein’s greatest fault as a leader was his aggressiveness towards some of Iraq’s neighbours. The war against Iran had dramatic effects on Iraq’s economy and on the development of the country, while the war against Kuwait gave him the symbolic status of “bad boy” of the world.
This was true even though the background of the war was complex and the conduct of the occupation forces was mild compared to a number of far more brutal wars around the world at the same time.
Through the 1990s, Saddam’s rule was protected by a kind of Gordian knot. The U.S., for example, did not respect his style of leadership but believed that he was capable of keeping the country united, which helped to maintain a balance of power in the Persian Gulf.
Saddam is married and has 5 children, 2 boys, and 3 girls. Uday, the oldest son, was crippled in an assassination attempt, while the other, Qusay held the important positions of controlling both the elite Revolutionary Guards and the Special Forces which secured Saddam’s grip on power. Both his sons were killed in July 2003 following the US-led invasion of Iraq.
1937 April 28: Born in Auja, near the city of Tikrit, 200 km north of Baghdad, as the son of a landless peasant who died before Saddam’s birth.
1956: Joined the Iraqi branch of the Arab Ba’th Socialist Party.
1958: Sentenced to prison for political activities against the regime, he spends 6 months in prison.
1959: Participates in the coup attempt against prime minister Abdul Karim Qassim, through which he receives a gunshot wound in his leg from the minister’s bodyguards.
— Escapes to Syria, and then to Egypt.
1960 February 25: Is sentenced to death in absentia.
1962: Finishes his secondary studies in Egypt.
1963 February 8: Returns to Iraq following the Ramadan revolution.
— Joins the leadership of the Ba’th Party.
1964 October 14: Is arrested in a campaign against Ba’th Party members.
1966: While still in prison, Saddam is elected Deputy Secretary-General of the Ba’th Party.
1967: Escapes from prison.
1968: Active in the two Ba’thist coups, July 17 and 30. Saddam assumes responsibility for internal security.
— Graduates from the College of Law.
1969 November 9: Is formally elected Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, in which he forms an alliance with his second cousin, Ahmad Hassan Bakr, the council’s chairman.
1972 June 1: Leads the process of nationalizing the oil resources in Iraq, which had been in control by Western companies.
1975: Saddam signs the Algiers Accord with Iran (which among other issues, regulated the border question), an act indicating that his position was stronger than his ally Bakr.
1979 June: Saddam assumes the position of president after he discovers that Bakr began negotiations on unity between Syria and Iraq. Bakr is stripped of all positions, and put under house arrest.
1980 September 17: Saddam terminates the border agreement of 1975 with Iran, hence provoking a war.
— September 22: War starts against Iran, due to disputes over territories occupied by Iran in 1973.
1988: With the help of the US navy in the Persian Gulf, Iraq is able to regain territory lost to Iran between 1984 and 86.
— July: War against Iran ends, without changes in the borders.
1990 August 2: War against Kuwait resulting in a rapid occupation. This leads to strong international condemnation and threats of intervention from US-led forces.
1991 January 17: Intervention by the joint international forces in which more than 30 countries participate. This leads to a quick defeat for Iraq. After the war, international actions are affected by the Kurdish population in the north and the Shi’is in the south. But despite predictions from international commentators, Saddam is not removed by his Iraqi opponents, nor does his political power seem to diminish.
1990’s: UN imposes sanctions on Iraq, in order to force the country to reduce its military defenses, based on the agreement reached in the peace agreement after the war of 1991. The sanctions soon result in a heavy decline in the Iraqi economy, reduction in food supplies, and poor public health services, but not a weaker position for Saddam.
1994: New military activities near Kuwait, but international pressure makes Saddam end this.
1998: Saddam removes all personnel stationed in Iraq by the UN to control the military and the military industry.
Late 1990’s: After many years of international sanctions against Saddam and Iraq, world opinion begins to change. Although initially, sentiments opposed Iraq as a nation, more and more commentators begin pointing to the fact that Iraq is not de-escalating its military buildup, and that the sanctions only lead to hardship for the population. Saddam, himself, is stronger than ever. Hence, the sanctions are more and more perceived as a failure.
2002 October 15: Iraq stages a mock democratic presidential election, in which there are no other candidates than Saddam Hussein, and all ballots are shown to election officials before being cast and counted by regime officials. The election shows 100% of all votes for Saddam, and a 100% turn-out. The election is ridiculed by most Western journalists but is commentated by the BBC as if it was genuine.
2003 March: US President George W. Bush demands that Saddam leave Iraq with his sons. Saddam does respond, and the USA attacks Iraq and starts bombing Baghdad, with the aim of staking out Saddam and his regime. (See article on US/British-Iraq War.)
Early April: Saddam Hussein loses power over his bureaucracy and the Special Republican Guard, hence, effectively, loses power over Iraq. He takes refuge north of Baghdad, where he in the following months gives direction to loyal opposition forces, fighting the invasion forces, and issuing voice messages which are aired by TV-stations all around the world.
— July 22: Saddam’s only two sons, Uday and Qusay, are killed by US forces.
— December 13: Saddam Hussein is captured in an underground shelter 15 km south of Tikrit by US forces. He surrenders without a struggle.
2004 July 1: Saddam Hussein appears in front of an Iraqi court, facing charges of crimes against the people of Iraq and for the war against Kuwait in 1990.
2006 November 5: Saddam Hussein is convicted for his accused crimes, sentenced to death by hanging. He appeals, and around Iraq different reactions to the sentence are displayed. Many Shi’i districts see celebrations, while many Sunni districts see angry protests.
— December 30: Saddam Hussein is executed by hanging in a Baghdad prison.