Saddam Hussein, the arab hero and the murderous tyrant.*
Saddam Hussein, who was hanged on 30 December 2006 at 69, was as murderous a tyrant as any yet witnessed by history; for more than two decades he ruled Iraq with a contempt for humanity that made him feared and hated in equal measure.
He survived wars, uprisings, attempted coups and assassinations with all the instincts of a street fighter. A hero to some Arabs for his defiance of America and Israel, Saddam was demonised by some of the western powers that had armed and supported him in the 1980s as a bulwark against revolutionary Islamic Iran.
No ideologue, Saddam owed his popularity to crude appeals to Arab nationalism and Iraqi patriotism. Supported by a loyal band of "enforcers", including his sons Uday and Qusay, he stopped at nothing to preserve his personal power and the survival of his regime.
The name Saddam, means «he who conforts»
The name "Saddam" means "he who confronts", but his 12-year defiance of the U.N. and refusal to co-operate with weapons inspectors resulted in a U.S.-led coalition invading his country. Operation Iraqi Freedom, launched on March 20 2003, was intent on achieving regime change.
After the resistance of his army collapsed Saddam fled, prompting a huge manhunt which ended with American troops finding him hiding in a foxhole near Tikrit in December 2003. A year-long trial ensued, which Saddam attempted to turn into a political platform; it ended in his being sentenced to death for the torture and execution of 148 Shias.
Before the war Saddam had consistently dared his enemies in the West to take action against him. Offered the chance to seek refuge in another Arab state, he refused to go into exile, declaring: "We will sacrifice our families and our children before we surrender Iraq."
He had already led Iraq into two disastrous conflicts: with Iran from 1980 to 1988, and with a US-led coalition that expelled Iraqi troops from Kuwait in 1991 after a brutal seven-month occupation. His disputes with the UN over disarmament kept crippling UN sanctions in place from 1990; but he held the UN at bay until weapons inspectors finally withdrew in December 1998.
The Operation Desert Fox and the alleged weapons of mass destruction.
A U.S.-British bombing blitz, Operation Desert Fox, followed; but Iraq did not readmit the U.N. inspectors until November 2002, when the Security Council gave Saddam a last chance to surrender any "weapons of mass destruction" or face "serious consequences".
Saddam underestimated the tenacity of President George W Bush, who claimed that the Iraqi leader had links to Al Qa'eda and posed a deadly threat to the region, the West and to his own people. The Bush White House stepped up its campaign against Saddam after September 11, the President denouncing Iraq as part of an "Axis of Evil". Bush was increasingly determined to go after "the man who tried to kill my dad", a reference to an alleged Iraqi plot to assassinate George Bush senior in Kuwait in 1993.
Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, on August 2 1990, was an act of political desperation. Left almost bankrupt by an eight-year war with Iran, and then further hit by a fall in oil prices, in seizing Kuwait he had brought his troops the illusion of glory and taken control of a fifth of the world's oil reserves.
But five days after the invasion, the Security Council ordered a worldwide boycott on trade with Iraq, including purchases of oil, sales of weapons and all other forms of economic assistance. A united force of American, British, French, Dutch, Soviet and Arab troops gathered in the Gulf and a deadline of January 15 1991 was set for his unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait.
The Operation Desert Storm and the Scud missiles launched on Israël.
Just before midnight on January 16 the Allied forces launched Operation Desert Storm with an air strike on Baghdad and occupied Kuwait. The following night seven Scud missiles were launched on Israel, as Saddam endeavoured to split the Arab and Western alliance and to turn the Gulf conflict into a Holy War between Arabs and Jews. Israel, however, stayed its hand; and, as the war continued, Iraq took a formidable pounding.
Saddam's nuclear and chemical warfare capacity was shattered; his centralised air fighter command was destroyed; and his country suffered casualties running into tens of thousands. Saddam's troops, meanwhile, set alight oil wells the length of the Kuwaiti border. At dawn on February 24 the Allied ground offensive began. Within 48 hours more than 25,000 Iraqi troops and 270 enemy tanks had been captured. On February 26 Saddam ordered his army to withdraw. Twenty-four hours later Kuwait City was liberated, and on the morning of February 28 President Bush Snr announced a ceasefire. Yet Saddam remained in power, owing to a marked political reluctance to invade Iraq itself to finish off its president.
The cyanide of “Chemical Ali” to eradicate 5.000 Kurdish insurgents.
Hopes were pinned instead on a widespread internal revolt that broke out soon after the end of the war. Saddam lost control of the Kurdish-held north of Iraq in 1991, but used his security agencies and tribal patronage networks to hold on to the rest of the country. Though the Iraqi military was in tatters, his secret police and personal army had survived the war largely unscathed. Used to repressing dissent, he was soon using chemical weapons on insurgent Kurds in the north of the country and on Shi'ite rebels in the south.
Troublesome ethnic minorities had long been a favoured target of Saddam, who had previously crushed the Marsh Arabs by draining their natural habitat; and in 1988 he had demonstrated his willingness to use weapons of mass destruction by gassing 5,000 Kurds with cyanide at Halabja.
It was these weapons that increasingly became the focus of the U.N.'s concern. At the end of the Gulf War, the Security Council had ordered Iraq to destroy its chemical, biological and nuclear capability, and had set up a U.N. Special Commission (U.N.S.C.O.M.) to verify the process. Seven years after the end of the Gulf War, Saddam's grip on Iraq was as strong as ever, his hold in part financed by his family's control of the lucrative black market in goods that had evaded the U.N.'s embargo. The sanctions made life miserable for the ordinary citizens of Iraq, but Saddam prospered to the extent that, in 2000, Forbes magazine rated him the 55th richest person in the world, valuing him at $7 billion.
Where was the ability of Saddam's nuclear and chemical warfare?
Emboldened by his sustained hold on power, and having recently survived a bungled coup sponsored by MI6 and the C.I.A., in December 1997 Saddam barred the U.N.S.C.O.M. inspectors from visiting his presidential palaces. He had built eight new ones since the Gulf War, one of them reportedly larger than Versailles, and the inspectors believed that they concealed large parts of Saddam's biological arsenal.
America and Britain responded to the ban on the inspectors by moving forces into the Gulf in the hope of forcing Saddam to back down. But Russia, France and China did not support the Anglo-American stance at the Security Council, and the Arab world had sympathy with Saddam.
With Iraq intransigent, and American air-strikes on Iraq imminent, in February 1998 the U.N. Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, travelled to Baghdad to try to broker a settlement. To general relief and surprise, Saddam agreed that U.N.S.C.O.M. could now visit the prohibited sites, although the terms of the deal remained vague, particularly on the contentious matter of the length of time allowed for the inspections.
In December 1998 the U.N.'s chief weapons inspector, Richard Butler, accused Saddam of failing to co-operate. A four-day bombing campaign by America and Britain, authorised by President Bill Clinton, was intended to degrade Iraq's ability to produce or deliver weapons of mass destruction, and the diplomatic stand-off continued until November 2002, when weapons inspectors under Hans Blix were once again admitted to Iraq. By then America was on a countdown to war.
Saddam Husein al-Majjed al-Tikri, a poor bastard tormented by a stepfather thief.
Saddam Hussein al-Majeed al-Tikriti was born on April 28 1937 in the village of al-Quja, a poor farming area near Tikrit, about 100 miles north of Baghdad. He was taunted as a child for being illegitimate, and also tormented by a bullying stepfather. Big for his age, the young Saddam quickly learnt how to defend himself. The jibes stopped when, at the age of 10, he acquired his first pistol.
Saddam's stepfather forced him into a life of petty crime, stealing chickens and sheep to be sold, but he was more influenced by his uncle, Khaytallah Tulfah, a schoolteacher in Baghdad who nurtured a deep sense of grievance against the Iraqi monarchy. It was he who sent Saddam to school and after Saddam had, aged 14, committed his first murder by shooting a relative, it was his uncle who offered him shelter. Saddam abandoned his job as a ticket collector on the Tikrit-Baghdad bus route and set out for his uncle's home in the capital.
There he continued his education, but his poor grades meant he was rejected by the national military academy, so limiting his chances of advancement. This failure was a blow to his self-esteem that he took care to correct when he later came to power: the academy's record was altered to show that he had passed out as a star pupil.
His political crime of learning: assassinate of General Abdul Karim Kassem.
By the age of 17 Saddam had enrolled at law school and had become an avid supporter of the secular, nationalist Ba'ath Party. In 1956 he took part in their attempted coup against King Faisal II and, though the plot failed, it marked the beginning of the Ba'athists' rise to power.
The Republic of Iraq was established two years later by a group of army officers, after a coup in which the king and his prime minister were killed. The army leader, General Abdul Karim Kassem, installed himself as prime minister but soon ran into trouble with the Ba'athists by wooing their rivals, the Iraqi Communists.
The next year, when the Ba'athist opposition struck at Kassem, Saddam was among the 10 men chosen to assassinate him. They ambushed Kassem's car, killing the driver and an aide, but Kassem escaped. Saddam, who was supposed to be giving covering fire, became carried away by the excitement and rushed in; he was hit in the leg, but managed to limp off as his companions were rounded up. He later claimed that he had cut out the bullet with a knife and hobbled off to find sanctuary in his home village. In fact, he had been helped by a sympathetic doctor (whom he was to execute in 1997). Saddam then fled to Egypt.
Why did Colonel Abdel Nasser help him?
When his part in the attempt on Kassem became known, Saddam was taken under the wing of President Nasser, who supplied him with funds to help him continue his studies. Saddam was spellbound by Nasser's oratory, and much influenced by his grandiose plans for an independent community of Arab nations.
In 1963 Kassem was overthrown and executed by the Ba'ath, and Saddam returned to Baghdad as head of the civilian wing of the party. He began to place family members in key posts, only to see the Ba'athists ousted by another military coup within nine months.
In 1966, he escaped from prison and pursued his Law degree.
Saddam was hunted down and bravely refused to surrender until his ammunition ran out. He was jailed, but escaped from prison in 1966. Once in hiding, he formed his own militia and, in July 1968, launched the bloodless coup that put the Ba'ath government of General Bakr in office. Within a year Saddam was deputy chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council (R.C.C.).
To mark his ascent to power, and to lay the foundations for his own personality cult, Saddam had his family tree rewritten to show descent from the Prophet Mohammed. He also pursued his Law degree, ensuring his success in the final examination by turning up for his viva voce with four bodyguards and a pistol in his belt.
Bakr and Saddam quickly showed that they had no intention of sharing power with others. Several coup attempts were crushed in bloody fashion, and mass executions and incarcerations became part of life in Iraq.
In the early 1970s Saddam began to nationalise the Iraq Petroleum Company, a consortium of British, European and American firms that made Iraq the Middle East's second largest supplier of oil. When oil prices rocketed in the mid-1970s, much of the new wealth found its way into the hands of Saddam's family.
With Bakr increasingly a peripheral figure in the regime, by the late 1970s Saddam had become an astute diplomat, trading on the anxiety of both the West and the Soviet Union to secure him as an ally. In 1972 he visited the Kremlin, signing a 15-year treaty of friendship and co-operation. Large amounts of Soviet weaponry were soon being sent to Baghdad.
He also took steps to improve relations with his more immediate neighbours, most notably settling Iraq's long-standing dispute with Iran over the river boundary between them, the Shatt-al-Arab waterway.
Under the mantle of dictatorship, he embarks on a purge of his opponents.
In July 1979 a special closed session of the R.C.C. decided to depose President Bakr and transfer his powers to Saddam. But the putsch was not universally popular within the Ba'ath hierarchy, prompting Saddam to embark on a purge of his opponents. On July 22, five days after his inauguration as president, Saddam called a special meeting of senior Ba'ath Party members at a conference centre opposite the presidential palace. Most of the 1,000 delegates were unaware of the drama that was to unfold. Sixty-six alleged conspirators against the government were denounced by Saddam from the podium before being taken away and shot.
Saddam rapidly assumed the mantle of dictatorship, surrounding himself with henchmen from his home town and placing members of his extended family in all the key positions of government. Opponents were exterminated (one wavering minister was shot dead during a cabinet meeting). Those spared a firing squad were subjected to videos showing the execution of their friends. Among the forms of torture common in Baghdad's military prisons were the amputation of sexual organs, the hammering of nails into the body and the dissolving of limbs in vats of acid. Even his closest relations were not safe. In 1996 Saddam had two of his sons-in-law killed for defecting to Jordan, having lured them back to Iraq with a false pardon.
His two sons: murderers and off-the-law.
Saddam's relationship with his two sons, Uday and Qusay, was turbulent. Uday was once sentenced to death for murder; he was later reprieved and banished to Switzerland before being allowed to return home. Qusay was given the task of supervising Iraqi intelligence and the security services. Both sons were eventually killed by American troops at Mosul in July 2003.
As rising oil sales brought prosperity in the late 1970s, Saddam poured money into government construction projects, as well as into municipal housing developments and facilities for higher education. He arranged free medical care for the poor and made generous donations to the Third World. Iraqi women were allowed, by Middle Eastern standards, comparative freedom.
The Iran-Iraq war and the current situation in Baghdad.
After the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979 Ayatollah Khomeini called on the Shi'ite Muslims of Iraq to rebel against Saddam, a member of the rival Sunni Muslim sect. Saddam responded by expelling 40,000 Shi'ites, arresting thousands more and executing many others.
Fearing that a volatile Iran would herald American intervention in the Gulf, in 1980 Saddam ordered the invasion that developed into the Iran-Iraq war, a conflict of attrition in which the death toll eventually rivalled that of the First World War. Both sides were covertly supported by America and Britain in the hope that they might provide a check to each other's ambitions.
Both Iran and Iraq were slowly weakened by the continual drain on their economic and human resources, and in 1988 the U.N. managed to broker a cease-fire. Yet despite Saddam's failure to destroy Iran, and his appalling disregard for the rights of his people and his atrocities against the Kurds, he was still regarded by the West as the best bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism. British and American firms vied with one another for Iraq's plump rearmament contracts, and by the end of the 1980s Saddam's army was the fourth largest in the world. He had an arsenal of Scud missiles, a sophisticated nuclear weapons programme under way and chemical and biological weapons in development.
When the author of the drama turns into a playwright
Saddam fostered his cult of personality by publishing two novels, one of which was turned into a play entitled Zabibah and the King and was about a lonely monarch who falls in love with a commoner. He was obsessed with grandiose building projects: one of the biggest was the Umm Al-Maarik, or the "Mother of All Battles" mosque in central Baghdad, which was completed in 2001. The minarets were designed to resemble Scud missiles on launch pads.
Saddam rarely slept in the same place on successive nights, and used body doubles to confuse potential assassins. Often he would rise at 3 am to go for a swim. His vanity was such that he dyed his hair and moustache, and avoided wearing his thick glasses whenever possible. He enjoyed western confectionery (especially Quality Street) and western films, particularly thrillers such as The Day of the Jackal; his favourite film was The Godfather.
Twice married, he never sleeps in the same bed.
Saddam Hussein married, in 1958, his cousin Sajida, the daughter of his uncle, Khairallah Tulfah. In addition to their two sons they had three daughters.
When Uday was four, his father took him to watch dissidents being tortured in prison. Saddam imposed little discipline on his "cubs", allowing them to terrorise their school and teachers.
The marriage to Sajida ended after Saddam ordered the murder of her brother, Adnan. An official separation was arranged whereby she acquired the title "Lady of Ladies", and she remained unchallenged as his official companion. Saddam had meanwhile married a teacher, Samira Shahabandar, who soon afterwards took the title "First Lady".
Saddam continued to have affairs, especially with blondes. Parisoula Lampsos was a mistress for three decades. He is also said to have taken as a third wife a dancer, Nedhal al-Hamdani.
*Published by The Telegraph on January 1, 2007.