Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti (Arabic: صدام حسين عبد المجيد التكريتي Ṣaddām Ḥusayn ʿAbd al-Majīd al-Tikrītī; April 28, 1937 – December 30, 2006) was the President of Iraq from July 16, 1979 until April 9, 2003.
A leading member of the revolutionary Ba'ath Party, which espoused secular pan-Arabism, economic modernization, and Arab socialism, Saddam played a key role in the 1968 coup that brought the party to long-term power. As vice president under the ailing General Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, Saddam tightly controlled conflict between the government and the armed forces—at a time when many other groups were considered capable of overthrowing the government—by creating repressive security forces. In the early 1970s, Saddam spearheaded Iraq's nationalization of the Western-owned Iraq Petroleum Company, which had long held a monopoly on the country's oil. Through the 1970s, Saddam cemented his authority over the apparatuses of government as Iraq's economy grew at a rapid pace.
As president, Saddam maintained power during the Iran–Iraq War (1980–1988) and the first Persian Gulf War (1991). During these conflicts, Saddam repressed movements he considered threatening to the stability of Iraq, particularly Shi'a and Kurdish movements seeking to overthrow the government or gain independence, respectively. Whereas some Arabs looked upon him as a hero for his aggressive stance against foreign intervention and for his support for the Palestinians, United States leaders continued to view Saddam with deep suspicion following the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Saddam was deposed by the U.S. and its allies during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Captured by U.S. forces on December 13, 2003, Saddam was brought to trial under the Iraqi interim government set up by U.S.-led forces. On November 5, 2006, he was convicted of charges related to the executions of 148 Iraqi Shi'ites suspected of planning an assassination attempt against him and for the genocide of over 100,000 Kurds in Northern Iraq in the late 1980s, and was sentenced to death by hanging. Saddam was executed on December 30, 2006.
Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti was born in the town of Al-Awja, 13 km (8 mi) from the Iraqi town of Tikrit, to a family of shepherds from the al-Begat tribal group. His mother, Subha Tulfah al-Mussallat, named her newborn son Saddam, which in Arabic means "One who confronts." He never knew his father, Hussein 'Abid al-Majid, who disappeared six months before Saddam (he is usually referred to by his first name) was born. Shortly afterward, Saddam's thirteen-year-old brother died of cancer. The infant Saddam was sent to the family of his maternal uncle, Khairallah Talfah, until he was three.
His mother remarried, and Saddam gained three half-brothers through this marriage. His stepfather, Ibrahim al-Hassan, treated Saddam harshly after his return. At around ten, Saddam fled the family and returned to live in Baghdad with his uncle, Kharaillah Tulfah. Tulfah, the father of Saddam's future wife, was a devout Sunni Muslim and a veteran from the 1941 Anglo-Iraqi War between Iraqi nationalists and the United Kingdom, which remained a major colonial power in the region. He was also radically against Jews, Iranians, Shi'ites, and to some extent, Kuwaitis and Westerners as well which formed a basis on Saddam's political views. Later in his life, relatives from his native Tikrit would become some of his closest advisors and supporters. Under the guidance of his uncle, he attended a nationalistic high school in Baghdad. After secondary school, Saddam studied at an Iraqi law school for three years, prior to dropping out in 1957, at the age of twenty, to join the revolutionary pan-Arab Ba'ath Party, of which his uncle was a supporter. During this time, Saddam apparently supported himself as a secondary school teacher.
Revolutionary sentiment was characteristic of the era in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. In Iraq progressives and socialists assailed traditional political elites (colonial era bureaucrats and landowners, wealthy merchants and tribal chiefs, monarchists). Moreover, the pan-Arab nationalism of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt would profoundly influence young Ba'athists like Saddam. The rise of Nasser foreshadowed a wave of revolutions throughout the Middle East in the 1950s and 1960s, which would see the collapse of the monarchies of Iraq, Egypt, and Libya. Nasser inspired nationalists throughout the Middle East for standing up to the British and the French during the Suez Crisis of 1956, and for striving to modernize Egypt and unite the Arab world politically.
In 1958, a year after Saddam had joined the Ba'ath party, army officers led by General Abdul Karim Qassim overthrew Faisal II of Iraq. The Ba'athists opposed the new government, and in 1959, Saddam was involved in the attempted United States-backed plot to assassinate Qassim.
Rise to Power
Army officers with ties to the Ba'ath Party overthrew Qassim in a coup in 1963. Ba'athist leaders were appointed to the cabinet and Abdul Salam Arif became president. Arif dismissed and arrested the Ba'athist leaders later that year. Saddam returned to Iraq, but was imprisoned in 1964. Just prior to his imprisonment and until 1968, Saddam held the position of Ba'ath party secretary. He escaped prison in 1967 and quickly became a leading member of the party. In 1968, Saddam participated in a bloodless coup led by Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr that overthrew Abdul Rahman Arif. Al-Bakr was named president and Saddam was named his deputy, and deputy chairman of the Baathist Revolutionary Command Council. According to biographers, Saddam never forgot the tensions within the first Ba'athist government, which formed the basis for his measures to promote Ba'ath party unity as well as his resolve to maintain power and programs to ensure social stability.
Various U.S. diplomats and intelligence officials have asserted that Saddam was strongly linked with the CIA, and that U.S. intelligence, under President John F. Kennedy, helped Saddam's party seize power for the first time in 1963.
Saddam Hussein in the past was seen by U.S. intelligence services as a bulwark of anti-communism in the 1960s and 1970s. His first contacts with U.S. officials date back to 1959, when he was part of a CIA-authorized six-man squad tasked with ousting then Iraqi Prime Minister Abdul Karim Qassim.
Although Saddam was al-Bakr's deputy, he was a strong behind-the-scenes party politician. Al-Bakr was the older and more prestigious of the two, but by 1969 Saddam Hussein clearly had become the moving force behind the party.