Last Updated December 29, 2006
On Dec. 13, 2003 - nine months after the invasion - U.S. soldiers found the dishevelled former dictator hiding in a muddy pit at a farm near the town of Tikrit, some 140 kilometres north of Baghdad. Tikrit was Saddam's hometown, where he once had access to lavish palaces.
Much of the world paid little attention to Saddam until he marched into tiny, oil-rich Kuwait in August 1990 attempting to take it over. That ill-considered move led to the creation of a Western alliance, again headed by the U.S., which bombed the Iraqi leader into submission a few months later, devastating his country.
It wasn't the first of his miscalculations.
He was born on April 28, 1937, in a village called al-Awja, northwest of Baghdad. In classic mythic style, his family was dirt-poor, his parents poor Muslim farmers. His father died or abandoned the family shortly after Saddam's birth and he was raised by his mother and her second husband. Saddam's stepfather was abusive and a thief, forcing the boy to steal chickens and sheep to be sold.
At 10, Saddam moved in with his uncle in Baghdad. Inspired by the man, an Iraqi army officer and crusader for Arab unity, Saddam's interest in politics grew through his teen-age years. He finished intermediate school at 16 and applied to the Baghdad Military Academy, but he was rejected due to poor grades. He became more deeply involved in politics.
In 1956, only 19 years old, Saddam participated in a failed coup attempt against the monarchy of King Faisal II. A year later, he joined the socialist Baathist party. After taking part in an assassination attempt against Prime Minister Abd al-Karim Qasim, Saddam, still a young man of 22, had to flee the country.
He spent several years in Syria and in Egypt, where he received aid to finish high school. At 24, he entered Cairo University School of Law. Two years later, with the Baathist party in control in Baghdad, Saddam returned home, where he married his cousin Sajida Khair, with whom he has five children.
Within months, the Baathists were overthrown and Saddam was jailed. In 1966, he escaped from prison and continued his work with the party. When the Baathists regained power in 1968, Saddam served on the ruling Revolutionary Command Council as acting deputy chairman.
Saddam's sonsUndated photo of Saddam Hussein with his sons, Odai (left) and Qusai. (Associated Press)
On July 23rd, 2003, the U.S. released photos of two corpses which they had identified as those of Saddam's two sons. Officials said they used dental records to identify the men, killed after a running gun battle over several hours, involving up to 200 bodyguards.
Owing to their positions within the Iraqi power structure, both of Saddam Hussein's sons had been cited as his likely successor. At 36, Qusay was the younger of the two, and was in charge of defending Baghdad and Tikrit, near Saddam's birthplace. He also controlled Iraq's elite Republican Guard as well as the Special Security Organization or secret police.
Uday, 39, was the more flamboyant of the two. He ran a number of media interests, including Iraqi newspapers and radio stations. He also headed a number of unions. Until an assassination attempt in 1996 crippled his leg, Uday was widely favoured as next in line to his father.
From 1969 to 1979 Saddam Hussein was the vice-president of Iraq and had a profound effect on his country. He nationalized the oil industry. He instituted a nation-wide literacy project, non-attendance punishable by three years in jail. Hundreds of thousands of illiterate Iraqi men, women and children learned to read.
He advocated the building of schools, roads, public housing and hospitals. Iraq created one of the best public-health systems in the Middle East. UNESCO gave him an award. It was during this time that Saddam appointed many family members to positions of authority in the government; he and his family began to control the country's oil and other industrial enterprises.
On July 16, 1979, President al-Bakr resigned and Saddam rose to the presidency. He immediately directed the deaths of dozens of government officials suspected of treason. His relatives in al-Awja continued to seize farms and to order people off their land.
In 1980, the eight-year Iraq-Iran War began, nominally over a disputed piece of land. A more immediate cause was Iran's recent Islamic Revolution that was stirring up Shia Muslims in Iraq. The new Islamic government of Iran declared its intention to export revolution and Saddam wanted none of it.
During that war, Saddam used secret police more and more to stifle opposition as he was, like Stalin, like Mao, growing his mythology into a cult of personality. He ordered the use of chemical weapons to crush a rebellion by minority Kurds in the north of the country.
By 1987, Saddam's army was the fourth largest in the world. He had an arsenal of Scud missiles, a sophisticated nuclear-weapons program underway and deadly chemical and biological weapons in development.
In August 1990, Saddam and his army invaded Kuwait as a result of a long-standing territorial dispute, proclaiming it Iraq's 19th province. He defied UN orders to retreat from the tiny country, beginning what he called "the mother of all battles."
The result was the Persian Gulf War with U.S.-led troops launching a relentless air offensive on Baghdad in January 1991. The war, which proved disastrous for Iraq, lasted only six weeks, and the U.S. announced a ceasefire in late February. UN terms imposed strict conditions on Iraq, including the destruction of all stockpiles of weapons.
By early 1992, it became apparent that Iraq still possessed many weapons, and intense international pressure to eliminate them resulted in UN economic sanctions. UN weapons inspectors were part of the plan to assure that any capability Saddam had to make or use weapons of mass destruction was thwarted.
Saddam holds up a rifle Sunday, December 31, 2000, during an unexpected military parade in Baghdad. Saddam fired two shots into the air to kick off the parade. (Jassim Mohammed/Associated Press)Throughout the years after the Persian Gulf War, Saddam resisted the weapons inspections, though sometimes apparently facilitating them. Finally, in December 1998, UN chief weapons inspector Richard Butler accused Saddam of not co-operating with the inspectors. The U.S. and Great Britain bombed Iraqi communications, governmental and military targets for four days with the intention of destroying the country's ability to produce or deliver weapons of mass destruction. Both countries also made it very clear they wanted Saddam replaced.
And so things largely stayed until the months after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Then we heard about the "Axis of Evil," about stockpiled "weapons of mass destruction," about "pre-emptive attacks," about the necessary "regime change" in Iraq. Coalition forces, led by the U.S. and beefed up with help from the U.K. and other participants, took on Iraq in the spring of 2003.
On April 9, 2003, U.S. forces tore down a statue of Saddam in Firdos Square in central Baghdad after storming the city. The image, broadcast around the world, marked the end of Saddam's rule.
Saddam was in hiding and eluded capture until December 13, 2003. That's when U.S. Forces found a bearded, disheveled Saddam Hussein hiding in a tiny underground bunker near his hometown of Tikrit.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we got him. The tyrant is a prisoner," the chief civilian administrator in Iraq at the time, Paul Bremer, told reporters.
He was held in a secret location awaiting trial, which began a year ago in Baghdad and ended Nov. 5 with a guilty verdict and the sentence that he be put to death for his crimes.
On Friday, May 20, 2005, the British tabloid The Sun published pictures of Saddam in his cell. The former dictator who once called 100 palaces home was shown in his underwear.
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