Saddam Husseimn (Iraq, 1937- )

Figure 1.--.

Saddam Hussein has been called the enemy of the Western world. Iraq in fact is among the most secualrized Arab country. The biggest influnce on his life, however, was spired by his uncle Khayrallah Tulfah, an Iraqi army officer and crusader for Arab unity. Saddam was a tough street kid. Yet he demanded an uncle send him to school.


Saddam came from a family of poor farmers. His father seems to have disappeared soon after he wa born. The biggest influnce on his life, however, was his unle wjho took him in after Saddam's father disapperaed. He was inspired by his uncle Khayrallah Tulfah, an Iraqi army officer and crusader for Arab unity. His uncle was arrested by the British duringh World War II for NAZI sympathies. After this, Saddam returned to his mother who had remarried. His step-father had little interest in working and played arole in Saddam's lige principallu notable by the beatings he gave the boy.


Hussein grew up in Auja. It was at the time an undistinguished village of mud-brick huts northwest of Baghdad. He had a rough childhood, not only because of poverty, but the brutality of his step-father. Hussein became interested in politics as a teenager.


Saddam was a tough street kid. He did not begin school until he was 10 years old and found himself in a class of 5 year olds. Yet he demanded an uncle send him to school. At 11 years of age he killed his teacher. He is largely a self educated man. By all accounts, however, he is smart and cunning, explaining his polituical success and ability to replace individuals in the Bath Party that understimated him.


A youthfull Saddam, filled with vissions of Arab natioanlism, joined the socialist Baath party when he was 19 years old. Saddam made his mark in the Bath Party only 3 years. He participated in the 1959 assassination attempt aimed at Iaqi's Prime Minister Abudul Karim Kassim. During the attempt, Saddam was wounded in the leg. He sawm the Eurprathes River during the botched asaination and fled Iraq. He went first to Syria and then lived in Egypt for several yeats, undoubtedly inspired by Nassar's Arab-nationalist retoric.

Vice President

Saddam in 1968 helped lead the revolt that finally brought the Baath party to power. The Bath at the time was led by Gen. Ahmed Hassan Bakr. Saddam for his part in the revolt was rewarded by the office of the vice president. He used this office to build an extensive secret police network to ferret out dissidents. He also supported measures like a literacy program, in part to hide his actual priorities once he seized power.

President (1979)

Saddam 11 years after the successful 1968 Bath Party revolt deposed his old ally President Bakr in 1979. Soon Bagdad's streets were plastered with 20-foot-high portraits of Saddam. Saddam’s background as a revolutionary nd secret police chief made him acutely aware of the dangers posed by dissents to the regime. Very shortly after seizing the preidency, Saddam purged and murdered numerous government officials which he suspected of disloyalty. Until the Iran-Iraq war, however, there was considerable support for the Bathist regime in Iraq. Oil revenues after nationalisation and some imaginative social policies improved living standards. Considerable resources were devoted to education. [Aburish]

Personal Habits

So much has been attributed to Saddam that it is some times difficult to differentiate fact from fiction. Some claim, for example, that Saddam takes a different virgin to bed every night. Actually most crediable sources claim that he in fact is a rather prudish man, in sharp contrast to his oldes son Uday. Other characterizations of Saddam are of a fastidious man who dislikes personal contact. He is also often polite and thoughtful to thoise in his immediate family. Of course as proved in the incidents with his son ikn laws, he could be vengeful even within his family to those who have proven unfaithful. [Bouden] Most are aware that after his sun-in-laws defected, he and his son Uday finally succeeded in luring them back to Iraq. After they had returned with their families, he quickly not only had them killed, but alos had their children killed. These were his own grandchildren that he once played with that he had killed. [Zakaria] This was an action of viciousness without presedence in the modern era.


Saddam Hussein is not just a thug although his behavior has been thugish in the extreme. Sadam according to many accounts was obsessed with his place in history. [Aburish] Saddam sees himself as the great Arab savior. He views himself and Iraq as a the leader of Arab resistance to the outside world, bith the West and the Iranians. He believes that his many close escapes from death are because he is aman marked by destiny to lead the Arabs.

Historical Examples

Saddam is said to especially admire two men, Stalin and Churchill. The reason he would admire Stalin is obvious. Saddam like Stalin ruled with fear. Whole peoples were targeted for supprssion if deamed unloyal. He sought to build a similar police state structure to maintain his rule. Visitors to his personal quarters report an enormous collection of books on Stalin. Saddam's interest in Churchill is less obvious. Biographers believe that besides Churchill's stature was the fact that he was a superb writer and even dabled in painting. Saddam also sees himself as a Reanissance man, a writer including books and poetry and an admirer of art. [Bouden]


It was said of Saddam's regime that it was a tribe that conquered a nation. In many ways Saddam ruled Iraq as a conquered country. Not only way his power base his own tribe or really his clan within the trible, but he was aSunni in a predominately Shi'ite country. [Cockburn]

Dosmestic Terror

Besides the aggression on neigboring countries, Saddam administers one of the most brutal police states in the world and has even used weapons of mass destruction (WMD) on his own people. The first obvious indication was the Night of the Long Knives in which about one-third of the Bath Party Revolutionary Command Council was killed [Bouden]. The Iraq of Saddam Hussein is a terrible place to live, not because of U.N. sabctions, but because Saddam sytematically uses violence against the people of Iraq. The moral imperative for ousting Saddam is powerful. Iraq is an entire nation of victims. Saddam oppresses his people on a daily basis. Saddam's police have terrorized opponents by not only personal vengence, but horrifying acts against whole families. The most terrifying act, of course, was the use of poison gas against Kurdish villages. I have in my mind the Kurdish villages Saddam gassed and the pictures of mothers holding their children in their death agonies. Saddam has not only used violence and repression, but the brutality involved makes him stand out in a very violent region. Opponents of the regime are not only tortured and executed, but in a unknown number of cases the man's family, including wife children and parents, are tortured in front of him or he tortured in front of them. I do not know to waht extent these horrors are ordered by Saddam personally or the result of the excesses of the brutal men he has recruited to enforce his rule.

The Kurds

Saddam personally ordered the use of chemical weapons to crush a Kurdish rebellion in northern Iraq.


Saddam’s decided to pursue his pan-Aran nationlist agenda against neigboring Iran. Seeking to dominate the Arab world, he decided to ttack Muslim, but non-Aran Iran. This resulted in an 8-year war that eventually was concluded in a costly stalemate.


Saddam in August 1990 ordered the invasion of the oil sheikdom of Kuwait. The Iraqi Army overcame Kuwati defenses jn hours. Saddam proclaimed Kuwait as Iraq’s 19th province. He defied United Nation's directives to withdraw from Kuwait. The United States immediately organized the international ressistance from Saudi Arabia. As the two sides built up their forces, Saddam called the looming conflict as "the mother of all battles". He said that he had not doubt about the ability of his army to hold Kuwait.


Aburish, Said. Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge.

Bouden, Mark. Article in the Atlantic Monthly (May 2003) and interview by Charlies Rose on PBS (April 2003).

Cockburn, Andrew. Out of the Ashes.

Zakaria, Fareed. The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad.


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Created: December 9, 2002
Last edited: April 14, 2003