The Crimes of Saddam Hussein


By Dave Johns

1970–1999 Killing of Political and Religious Opponents

Armed soldier at night checkpoint

In the mid–1970s, Saddam was not yet president, but he held a powerful position as the chairman of the Ba’ath regime’s Revolutionary Command Council. In this role, he issued many decrees that spelled death for individuals who had made political statements against the regime. People who delivered antigovernment speeches or protests or who simply voiced criticism of the regime or the president were putting themselves at risk. This practice of targeting political and religious opponents for elimination continued and even expanded during Saddam’s presidency. He also targeted for assassination many opposition figures outside of Iraq, including individuals in the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Sudan and Lebanon.

One prominent opponent of the Ba’athists was al–Daawa, also known as the Islamic Call Party, a Shiite political group and activist organization with a penchant for targeted acts of violence. Established in 1969 and led by spiritual leader Muhammad Baqir al–Sadr, a prodigy who had lectured on Islamic history since the age of 10, the organization was renowned for its discipline and boldness. Its reputation for activism made it one of the regime’s most important indigenous enemies. In December 1974, when Saddam was chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, government security forces detained approximately 75 members of the al–Daawa Party in response to Shiite political demonstrations against Ba’athist rule in Karbala and Najaf. Five Daawa leaders, including the operational leader of the party, were executed.

Later, bolstered by Iran’s Islamic revolution, Daawa leader al–Sadr began making overt statements supporting the Iranian revolution, and he issued a fatwa prohibiting Iraqi Shiites from joining the Sunni–dominated Ba’ath Party. The Ba’athists put him under house arrest. In 1979 and 1980, the Daawa assassinated several Ba’ath Party members and in April 1980 carried out a failed attempt to kill Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz. Days later, the regime executed al–Sadr and his sister. The violence between the Ba’ath Party and al–Daawa increased through the 1980s. In July 1982, al–Daawa attempted to assassinate Saddam in the town of Dujail.

Charges and evidence

Many groups have documented Saddam’s long track record of assassinating his political and religious enemies, especially Shi’iah clergy. The U.S. State Department has said the number of persons killed is difficult to estimate, but could be in the thousands. The murder of five Daawa leaders in 1974 was one of the charges announced in Baghdad in July 2004.

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