Rise to Power|
Saddam Hussein was born on April 28, 1937 in a village near Tikrit, north of Baghdad.
"He was from a very poor family, in a village called Al Awja, which is next to the town of Tikrit. As a young boy he had to steal so his family could eat. He stole eggs, and he stole chicken, things like that," Said Aburish, author of Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge, told Frontline in a 2000 biography. "He was illiterate until the age of ten. He heard that his cousin could read and write and demanded that he be afforded the same opportunity."
As he was learning to read, the ten-year-old moved to Baghdad with his uncle, an Iraqi army officer and crusader for Arab unity. By 19, Saddam was politically active, supporting Arab unity and joining the socialist Ba'ath Party.
Three years later, he participated in a botched assassination attempt against Iraqi Prime Minister General Abdel-Karim Qassem. Saddam was shot in the leg during the attempt and was forced to flee the country for several years, first traveling to Syria and then to Egypt.
While in Egypt he studied the law, earning a degree from the University of Cairo's law school in 1962. Saddam returned to Baghdad in 1963, during a brief period of Ba'ath rule. During this time, Saddam married his cousin Sajida, with whom he subsequently had three daughters and two sons. After the Ba'ath lost power later in 1963, he tried to go into hiding but was arrested and jailed.
In 1966, he escaped from prison and continued his work with the party, culminating in a critical role in the July 1968 coup that brought the Ba'ath party to power for good. Following the coup, Saddam became vice chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council in 1969. Over the next few years, he rose through the party ranks, becoming vice president and deputy secretary-general of the Ba'ath Party's Regional Command.
chairman, he oversaw the nationalization of the oil industry and advocated a national
infrastructure campaign that built roads, schools and hospitals. The once illiterate
Saddam, ordered a mandatory literacy program. Those who did not participate risked
three years in jail, but hundreds of thousands learned to read. Iraq, at this
time, created one of the best public-health systems in the Middle East -- a feat
that earned Saddam an award from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and
On July 16, 1979, President al-Bakr resigned and Saddam rose to the presidency. Five of his fellow members of the Revolutionary Command Council were quickly accused of involvement in a coup attempt and executed, along with 17 other rivals.
A year later, Saddam Hussein launched a war against neighboring Iran, a country whose secular government had been toppled a year earlier by a fundamentalist Shi'ite Muslim cleric. Saddam also saw the disputed border region along the Persian Gulf as a major source of oil and power.
During that war, he used his secret police and brutal force to crush internal opposition. One of these efforts led to the infamous gas attacks on separatist Kurdish villages in northern Iraq.
Following the bloody stalemate at the end of the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam turned inward for two years, rebuilding what had become the fourth largest army in the world.
Then in 1990, again drawn by a territorial dispute and oil rights, Saddam ordered the invasion and occupation of Kuwait. An international coalition led by the U.S. defeated Iraq and forced a general retreat.
Although Kurds in the north and Shia in the south attempted to exploit a weakened Saddam and rose up, his decade-long rule remained intact and his ability to marshal military support allowed him to crush the rebellions. Since then, he has maintained control through the use of force and the portrayal of himself as the defender of the nation against anti-Iraqi forces like colonial Britain and the U.S.
-- By Jessica Moore, Online NewsHour