Saddam Hussein, one of the most controversial figures in modern
Middle East politics, was hanged Dec. 30 after being convicted
of crimes committed during his nearly 25-year reign as president
of Iraq. The former dictator was 69.
Supported by many of Iraq's minority
Sunni Muslim population, whom he favored and elevated during his tenure, Saddam
was equally hated by Shiites and Kurds, whom, under his leadership, were oppressed,
tortured and in many instances executed en masse at the hands of Saddam's feared
April 28, 1937, to Sunni Muslim farmers, Saddam rose to power in Iraq following
a childhood spent in the Sunni-dominated area of Tikrit, just north of Baghdad
in the province of Salahaddin.
"He was from a very poor family, in
a village called Al Awja," Said Aburish, author of "Saddam Hussein:
The Politics of Revenge," told PBS's Frontline in 2000. "As a young
boy he had to steal so his family could eat."
According to Aburish,
Saddam was illiterate until the age of 10.
In 1947, Saddam moved to Baghdad
with his uncle, an Iraqi army officer and crusader for Arab unity. By 19, he was
active in his uncle's cause and joined the socialist Baath Party.
as a member of the party that in 1959 Saddam was chosen to carry out the assassination
of Iraq's Prime Minister Karim Qasim. The attempt on Qasim's life failed and Saddam,
who was shot in the leg during the attack, was forced to flee Iraq, first traveling
to Syria and then to Egypt.
While in Egypt, Saddam studied law, earning
a degree from the University of Cairo's law school in 1962. He returned to Baghdad
in 1963 following Qasim's overthrow.
During this time, Saddam married his
cousin Sajida, with whom he subsequently had three daughters and two sons -- the
infamous Uday and Qusay Hussein, both of whom were killed by American forces in
2003 during the invasion of Iraq and toppling of their father's regime.
the Baath lost power later in 1963, Saddam tried to go into hiding but was arrested
and jailed. He escaped from prison in 1966 and continued his work with the party,
participating in the July 1968 coup that returned his Baath Party to power.
a major player in the coup, Saddam became vice chairman of the party's ruling
Revolutionary Command Council. Over the next few years, he rose through party
ranks and later became vice president and deputy secretary-general of the party's
During his time in government, Saddam oversaw the nationalization
of the oil industry and advocated a nation-wide infrastructure campaign that built
roads, schools and hospitals. The once illiterate boy from Al Awja also ordered
a mandatory literacy program that helped hundreds of thousands of Iraqis learn
to read. Those who did not participate risked three years in jail.
at this time, Iraq created one of the best public health systems in the Middle
East -- a feat that earned Saddam an award in the 1980s from the United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
But it was also during
this time that Saddam reportedly helped form secret police units that cracked
down on dissidents and those opposed to Baath rule. He also served in the Iraqi
armed forces as a lieutenant general from 1973 until 1976, when he was promoted
On July 16, 1979, President Hasan al-Bakr resigned and Saddam
rose to the presidency. Five of Saddam's fellow members of the Revolutionary Command
Council were quickly accused of involvement in a coup attempt against him and
executed, along with 17 other rivals.
A year after he rose to power, Saddam
launched a war against neighboring Iran, a country whose secular government had
been toppled a year earlier by a fundamentalist Shiite Muslim cleric. Along with
his disdain for Shiites, Saddam saw the disputed border region with Iran along
the Persian Gulf as a major source of oil and power.
During the war, he
used his secret police and brutal force to crush internal opposition. One of these
efforts led to the infamous chemical attack that killed 5,000 Kurdish civilians
in the town of Halabja, an attack for which Saddam was being tried at the time
of his 2006 execution.
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 influenced by
a territorial dispute and oil rights, Saddam ordered the invasion and occupation
of Kuwait. An international coalition led by the United States defeated Iraq and
forced a general retreat.
Although Kurds in the north and Shia in the south
attempted to exploit the weakened Saddam after his defeat and rose up, his decade-long
rule remained intact and his ability to marshal military support allowed him to
crush the rebellions.
was not until U.S. President George W. Bush, during his 2001 State of the Union
address, fingered Iraq and its nuclear weapons ambitions as part of an axis of
evil that threatened U.S. national security that things for Saddam took a downward
Following a March 17, 2003 ultimatum that the dictator leave Iraq
within 48 hours or face invasion -- an ultimatum Saddam ignored -- American forces
along with British support entered Iraq in a ground and air invasion that toppled
the Baath Party and forced Saddam to flee Baghdad.
Though he was aided by
supporters in the Sunni-dominated area near his hometown during his flight, American
forces captured the deposed leader, on the run for nine months, in a six-foot
hole near Tikrit on Dec. 13, 2003. Coalition forces detained him and placed him
on trial in Iraq.
The high-profile trial drew worldwide attention, as much
for the novelty of seeing the once-powerful, shotgun-toting military dictator
reduced to a shell of his former self, as for his antics in the courtroom.
On Dec. 27, 2006, Saddam was allowed a final meeting with two
of his half brothers. Less than three days later, in what many
worried would lead to violent attacks by his Sunni supporters,
Iraqi law government officials hanged the former president and
strongman in Baghdad.