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Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti was born in the town of Al-Awja in Iraq in 1937 and joined the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party as a young man, soon becoming involved in revolutionary activities.
In 1959, he was sentenced to death and took refuge in Egypt, but a coup in 1963 made his return possible, although in the following year he was imprisoned for plotting to overthrow the regime he had helped to install.
After his release, he took a leading part in the 1968 revolution, removing the civilian government and establishing a Revolutionary Command Council (RCC).
At first discreetly, and then more openly, Hussein strengthened his position and in 1979 became RCC chair and state president, eliminating real or imagined opposition factions as he gained increasing dictatorial control.
In 1977, Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti abolished the use of surnames in Iraq to conceal the fact that a large number of people in the government and ruling party all came from his home region of Tikrit and therefore, bore the same surname.
Ruthless in the pursuit of his objectives, he fought a bitter war against Iran from 1980 to 1988 (with US economic aid) and opposed Kurdish rebels seeking independence, using chemical weapons against civilian populations.
The 1990 Kuwait annexation followed a long-running border dispute and was prompted by the need for more oil resources after the expensive war against Iran.
Saddam, who had enjoyed US support for being the enemy of Iran and had used poison gas against his own people in Kurdistan without any falling off in trade with the West, suddenly found himself almost universally condemned.
Iraq’s defeat in the ensuing Gulf War undermined Saddam’s position as the country’s leader; when the Kurds rebelled again after the end of the war, he sent the remainder of his army to crush them, bringing international charges of genocide against him and causing hundreds of thousands of Kurds to flee their homes in northern Iraq.
His continued indiscriminate bombardment of Shiites in southern Iraq led the UN to impose a ”no-fly zone” in the area in August 1992.
Another potential confrontation with the West was averted in 1994. However, in September 1996 the US retaliated against Hussein’s encroachment into UN protected territories in northern Iraq, carrying out missile attacks on Iraqi military bases in the area.
Saddam’s older son, Uday, was crippled in an assassination attempt in January 1997. The attack was carried out as part of a feud by the family of a senior Iraqi general (Uday’s uncle) killed by the Iraqi leader for criticism of his regime seven years earlier.
Saddam’s younger son, Qusai, was promoted in April 2000 to the rank of superior minister, making him the heir to the president.
The decision was made earlier in the year by the Revolutionary Command Council, but not announced until March, and effectively bypassed Uday, who, although elected to parliament with almost 100% of the constituency’s vote, was regarded by the family as unsuitable.
The US continued to view Saddam as a tyrant and a threat to the stability of the region and throughout the 1990s President Clinton maintained sanctions and ordered air strikes in the Iraqi no-fly zones in the hope that Saddam would be overthrown by political enemies inside Iraq.
The scenario changed dramatically in 2001 after the September 11 attacks on New York, as President George W. Bush spoke of an “axis of evil” consisting of Iran, North Korea, and Iraq.
Bush announced that he would take action to topple the Iraqi government because of the alleged threat of its “weapons of mass destruction”.
Saddam later claimed that he falsely led the world to believe Iraq possessed nuclear weapons in order to appear strong against Iran.
Within three weeks of the beginning of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Iraqi government had collapsed and Saddam Hussein had gone into hiding.
On 14 December 2003, he was captured hiding in a small pit at a farmhouse in ad-Dawr near Tikrit.
He was handed over to the new interim Iraqi government for trial, and on 5 November 2006 – after a lengthy trial – Saddam Hussein was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death by hanging.
Saddam was hanged on 30 December 2006 at ”Camp Justice” – an Iraqi army base in Kadhimiya, northeast Baghdad. He was buried at his birthplace of Al-Awja, Tikrit.