Saddam Hussein At-Tikrit was the president of Iraq from 1979 to 2003, and took his country into a whole lot of fighting. He was born 28 April 1937 near Tikrit in the Saladin province of Iraq to a poor family. His father died or deserted the family when Hussein was very young, and when his mother remarried, his stepfather treated him quite badly. When he was ten, Hussein went to live with an uncle in Baghdad; there at sixteen he tried to enter the country's elite Military Academy. Refused admission for bad grades, he turned to revolutionary politics.

At 20 he joined the Ba'th Socialist party and participated in an attempted coup in 1959. When it failed, he fled to Syria and then Egypt (having been sentenced to death in absentia), attending law school in Cairo and returning to Baghdad when his party gained control in 1963. When the Ba'thists were overthrown shortly thereafter, Hussein spent a few years in Iraqi prison.

He escaped from prison in 1967, becoming a leader of the Ba'thists, who regained power in 1968, and essentially acting as co-president with the elected President Bakr (Hussein's cousin), and caused the nationalization of the country's oil industry, formerly run by Western companies, in 1972. During the 1970s, he also finished his law degree and got a Master of Arts in Military Science. (He would later receive an honorary doctorate in law.) When Bakr resigned, Hussein became official president in 1979. Six days later, he condemned about 20 leading party members to death for conspiracy. After that, he became prime minister and head of the Revolutionary Council in addition to being president, giving him a stranglehold on the country's politics. He built up a cult of personality within Iraq and said his goals were to overcome Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries to become leader of the Arab world and to increase Iraqi standards of living with oil money.

In 1980 Iraq invaded neighboring Iran for its oil fields, but the Iranians fought back and the war was essentially a stalemate. Paying for the war caused Hussein to scale back on his other plans, and still put the country in debt. When the war ended in 1988, Hussein did not stop building up his military forces. The point of this became clear when Iraq overran the small country of Kuwait in August 1990; Kuwait's oil would have boosted the Iraqi economy greatly. However, other countries started first a trade blockade and then a United Nations resolution to use force to end the occupation of Kuwait. United States-led forces took six weeks to get the Iraqis out of Kuwait in the Gulf War, and groups within Iraq (Kurds and Shi'ite Muslims) tried to take advantage of the situation to rebel. However, the UN forces stopped when they had liberated Kuwait, and Hussein's troops were able to put down the internal rebellions.

(Saddam Hussein's relatives formed the core of his trusted advising group; he has brought many of them from Tikrit and put them in high positions. He has married twice; his first wife Sajida is the mother of his first two sons and three daughters, and his second wife Samira is mother of his youngest son Ali. The oldest son, Uday, was put on trial in 1988 for murdering his father's valet. Hussein said even the president's son had to face justice, but Uday was only exiled to Switzerland for a year and then came back to Iraq, where he was later crippled in an assassination attempt. The next son, Qusai, ran the Revolutionary Guards and Special Forces which his father used to stay in power. These two sons were killed by American soldiers in July 2003.

However, even family weren't always trustworthy for him. Hussein Kamel Majid and Saddam Kamel, Hussein's cousins and sons-in-law fled Iraq for Jordan in 1995 (with their families -- Hussein's daughters and grandchildren leaving Iraq made this even a bigger scandal) and spoke of overthrowing Hussein. However, anti-Hussein forces were reluctant to deal with them because of their former close relationship with the dictator. They returned the next year, having been told Hussein would pardon them, but on entering the country the men were separated from the women and children in their parties and a few days later it was announced that these sons-in-law were dead in a gunfight, in which their killers had conveniently died too.)

Hussein stayed in power after the Gulf War and refused to cooperate with inspectors from the UN coming to verify that Iraq was not producing the weapons it was forbidden to make by the cease-fire agreement. Iraq was put under sanctions until it allowed inspections (weakening its already-weak economy) and a four-day United States/Great Britain air strike was made on Iraq in 1998 to attempt to force compliance. American and British air patrols continued to fly over Iraq and bomb its defenses, and Iraqis still tried to shoot those planes down. Both of those countries also announced that they supported any political opposition to Hussein within Iraq and would provide those groups with economic assistance.

However, the U.S. and U.K. eventually got tired of waiting or something; rather than allow United Nations inspections to keep looking (after they found no weapons of mass destruction at first), and arranged a coalition to invade Iraq in March 2003 to remove Hussein from power. Within a month Baghdad had fallen to U.S. soldiers and Hussein's regime was ousted, but Hussein's fate was unknown until the early hours of 14 December 2003, when he was captured by U.S. forces from an underground pit under a house in a small village a few miles from his hometown of Tikrit. His whereabouts were known because of a tip from an Iraqi. (See The Search for Saddam Hussein for more details.)

Though Hussein's leadership was one of the things that led the United States to invade Iraq in March 2003, his capture did not end problems between the U.S. and Iraq, nor did his death. As Senator. John Rockefeller of West Virginia, the senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement, the circumstances of Saddam's capture in a hole in the ground showed that he was "not managing the insurgency, and that he had very little control or influence," meaning that the attackers of U.S. forces were not fighting for him, but against the United States.

Saddam Hussein was tried by Iraq's Special Tribunal for ordering the killings of 148 Shi'ite Muslims from the city of Dujail, though he questioned the legitimacy of the court on several occasions and at one point went on a hunger strike. (Critics of the trial also argued that the standard of guilt was different than usual in this trial, since a conviction could be obtained based on being "satisfied" of Hussein's guilt, instead of the usual "proved beyond a reasonable doubt.) Hussein's defense argued that the men killed had received a fair trial and that their deaths were not an unusual sentence for seeking to assassinate a head of state such as Saddam. Three of Hussein's lawyers were assassinated during the proceedings, and other lawyers boycotted the court afterward.

Hussein was convicted on November 6, 2006. An Iraqi court rejected his appeal on December 25, 2006, and then an American judge rejected a last-minute challenge to the death sentence. (A second trial was going on at the time of his death for genocide and other crimes during the 1987-88 military crackdown that killed approximately 180,000 Kurds in northern Iraq, and this trial will probably continue with Hussein's co-defendants.)

Hussein was hanged by Iraqi executioners in Baghdad on December 30, 2006. Footage of what was said to be his dead body, partially wrapped in a shroud, was shown on Iraqi state television to help prove that he was truly dead. Reports say that his body was taken by the governor of Salahuddin province and the head of Saddam's clan for burial near Tikrit.

Reaction in Iraq was mixed, with some celebrations and some protests. Some Muslims, particularly Sunni Muslims like Hussein, have been angry that Hussein's execution happened on the first day of the four days of the religious holiday Eid al-Adha, or Feast of the Sacrifice, which marks biblical patriarch Abraham's willingness to kill his son for God, and during the hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca which Muslims are supposed to make at least once. Most governments of other Muslim countries did not make many official statements immediately, whether because the holiday means that the government offices were closed or because they do\id not want to get into a further war of words. Libya, however, proclaimed three days of national mourning for Hussein.

Sources: and following pages in the article. decision_makers_and_diplomacy/newsid_216000/216328.stm

The CIA v. Saddam Hussein

Pretty much from the beginning, the CIA was involved in what was referred to as the "Gulf War" (Operation Desert Storm—an "upgrade" from Operation Desert Shield). Early on working to disseminate propaganda (at an estimated cost of $20 million) and later to attempt to work with opposition forces (estimated at $11 million).1 After the "war" had been fought and Hussein was clearly still in command, the US government upped the covert activities of the agency.

"Budapest Rules"
To begin. There are "operational guidelines" ("legal" guidelines) that the CIA must follow in covert operations that may include "fatalities" (the president issues what is called a "fatal finding" allowing for them to proceed with certain restrictions2). One is that they must not assassinate foreign leaders (though the implication seems to be "direct" with a great deal of leeway as to what would constitute "indirect"). The other is that the CIA's propaganda and promises cannot "explicitly" give any assurance that the US will back any revolution. It is referred to as the "Budapest rules" after the failed coup designed and implemented by the Eisenhower administration in Hungary in 1956. After it began, the US announced it would not intervene. The Soviets crushed the revolution; some 20,000 people were killed.

Of course "rules" are abstract concepts that can be bent into entirely different things according to need or convenience by the intelligence community.

What to do about Hussein
The "war" hadn't deposed Hussein and sanctions weren't harming anyone other than the poor and hungry population of Iraq. The intention/goal of the conflict (see footnote 1) had been to excise Hussein and leave the government relatively intact in order to maintain stability in the region. Not only was one or more opposition forces taking over less preferred, it had up until then failed—despite US support and numerous attempts, no opposition group had managed to either launch a successful offensive or assassination of the leader.3

The US had been supporting the Iraqi National Congress (INC; itself partially organized by the CIA), which was a popular group that gave promise of a possible democratic government in the future. They were positive though US officials felt they might never succeed. Regardless, aid was given them (to the tune of $4 million annually) and by 1994, the CIA had a base of operations and was helping direct in military operations.

How much the US actually wanted to aid them is questionable—it might have been a means to destabilize things just enough to get Hussein out of power without the dreaded "separate Arab states" threat. Part of the INC's plan was to, at least temporarily, unite opposition and Kurdish groups as a military force to wrest control of the country away from Hussein. Further, one of the men in the INC, a former Iraqi general, informed Washington that the INC had lied to the CIA and was planning to get the US involved in a new war with Iraq (whether this is accurate is unclear but it certainly served its purpose to pull support from a military offensive to what was preferred: see below). The government wanted nothing to do with that, preferring to do its "warring" with other people's troops, and the INC offensive was a failureon the other hand, it was expected to aid the preferred plan by destabilizing (at least temporarily) the military forces while the new government took power.

The preferred means to an end would be a coup d'etat from within the ranks of Hussein's own men (bearing in mind the "Budapest rule"—just because it was orchestrated and run by the CIA is to be ignored). This would allow men from the military itself to get rid of the leader but maintain control over the government and also maintaining Hussein's "regime" without his presence—something that would coincide with US interests in the region.

It was also viewed as much quicker means to accomplish the intended goals. The US was frustrated and impatient with the situation in the area (and a bit embarrassed that the "problem" had not gone away even after superior American armed force had been unleashed in Iraq).

Iraqi National Accord
This preferred plan of action was decided to be carried out through a group called Iraqi National Accord (INA), a group of exiled military personnel headed by CIA (and MI6) recruit General Adnan Nuri (interestingly the general who "informed" Washington about the INC's supposed plan to engage the US in an overt war). The INA had many members that were formerly part of Hussein's "ruling circle." The group was set up in Jordan and funded through the US, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan (as much as $6 million). They were given the impression that the US would support and recognize them as the country's new leaders (again the "Budapest rules").

From early on, it seems, Hussein and his intelligence not only knew about but had infiltrated the INA. Apparently he was aware of the coup and the proposed offensive by November 1995, months before either was to take place. In fact, apparently a member of the INC had been warned ahead of time through a contact in the security forces to "Get out and tell your friends to escape. Pull out quickly" ( As of that time, the INC had not been privileged to know about the coup plot. It passed the information, along with the claim that Iraqi intelligence had intercepted CIA communications equipment, to the US. Additionally, Hussein was thought to know the identities of the members of the coup. No action was taken.4

Coup d'etat interruptus
The INA engaged in a number of bombings and killings (" terrorist activity"), resulting in the deaths of at least 150 civilians. As the time for the coup came close (June 1996), the members prepared themselves. They were given a satellite phone (Frontline says "mobile phones") with a direct line to CIA operatives.5 But before they were able to begin the operation, Hussein's security police and military launched a blitzkrieg crackdown, rounding up the members of the coup as well as additional opposition and CIA-associated operatives ("assets"). A few hundred (at least) were arrested (many presumably tortured and probably executed) and at least eighty senior Iraqi officers were summarily killed.

Iraqi intelligence found the satellite phone and sent a message to the operatives on the other end (the CIA offices at the Jordanian US embassy, according to including some verses from the Qur'an and order to "Go back to Langley."6

While hardly "out" of the region or considering Hussein low priority, CIA operations were scaled back a great deal and most funding dropped. Hussein, as of late 2001, remains in power.

1US support of opposition forces was always lukewarm and somewhat tentative, using them as a matter of convenience or distraction. The goals in Iraq were not to "take down" Saddam and his government, but rather dispose of him, leaving the "regime" intact. The US did not want the various factions declaring separate independences because it would not coincide with US "interests" in the region according to former CIA director, R. James Woolsey (1993-1995) on PBS's Frontline. This is partly why US troops stood by and watched Kurds being massacred by the Iraqis (no explanation why the US allows Turkey to do the same with American weapons). Iraq had to remain "intact" to serve US purposes (one fear was that one or more factions would ally with Iran).

2 President Bush (Sr.) issued one in 1991. Brent Scowcroft, the National Security Advisor, was asked by Peter Jennings of ABC if it was "fair to say from a layman's point of view that it's the nearest thing you can do to try to kill a foreign leader without saying you're going to set out to kill a foreign leader?" "That's right, yes."

3It had come close in 1991, with southern Shi'i Iraqis. Unfortunately for them, the Bush administration decided not to offer any sort of aid, allowing Iraqi forces to regroup and attack with helicopters—something US military negotiators had allowed them to keep following the war, a move later admitted to be a "mistake" (Frontline). The perceived threat to stability ("US interests") of a separate arab state being the chief reason. In 1995 and 1996 northern groups again were ready to strike but were again refused support (this time by the Clinton administration). This is not to say there was no support at all. The CIA aided all the groups to some extent. But they were basically on their own despite being given the impression (if not the "assurance"—supposedly against operational guidelines—sources claim an agent of the CIA had done so) they would receive military support.

4Some of the specifics are from "Iraquis close to the operation" ( It certainly is plausible, not only given the way events progressed but that prior to the INC offensive, Hussein's forces attacked and overwhelmed their positions, including the CIA base of operations. Agents fled the base (perhaps aware ahead of time) leaving behind a number of documents and equipment. Just what Iraqi intelligence was able to glean from its find isn't know for sure, but is highly suggestive.

5According to story, the breakdown was due to the CIA using an Egyptian "go-between" to deliver communications equipment to the group. It claims he "denounced his contacts to the Iraqi mukhabarat [the domestic security agency]." Any one of these events was enough to put the operation in serious jeopardy, if they all are true, it never had a chance. Plus, Hussein was prepared for such contingencies. As noted by Frontline: "a special unit of Iraqi intelligence has studied every coup of the 20th century." During the program, Ahmad Chalabi (leader of the opposition) stated that "Saddam is a far better plotter, a more apt and accomplished plotter, than the CIA will ever be. He is good."

6According to Frontline: "then they find the CIA's phones. An Iraqi agent intelligence officer places a call. An American agent answers. He is told, 'Your men are dead. Pack up and go home.'" A more dramatic ending; which is the correct version I am unsure.

(Sources:;;;;;; PBS Frontline "Gunning for Saddam" 8 November 2001, portions of which appeared on the earlier "The Survival of Saddam" 25 January 2000)

Saddam Hussein 'Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti (also spelled Husayn, Hussain) was the brutal dictator of Iraq from 1979 to 2003.

Son of Hussein al-Majid and Subha Tulfah al-Mussallat, Saddam never saw his father, who died in mysterious circumstances around the time Saddam was born. Subha married Ibrahim al-Hassan, who treated Saddam harshly. Saddam was born on April 28, 1937 in the village of Al-Awja, close to Tikrit.

At the age of 10, Saddam went to Baghdad to live with his uncle, Khairallah. Saddam joined the Ba'ath Party and participated in the assassination attempt on Iraqi dictator Abdul Karim Qassem. It failed, and Saddam escaped to Cairo, Egypt.

Returning to Iraq following a Ba'ath revolution who deposed and killed Qassem, but he was imprisoned following a takeover by the military, led by Abdul Salam Arif.

Saddam escaped from prison and joined his cousin Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, secretary-general of the Ba'ath Party. In 1968, al-Bakr led a coup d'├ętat which deposed Iraq's leader Abdar Rahman Arif, brother of the late Abdul Salam. By the early 1970s, Saddam was the de facto leader of Iraq.

In 1979, Saddam forces al-Bakr to resign. Now supreme leader, Saddam purged the Ba'ath Party, executing many members who diagreed with him.

In 1980, Saddam invaded Iran, beginning a decade-long war which ended with the lives of more than 800,000 people. Saddam used many lethal gases against Iranian troops. The war ended with a peace treaty in 1988.

During 1988, Saddam ordered his cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid ("Chemical Ali"), to begin a campaign against the Kurds. The result was a terrible genocide called the Anfal campaign, in which more than 50,000 people died. The most famous target of Anfal was Halabja, in which 5,000 died.

During the Iran-Iraq War, the United States helped Iraq, but in 1989 relations with that superpower became sour. In 1990, Saddam invaded his helpless neighbor, Kuwait. Reluctantly, the United Nations authorized the United States to make an international coalition to drive out Saddam from Kuwait.

In 1991, Saddam was defeated, but left in power. That same years, the Shi'ite Muslims in the south and the Kurds in the north revolted, but the United States failed to help the rebels and the Iraqi army crushed the revolts.

In Augus 1995, Saddam's daughter Rana and her husband Hussein Kamel al-Majid and Saddam's daughter Raghad and her husband Saddam Kamel al-Majid defected to Jordan. Saddam lied to them and brought them back to Iraq, where Saddam's son mercilessly slaughter the Kamel brothers. Rana and Raghad never talked to their father and their brother again. The leader of the Iraqi opposition, Ahmed Chalabi, led a coup in 1995, but it failed to depose Saddam.

American President George W. Bush named Iraq part of an axis of evil. In 2003, the United States, the United Kingdom, Poland, and Australia begun a war against Saddam, which ended with the Saddam government when coalition troops entered Baghdad on April 9, 2003. It is not clear if Saddam was killed in the bombings of April 7, or if he lived until April 9. Saddam's secretary, Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti, was captured in June 16 and he claimed that Saddam had escaped to Syria but was now in Iraq. A brutal dictator, Saddam killed about 2 million people.

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