President and dictator of Iraq from 1979 to 2003. Born Saddam Hussein al-Majid al-Tikriti in Al-Awja, Iraq, he was the son of a poor shepherd family of the Begat tribal group. His father, Hussein Abid al-Majid, disappeared six months before he was born, and his mother, Subha Tulfah al-Mussallat, sent the infant son to be raised by her brother, Khairallah Talfah. When he was three years old, his mother remarried, and Saddam returned to his mother, gaining three half-brothers in the process. His stepfather treated Saddam harshly, and when he was ten years old, Saddam returned to his uncle, Khairallah Talfah, in Baghdad. Tulfah, who would be the father of Saddam's future wife, Sajida Talfah, was a devout Sunni Muslim and strongly anti-British. Saddam's aunt was a militant Iraqi nationalist, and both his uncle and aunt had great influence on his later political thinking. After graduating from high school, Saddam studied three years, before dropping out of law school to join the pan-Arab Baath Party. In 1958, General Abdul Qassim led Iraqi army officers and Baath party members to overthrew King Faisal II of Iraq. Saddam married his cousin, Sajida, in 1963, and they would have five children, two sons Uday and Qusay, and three daughters, Rana, Raghad and Hala. In accordance with Muslim tradition, he would later add two more wives, Samira Shahbandar, with whom he would have a son Ali, and Nidal al-Hamdani, a union which produced no children. By 1968, Saddam had risen to Baath Party Secretary, and when the Baath Party overthrew President Abdul Arif, Saddam became deputy to the new President, Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr. Over the next several years, Saddam built up his reputation as a progressive and effective leader, overseeing many positive initiatives, including free education, increased literacy, free hospitalization, rural modernization, farm subsidies and the reduction of unemployment. Much of the money for this effort came from the nationalization of the Iraqi oil industry, which had been dominated primarily by European and American oil companies. Saddam developed his following as a social revolutionary and modernizer, following the success shown by Egypt's Gamal Nasser. Promoted to General in the Iraqi Army in 1976, Saddam became president just three years later, on July 16, 1979. A week later, he eliminated all opposition in the Iraqi parliament by having those he considered disloyal arrested for treason and executed. At that point he assumed dictatorial powers, which he never released. He was ruthless to his enemies and generous to those loyal to him, and he gave prominent positions of power to family members and friends. His half-brother, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, was named head of the Iraqi Secret Police, and was given broad powers of arrest, torture, and assassination to eliminate Saddam's enemies. An admitted admirer of both Hitler and Stalin, Saddam built up a cult of personality. In foreign affairs, Saddam saw himself as the prime Arab leader, and worked to develop his influence over other countries. In the early 1980s, he courted France and obtained a nuclear reactor, which Israel bombed in June 1981, believing it to be a grave threat to Israel and the stability of the Middle East. In 1979, when the Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers turned Iran into an Islamic state, Saddam and Khomeini looked at overthrowing each other, with Iran encouraging the Iraqi Shiites to attack Saddam's government. This led to an eight year war with Iran, which only ended by mutual stalemate in 1988. Believing that Kuwait was not helping Iraq pay off its war debts by keeping the price of oil low, Saddam invaded Kuwait in August 1990, setting off the Gulf War, which ended in Iraqi ouster in 1991. After the Gulf War, the US encouraged Shiite Muslims, Kurds, and other dissidents to overthrow Saddam, but other than words, the US provided no aid to overthrow him. Over the next twelve years, Saddam worked to rebuilt his military and to keep control over the country, ruthlessly eliminating anyone he believed would possibly revolt against him. Despite sanctions by the United States over twelve years, Saddam played a hide-and-seek game with UN inspectors, leading many to believe that he was still seeking nuclear or chemical weapons, both of which were banned under the treaty ending the 1991 Gulf War. In March 2003, the United States launched a war against him from neighboring Kuwait, with the Iraqi government falling in less than five weeks. Saddam went underground inside Iraq, but was captured by US forces in December 2003, and taken into custody. He was tried along with other senior Iraqi leaders for crimes against humanity and other offences by an Iraqi court, and sentenced to death. After Iraq's Supreme Court reaffirmed his conviction, he was hanged on December 30, 2006, in Kadhimiya, a neighborhood of Badhdad. He was buried the next day at his birthplace of Al-Awja, in Tikrit, Iraq. He left behind a long letter addressed to the Iraqi people, which his lawyers released following his death.
Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson