>Obituary: Sadam Hussein

Obituary: Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein became one of the iconic figures of the Middle East [AFP]
At the height of his personal and military power, Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq with an iron and bloodstained fist.

He gave the appearance to his own people and those in the West of a benevolent personality – a useful influence against the potential hostility of the rest of the oil-producing Arab world.
In 1983 he was shaking the hand of Donald Rumsfeld, then envoy for Ronald Reagan.

The US was then providing Saddam with heavy artillery for his war with Iran and later, as the first Gulf war loomed, he was shaking hands with Kofi Annan.
The notorious leader was executed on Saturday after losing his appeal against the death sentence handed down by an Iraqi tribunal for his role in the execution of 148 Shia villagers in 1982.

A panel of Iraqi judges upheld the tribunal’s ruling that Saddam began a revenge campaign after an assassination attempt in the town of Dujail in 1982.

Revolutionary years

Saddam Hussein was the son of a shepherd, born in a village near Tikrit, north of Baghdad, in 1937.

The future Iraqi leader spent time on the run in Egypt [AFP]His name means “one who confronts” and by the age of 20 he had joined the revolutionary pan-Arab Baath party – hostile to conservative monarchists, wealthy merchants and the ruling classes of the Arab world.

Once on the run, then injured and imprisoned, he emerged 11 years later as a leading member of the party and deputy to the new revolutionary president, Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr.

Saddam’s personal ruthlessness began to emerge as he demanded and received the rank of four-star general in the Iraqi army despite his lack of military training.

By 1979 he had elbowed the ailing al-Bakr aside and assumed the presidency for himself.

Ruthless leadership

In the Baath party he ordered his potential rivals imprisoned or executed for treason and set about constructing an all-pervading personality cult.

Lookalikes carried out a number of Saddam’spublic dutiesBut he did see himself as a social revolutionary and a moderniser keen to lift Iraq from its peasant basis to a modern state, using the revenue from its rich oil fields to build, eradicate illiteracy and provide free education.

Nevertheless, too much exposure to the masses could be risky. His son Uday, notorious for his sadism, was badly injured in an attack in his car, and Saddam’s personal appearances were carefully choreographed.

He was known to have left many of them to lookalikes, of whom there were plenty to be found in Iraq.

Gulf wars

In 1980, Saddam’s longstanding unease with the Islamic state of Iran led him to launch a huge assault on it, backed by the West.

It resulted in one of the most destructive wars of attrition of the 20th century.
The US backed the Baathist leader in his war against Iran [AFP]More than 1.7 million died on both sides, including the poison gas attack on the northern village of Halabja to put down a Kurdish uprising against Saddam’s regime.

It was first blamed on the Iranians, but is now attributed to Saddam’s forces.

The Iran-Iraq war ended in statemate, and facing a war debt of billions of dollars, Saddam pushed for peace, but then turned his attention turned to Kuwait, which refused to write off its part of the debt.

His invasion of Kuwait ended with his forces being expelled by British and US forces, but over the next 10 years, the West began to say Iraq was assembling biological and chemical weapons.

US invasion

This was the beginning of the end for Saddam Hussein. UN weapons inspectors were allowed into Iraq, then expelled, then returned, as Britain and America prepared for war.

As coalition troops fought their way up from the south to Baghdad, Iraqi TV showed Saddam in his underground cabinet room.

But as Saddam’s statue in Baghdad was pulled down by US troops, the real Saddam was on the run, his two sons having been killed by American troops.

There followed a long manhunt for him, until his capture was announced.

His ability to evade capture for so long was evidence of the profound influence he exerted over his people even after he was deposed, as many ordinary Iraqis shrank from co-operating with the US.

Others saw him as a strong leader who rained Scud rockets on Israel and at least briefly restored self-respect to the Arab nation.

Nevertheless, Saddam’s reign ended in defeat, his ubiquitous portraits torn down and destroyed after the occupation of his capital.

Saddam had been discovered living in a hole in the ground in a farmhouse near his hometown of Tikrit.

His first words to his captors were “I am the president of Iraq.”

Six months later, Saddam was brought to trial with others on charges of crimes against humanity before a special Iraqi tribunal.

That itself became a long wrangle, with judges resigning and defence lawyers kidnapped and killed.

Saddam remained defiant and contemptuous of the court throughout his trial and on November 5, 2006, he was found guilty and sentenced to death.