Born on April 28, 1937, in a village near the small town of Tikrit, a hundred miles north of Baghdad, Iraq. Following Arab tradition, Saddam took his father's first name as his own second name. But instead of taking on the family name Al-Majid, he chose to call himself Al-Tikriti, meaning from the town of Tikrit. His decision could be explained by the fact that he was supposedly abandoned by Hussein Abdul Al-Majid, his father. The official Iraqi biographers say however that Hussein Abdul Al-Majid died when Saddam Hussein was only a few months old. Nonetheless, the cause of his death remains uncertain. Saddam Hussein's mother, Subha Talfah, quickly found solace in the arms of Ibrahim Hassan, a distant relative on his father's side. He married his mother and became Saddam Hussein's stepfather. Ibrahim Hassan was an abusive parent, regularly beating young Saddam. Official biographies say that, despite this ill-treatment, the future dictator never withdrew within himself: "He faced the difficult life ahead like a man."
In 1955, when Saddam Hussein moved to Baghdad to attend secondary school, Iraq was a monarchy controlled by the British. While Saddam, now a teenager, was familiarizing himself with life in a big city, the country was in turmoil. Arab indignation at the establishment of the state of Israel was being whipped up to new extremes by Egyptian strongman Gamal Abdul Nasser. To make things worse, British and French forces occupied the Suez Canal, after Nasser decided to nationalize it. The French and British attempt to hold back a relentless tide of Arab nationalism was prevented by American political intervention, an instance of support for the Arab cause that is seldom remembered today.
In Baghdad, young Saddam was living with his uncle Khairallah Talfah, a former officer embittered by the treatment at the hands of the British while in the army. A Ba'athist, Talfah greatly influenced Saddam Hussein. In 1958, the future dictator personally witnesses the events that led to the swift and extremely violent overthrow of King Faisal II and of his pro-western government. But the new government, headed by Abdul Kareem Qassem, which promised so much, failed to deliver and soon provoked as much opposition as the monarchy had. This time, however, the political battle was different because Qassem had the support of the army. Regrettably, he had an opponent in Abdul Salem Aref, who led the army first moves against the monarchy and who was now, in the aftermath of the coup, deputy prime minister, minister of the interior and deputy commander-in-chief.
Within five days after the coup, Qassem and Aref began bickering on the question of union with Egypt. Qassem was against unity fearing he might by replaced by Nasser, an immensely popular politician in Iraq. Aref, a hard-line Ba'athist favored immediate unity.
Fearing a rebellion, Qassem ordered Aref arrested and charged with trying to overthrow the government. After a trial not unlike the ones held by the French revolutionary tribunals during the Terror, Aref was sentenced to the death penalty. His sentence however was commuted to life imprisonment. The Ba'ath party view the chances of overthrowing Qassem by a coup to be slim, because of the ongoing purges and political trials. Its leaders decided that assassination was the best alternative. They selected amid the members of the party a group of young daring thugs to do the dirty job. Among them was Saddam Hussein. Regrettably for Saddam Hussein, everything went wrong. He not only failed to kill Qassem, but he also somehow managed to shoot himself in the foot during the attempted murder. He had to take refuge in Syria, fearing reprisal. After six months in Damascus, he moved on to Cairo where he enrolled at the local university and immersed himself in Ba'ath politics. Two years later, in February 1963, Qassem's luck ran out. He was deposed by the army and summarily executed. Aref was now in power, but just as a figurehead president. The real leader was the Ba'ath party. Jubilant, Saddam Hussein came back, just in time for the torture and execution of Qassem's inner circle. Meanwhile, Aref was growing weary of being just a puppet in the hands of the Ba'athists, so on November 18 he seized total power to establish an army-backed government. Members of the Ba'ath party, including Saddam Hussein, were forced to flee Baghdad and go into hiding. The following year, in September 1964, Saddam was arrested for plotting against the Aref government and sent to prison. In April 1966, Aref died in a dubious helicopter crash. There was talk of sabotage. Aref's elder brother, Abdul Rahman Aref, an alcoholic with no charisma and no talent for government assumed power. Not for long though, because in 1968 he was overthrown by Ahmed Hassan Al-Bakr, Khairallah Talfah's cousin. Al-Bakr, now president, prime minister and commander-in-chief of the army appointed his nephew, Saddam Hussein, as vice-president of the Revolutionary Command Council. By 1979 the future dictator was Al-Bakr's deputy, second in command. He decided he was ready to replace Al-Bakr, then sixty-seven years old. So, in July 1979 Saddam encourage him to retire. Al-Bakr was wise enough not to resist Saddam's suggestion. Now, Saddam Hussein was the top man in Iraq.
Saddam Hussein always had a nasty, bellicose nature, but his decision on going to war with Iran wasn't entirely dictated by his temperament. It was a bold political move expected to crushing the Shi'ite opposition inside his own country and designed to ousting Iranian screwball Ruhollah Khomeini (qv). Since the wacky Ayatollah had won control of Iran in February 1979 tensions between the two countries had been mounting. Teheran was calling for a Shi'ite revolution in Iraq, as well as throughout the Middle East. By 1980, the danger of a Shi'ite insurrection in Iraq became acute. Saddam Hussein took advantage of a failed assassination attempt against one of his top deputies, Tariq Aziz (a monophysite Christian wholly unpopular with the Iraqi mullahs). He began purging the "undesirables". First on the list was Ayatollah Baqr Al-Sadr, the leader of the underground Shi'ite Al-Dawa party. Before being killed, the Iraqi ayatollah was tortured for Saddam's own private entertainment. The dictator also murdered just about all the members of the above-mentioned party so that they could keep Al-Sadr and his virgins company in paradise while the actual deflorations took place. Saddam Hussein also expelled 100,000 Iraqis of Iranian origin. Khomeini's reaction to Saddam's cruel and sadistic executions was not as vicious as the Iraqi dictator was hoping. The ayatollah nevertheless ordered Iranian tanks to take up position at the Iraqi border. As the tension escaladed, the saber-rattling political rhetoric was replaced by a phony war of episodic artillery exchanges, which in time grew to a full-scale war. The actual conflict was an endless streak of military blunders. Martial amateurism on both sides is the only explanation of the war's duration and the fact that it eventually bogged down. The Iran-Iraq armed confrontation was nothing more than a First World War re-enactment with modern weaponry and dilettante strategists. Finally, in 1988, after eight years of debilitating conflict, both sides agreed to a cease-fire. The desultory war brought nothing but misery to both Iraqis and Iranians; not to mention two million victims.
In 1990, the Iraqi dictator invaded Kuwait in another vain and aborted attempt to broaden his political influence in the region.
Saddam Hussein is not a madman, at least not in the clinical understanding of the term. But he is a malignant narcissist. He has no concern for the pain or suffering of others. His paranoid outlook and messianic dreams hinder his open-mindedness to diplomatic compromises. His infantile feelings of personal omnipotence are reflected by his political oratory and the grandiose contemporary Iraqi architecture (Martyrs Memorial and War Memorial in Baghdad, presidential palaces, etc.) He thinks of himself as a modern Nabuchadnezzar and the Iraqi media cultivates this stance, only to encourage his megalomania. Saddam Hussein is also encouraged by the admiration most Muslim and Arabs have for him, because "he stands up to America". In this explanation is summed up all sense of Islamic failure and feelings of inferiority vis-à-vis the West. The Muslim world must be in a dire way if it sees hope in a tyrant who has murdered literally thousands of his countrymen.
Length of Rule - Twenty Four years