The Baghdad leader was one of the prominent strategists in the Middle East who challenged the United States. Hussein was a major figure in modern political history. On April 28 he would be 80 years old.
Tikrit - the birthplace of Saddam and Salah-ad-Din
The city of Tikrit is located 160 km north of Baghdad on the right bank of the Tigris. In Tikrit in 1138 the legendary Muslim military commander Sultan Salah-ad-Din (Saladin) (1138-1195) was born. He defeated the Crusaders in the Battle of Hittin and freed Jerusalem from the power of the Christians.
Eight centuries later, in a poor peasant family in the village of al-Awja, in the district of Tikrit, a boy was born who, like Saladin, was destined to go down in history. This boy was Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti, who later became the leader of the Iraqi state, a prominent figure in the Arab world. Saddam subsequently retained his attachment to his native city. And the few people he could trust were also from Tikrit.
The origin of the Iraqi leader is full of legends. According to one version, Hussein is one of the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad. According to another version, replicated in Western media, it was alleged that Saddam was the grandson of Stalin. Even the mustache is the same! Allegedly the son of the father of the nations, Yakov Dzhugashvili, who was captured after the Second World War, was liberated by Allied forces, he, along with the British, came to the Middle East and settled here under the name of Yakob Dzhuga.
However, the Iraqi president admired Joseph Stalin. According to the biographer Said Aburish, Hussein collected a whole library of books about Stalin. Indeed, in the fate of two tyrants, one can find many similarities: a violent revolutionary youth, a bloody power struggle, prison, suspicion, glory, and a cult of personality.
Hussein specified the date of birth in documents - April 28, 1937, which eventually became celebrated as a state holiday.
Saddam Hussein, 1983
Poor and troubled childhood
Saddam was born in the wretched home of Hussein al-Majid, a landless peasant poor who has never stretched his back in the field all his life. The father either died, or fled in an unknown direction immediately after the birth of Saddam. Saddam's mother Sabha could not alone put her son to his feet and educate him. Therefore, she married Hassan Ibrahim, who, according to local customs, married his brother's widow. In the new family, three more sons were born. All of them lived in starvation, feeding on the scraps that the mother brought from the rich houses, where she worked as a servant. Up to fifteen years Saddam did not even have shoes. Saddam, remembering those years, wrote that such a difficult life was everywhere in Iraq. Few had shoes, and even wore it rarely. Some peasants did not wear shoes at all until they came of age.
In the countryside, Saddam was sentenced to loneliness. He had no friends among rural teenagers: these tomboys humiliated and insulted the boy for being fatherless. At that time he fought for his authority in the skirmishes with the Tikrit boys. In order to defend himself, he got hold of an iron rod and carried it everywhere with him until he smashed the head to one of the offenders. Only his twelve-year-old age saved him from prison. After this incident, all local hooligans bypassed him.
In 1947 Saddam left his mother and stepfather and returned to Tikrit. There he began to attend school. But studying was extremely burdensome for a teenager who at the age of ten did not even know how to write his name. But he amused his comrades with evil tricks. One day, he put a poisonous snake in the briefcase of an especially unloved old teacher of Koran. In this detail, as in the mirror, was the whole character of the future ruler of Iraq. For a daring "joke" Saddam was expelled from school. After that, he spent several years idly wandering around, not disdaining small theft.
In 1954, Saddam and his uncle moved to Baghdad. There he entered the college "Al-Karkh", which in the conventional sense corresponds to the upper level of secondary school. This college was known as the citadel of nationalism and Pan-Arabism. By that time Hussein was 17 years old.
Member of the Baath Party
In Damascus, the Arab Socialist Revival Party was founded, or more known as the Baath Party. Its founders were two Syrian school teachers: Michel Aflak and a Sunni Muslim Sun Salah ad-Din al-Bitar. The Baath Party manifested itself as a radical secular political organization; its main principles were unity, liberation and socialism. In early 1957, at the age of 20, Saddam Hussein joined the Iraqi wing of the general Arab Baath Party. What made him join the Baath Party? The main reason that Hussein preferred Baas is related to the ideological views of his uncle and foster father Heirullah Talfach, who had the strongest influence on shaping the character of the future leader of the nation. For the boy, the uncle became not only a foster father, but also an imitation. At the same time, the mentor consistently instilled nationalist views on Saddam. Following the advice of Heirullah and following in his footsteps, Saddam tried to enter the elite military academy in Baghdad, but failed at the first exam. This became a powerful blow for him and inspired the future "knight of the Arab nation" obsession with the rule of force.
At the end of 1958, Saddam, who was 21 at that time, was accused of murdering a government official in his hometown of Tikrit and thrown into jail. But six months later he was released - in part because of a lack of evidence. However, he soon, along with other young Baathists, decided on an unprecedented step in those circumstances - he attempted to assassinate the Iraqi ruler, General Abd al-Kerim Qasem.
Not very educated, but strong and fearless young Saddam was well suited to the role of party attack aircraft. In the evening of October 6, 1959, a group of young Baath activists, including Saddam Hussein, ambushed the car of Qasem, who was returning home. The attackers fired at close range. In the exchange of fire, two people were killed from the encirclement of the General; Qasem managed to escape, hiding on the floor of his car. Saddam is involved in the attack on General Qasem's car.
Shots from the film
The General, who escaped death, while in the hospital, ordered the suspension of the activities of the Baath Party. Although the repressions undermined the party's strength and "pacified" its activists, many Baathists who were thrown into prison continued to oppose the regime of Qasem.
An unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the head of the regime was a major milestone in the activities of the Iraqi Baath Party and in the life of Saddam Hussein himself. He suddenly became one of the most famous and authoritative people in the country.
Then the first legend about the future ruler of Iraq was born.
Saddam, overcoming acute pain, himself made an operation by pulling a bullet in his leg with a knife, and left the numerous military patrols that pursued him on horseback. Flowing through the blood, he reached his native village. For this he had to ride a horse for four days on horseback. His relatives hid him, and then he went on a motorcycle through the desert to the Syrian capital Damascus. And then, losing strength, Hussein sailed towards freedom in the almost icy water of the Tigris River with a knife in his teeth. And he swam, despite the strong current. He swam across the river from the town of ad-Daur.
From the official biography
The failed attempt to act against the dictator was an important milestone in the political career of young Saddam Hussein and at the same time a good lesson for him. He began to understand better what patience, perseverance, and self-control, and caution, ability to assess the situation and to foresee its development mean. Saddam managed to cross the border with Syria, where he was warmly received by the local leadership of the Baath Party. At home, the young conspirator was sentenced to death in absentia. Michel Aflak, the founder of the party and its main ideologist, personally became interested in the young Iraqi revolutionist, surrounding him with care and attention. For Hussein, this was the most honorable recognition of him as a young politician.
Rumors of a Tikrit "revolutionary" reached the president of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser. He helped Hussein move to Egypt. On February 21, 1960, after a three-month stay in Damascus, Hussein arrived by air flight to Cairo.
Saddam's main business in the Egyptian capital was not so much political activity as study. In 1961, at the age of 24, he somehow graduated from Qasr an-Nil High School, and then, having obtained a matriculation certificate, enrolled in the Faculty of Law of Cairo University, but never completed it. Saddam, not having completed his studies, left Cairo and began studying law at the University of Baghdad. However, nine years later, accompanied by four bodyguards, with a gun on his belt, he arrived at Cairo University and demanded: "Give me a certificate of training!"
During his stay in Egypt, Saddam decided to marry his cousin, Sajida Talfah. They knew each other from childhood. They were brought up together in the house of Saddam’s uncle as a brother and sister. According to Saddam, when they were still children, their grandfather betrothed them.
The coup d’état
On February 8, 1963 by the Baath Party was a coup d'état. Surrounded in his palace, President Qasem surrendered in exchange for a promise to save his life, after which he was immediately riddled with bullets. Uncle Heirullah became an ideological adviser under the new government and immediately discharged his nephew from Cairo. Saddam himself found a job - he quickly gathered the young strong guys and built up detachments of the National Guard, having set them on "internal enemies". Attack aircrafts killed thousands of people. The murders were so violent that the ruling junta, in an effort to avoid international isolation, dissolved the Guard.
In October 1963, at the 6th Arab Congress of the Baath Party in Damascus, Hussein delivered a vivid speech in which he sharply criticized the activities of Ali Saleh al-Saadi, the general secretary of the Iraqi Baath Party. It was necessary to have great courage to oppose the influential party leader. Saddam made a strong impression on the founder and general secretary of the party, Michel Aflak. Since October 1963, strong ties have been established between them, which have not been interrupted until the very death of the party's founder. The first step in the career ladder of Saddam was the head of the Baath Party's order service. He was one of those who led bloody repressions against dissenters in the country, spent days and nights in prison for several months in a society of "shoulder-strapping masters".
Plan A or B
However, he did not long enjoy the fruits of victory. November 18, 1963 in Damascus, the Iraqi army pushed the Baathists out of power. In the emerging political vacuum in February 1964, the Seventh Congress of the National Command decided to establish a Provisional Regional Command. With the support of the party's general secretary, Michel Aflak, S. Hussein was elected a member of the Iraqi National Command. His duties included issues of party security. He made an important conclusion: power is needed to come to power. He began to prepare a military coup. Two plans were developed to eliminate President Aref in the autumn of 1964. According to plan A, the armed group had to enter the palace during a government meeting and destroy everything. According to plan B, it was necessary to shoot down the plane with the president on board. Plans failed, the security officer was removed, and the pilot of the aircraft worked for a secret service.
Upon learning of the assassination attempt, President Aref launched repression against Baath. Hussein could flee the country, but fearing losing credibility in the eyes of his party companions, he stayed in Baghdad. In October 1964, Hussein was arrested.
The government agents drove him into a corner and in the ensuing shootout Saddam fired alone from them all day, until the cartridges ran out. Then, he was forced to surrender.
From the official biography
Hussein spent two years in prison. An example for him was a young revolutionary from Russia, Joseph Stalin, whom the Iraqi leader adored from a young age.
In July 1966, his escape was organized.
On the way to the court, three prisoners asked the escorts to come to the restaurant for lunch. While one of the prisoners distracted the convoy with conversations, the rest ran through the window of the washroom to the street, where a car with open doors waited for them. Everything went by the notes.
From the official biography
Hussein again completely withdrew into political processes and soon headed the secret service "Jihaz Hanin", dealing with intelligence and counterintelligence.
The July 1968 coup
As the Secretary-General’s Assistant, Hussein was promoted to the second most important post in the party hierarchy - Deputy Chairman of the Regional Command Council responsible for internal security. Cleansing and repression, not by hearsay known in the history of Kazakhstan, have become the norm in the political life of Iraq. Since that time, Saddam has introduced tactics to fight rivals: exposing fabricated "conspiracies", arrests and executions of "criminals". Revolutionary justice is painfully familiar to us, typical Soviet "troika" - three army officers.
The growing revenues from Iraqi oil were sent to the program of further military construction. To a greater extent, this concerned fear of Iranian aggression. In 1977-1979, ground forces were equipped with the most modern Soviet military equipment, including T-72 tanks (450 units) and dozens of 122-mm and 155-mm self-propelled guns, Tu-22 bombers, Mi-24 helicopters, Il- 76 lift aircrafts.
In addition, 40 “Mirage” fighters were ordered in France.
11 years Saddam strengthened the control over the government and in 1979 has made a decision to rise at the head of the state.
On July 11, 1979, at a special closed session of the Revolution Command Council, al-Bakr asked to be released from the post of president for health reasons. So Saddam Hussein became the president of Iraq. In addition, he headed the Revolution Command Council and the government.
Saddam used the creation of a secret police to suppress any internal opposition to his regime, and he himself created a cult of personality among the Iraqi population. His main goal as president was to achieve hegemony over the Persian Gulf as the leader of the Arab world.
In September 1980, Saddam launched an invasion of the territory of the Iranian oil fields, but the military campaign got stuck in military conflicts. The cost of the war and the cessation of the export of Iraqi oil forced Saddam to curtail his ambitious economic development programs. The Iran-Iraq war dragged on to a deadlock until 1988, when both countries decided to end the hostilities. Despite the great external debt that Iraq itself accumulated by the end of the war, Saddam did not stop building up his armed forces.
War with Kuwait
In August 1990, the Iraqi army seized neighboring Kuwait. Saddam expected to use huge revenues from the sale of Kuwaiti oil to support Iraq's economy, but the occupation of Kuwait quickly provoked protests around the world and led to the imposition of a trade embargo against Iraq. He ignored calls for withdrawing troops from Kuwait, despite the active buildup of the US military forces in Saudi Arabia and the endorsement of the United Nations resolution condemning the occupation and authorizing the use of force to end the aggression.
The war in the Persian Gulf began on January 16, 1991 and ended six weeks later, when the Allied military alliance forced the Iraqi army to leave Kuwait. Iraq's defeat triggered internal protests by Shiites and Kurds, but Saddam suppressed an uprising, causing thousands of people to flee to refugee camps along the country's northern border. Thousands of citizens who failed to leave the country were killed; many simply disappeared in the prisons of the dictatorial regime.
As part of the agreement with the United Nations on a ceasefire, Iraq was banned from the production or storage of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Numerous sanctions were directed against the country in anticipation of their compliance, and this caused a serious economic malfunction.
Saddam's continued refusal to cooperate with the inspectors of the United Nations (UNSCOM) led to a four-day air strike by the United States and Britain in late 1998 (Operation “Desert Fox”). Both countries announced that they would support the efforts of the Iraqi opposition to overthrow Saddam, whose regime was becoming increasingly violent under the UN sanctions, but the Iraqi leader banned the entry of the UN weapons inspectors into his country. In the meantime, it became clear that Saddam saw in one of his sons - Uday or Qusay - an heir. Both were promoted to leadership positions, and both had their father's cruelty. Moreover, Saddam continued to strengthen his control in the country, strengthening his anti-American stance in his rhetoric. Despite the fact that Saddam was increasingly feared in the country, many in the Arab world considered him to be the only regional leader ready to oppose what they saw as American aggression.
Elimination of the threat
After the well-known acts of terrorism as of September 11, 2001, the US government, trying to assert that Saddam can provide chemical or biological weapons to terrorists, sought to resume the disarmament process. Although Saddam allowed the UN weapons inspectors to return to Iraq in November 2002, his inability to fully and openly cooperate with the inspection disappointed the United States and Britain and forced them to announce the termination of diplomatic relations.
March 17, 2003 the US president George W. Bush ordered Saddam to resign and leave Iraq within 48 hours otherwise he threatened to start a war. He also pointed out that even if Saddam leaves the country, the US forces may be needed to create a new government and search for weapons of mass destruction.
When Saddam refused to leave, on March 20, the US and its allies launched a military operation against Iraq. The war in Iraq began with an aerial attack by American aircraft on a bunker complex in which Saddam was supposed to meet with his subordinates.
Despite the fact that the planned attack did not allow the killing of the Iraqi leader, subsequent attacks directed against Saddam made it clear that the liquidation of the dictator was the main goal of the war.
Always stubborn in his style, Saddam urged the Iraqis to sacrifice their lives to stop American and British troops, but the resistance soon died out and on 9 April, the day Baghdad was taken by the US soldiers, Saddam disappeared. He took with him the bulk of the national treasury and was able initially to evade capture by the US troops.
Saddam Hussein after his capture by American troops in Tikrit, Iraq, on December 14, 2003
July 22 in Mosul were driven into a corner and killed his sons, Uday and Qusay. Saddam himself was captured only after December 13. One day the leader was dragged, disheveled and dirty, from a small underground shelter not far from the farmhouse in the vicinity of Tikrit. Although he was armed, Saddam surrendered to the US soldiers without a single shot.
In October 2005, Saddam appeared before the Supreme Tribunal of Iraq (the judicial panel), established to inspect officials of the former Iraqi government. He and several key figures were charged with killing 148 residents in Al-Dujail, mostly a Shiite city, in 1982.
During the nine-month process, Saddam interrupted the process with angry outbursts, stating that the tribunal was a spectacle and that the interests of the United States were behind this.
In July 2006, the tribunal finally completed its cases and delivered its verdict in November. Saddam was convicted of crimes against humanity, including willful killing, unlawful deprivation of liberty, deportation and torture, and was sentenced to death by hanging. Saddam’s brother (intelligence officer) and former chief justice of Iraq were also sentenced to death.
A few days after the Iraqi court upheld its sentence in December 2006, Saddam was executed.
Saddam in the courtroom, Baghdad, 2004
Translated by Raushan MAKHMETZHANOVA