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Saddam Hussein: Biography of the Iraqi Dictator

Ara is a journalism graduate from California State University, Northridge, who is always looking to explore his writing opportunities.

Saddam Hussein (1937-2006) was one of the Middle East's most brutal dictators yet he served the purpose of being a barrier against the rise of Islamic extremism in the Middle East.

Saddam Hussein (1937-2006) was one of the Middle East's most brutal dictators yet he served the purpose of being a barrier against the rise of Islamic extremism in the Middle East.

One of the Middle East's Most Well-Known Dictators

There are many dictators throughout world history that have achieved notoriety and fame for their brutality. Saddam Hussein was one such person. This is not going to be a straight biography of the man, but it will take a look at his career and ultimately what led to his downfall after almost a quarter century of ruling Iraq.

Saddam Hussein was not the president of Iraq from a young age. But beginning in the early 1960s he would make his move into politics. It was in 1963 that Saddam would return to his home country following the fall of the government of Abdul Karim Kassem. This was known as the Ramadan Revolution.

However, Saddam Hussein would be arrested because of fighting and dissent in the Ba’ath Party. But being in prison did not stop Saddam from being active in politics. In 1966, he was chosen as the deputy secretary of the Regional Command. He would eventually escape from prison.

Early Life

The dictator who would be like a thorn in the side of Western countries like the United States and UK was born on April 28, 1937 in Tikrit, Iraq. He had a childhood that most of us would never want to experience. Saddam’s father who was a shepherd disappeared several months before he was even born. It would be just a few months later that his older brother would die of cancer.

Rise to Power

In 1968, Hussein took part in a successful coup that led to Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr becoming the president of Iraq while Saddam became his deputy. Saddam modernized Iraq’s infrastructure, industry and its healthcare system. He also was able to raise farming, education, and social services subsidies to levels previously unseen in other Arab countries.

Saddam was also responsible for nationalizing Iraq’s oil industry in 1973 just before the energy crisis. This led to a massive amount of revenue for the nation. However, in spite of these achievements, Saddam also developed the nation’s first chemical weapons program and created a police state which was responsible for torture, rape, and killings of political opponents.

The United States which frequently preaches about freedom and democracy was supporting a dictator who ruled his nation with an iron fist, much like Islam Karimov, the now former President of Uzbekistan.

President Saddam Hussein of Iraq

Upon the resignation of al-Bakr, Saddam would become president of Iraq on July 16, 1979. Earlier that year, Iran’s Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had been deposed and overthrown by the United States and the United Kingdom. In a bit of irony, these two Western nations as well as West Germany would assist Saddam.

Saddam wasted no time in dealing with his opponents. By August 1979, hundreds of his opponents were said to have been executed. In that same year, Ayatollah Khomeini had come to power following a revolution in Iran. Saddam, who was of the Sunni sect of Islam, was afraid that Khomeini’s rise could lead to a Shiite uprising in Iraq.

With the help of the United States and other Western nations, Saddam invaded Iran on September 22, 1980. Saddam’s army first approached and attacked the Mehrabad airport in Tehran followed by Khuzestan, a region that is rich in oil. The increasing influence of the regime in Tehran caused even Arab countries to act.

It is said that the Saudis, Kuwaitis, and other nations in the Gulf provided around $80 billion in loans to finance the war (Margolis). By 1982, Iraq was on its heels and looking for a way to end the war. However, Khomeini would have none of this and he wanted to make sure that Saddam would be deposed.

Iraq used chemical weapons against Iranian troops and Kurdish forces. These weapons were developed and made using technology supplied by then West Germany and the United States during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. The United States also supplied Saddam with satellite imagery showing deployments of Iranian troops.

The conflict would last almost eight years until it finally ended on August 20, 1988.

The war left Iraq seriously in debt so Saddam was looking for a way to repay Iraq’s war debt. He would start to focus on the tiny country of Kuwait. Saddam referred to Kuwait as a historical part of Iraq and made the terrible mistake of invading that country on August 2, 1990.

Saddam would soon become the next person that would no longer be useful for the ambitions of the West, much like the Shah had become many years earlier. The UN Security Council would soon pass a resolution demanding that Saddam withdraw his forces from Kuwait by January 15, 1991.

When Saddam refused to do so, he was met with stiff opposition. A large coalition of nations got together to fight against Saddam’s army. In just six weeks, Saddam’s forces were defeated and crushed, forcing him to withdraw from Kuwait.

This war was started by the West to destroy Iraq’s military capabilities and to get the Kurds and Shiites to start an uprising against Hussein. That was actually the stated intention. However, author Robin Wright once said that the issue really was about the oil, something that would become the focus of the second U.S. war on Iraq many years later.

A ceasefire agreement was signed so Iraq was responsible for dismantling its germ warfare and chemical weapons programs. Economic sanctions would be placed on Iraq following the end of the Persian Gulf War. It was Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who famously said that “the death of 500,000 Iraqis was a price worth paying.”

Saddam Hussein would still claim victory in the war. Then U.S. President George H.W. Bush chose not to pursue Hussein and overthrow him, a move that has left many wondering why he did not do so. Bush mentioned later that U.S. forces could have gone after him but that they would become an occupying power in a foreign country.

Even back in 1994, Dick Cheney famously said that it would not be worth the loss of American lives to get rid of Hussein. Once an ally of the West, Saddam at this point in his life was criticized, ridiculed, and considered a devil.

It is said that he refused to cooperate with UN weapons inspectors and during the presidency of Bill Clinton, the United States and the UK engaged in air strikes in a four-day period known as Operation Desert Fox in 1998. This incident did not reduce his popularity in the Arab world. Saddam was seen as the only leader in the region that was willing to challenge U.S. foreign policy.

An Iraqi dinar with the photo of Saddam Hussien

An Iraqi dinar with the photo of Saddam Hussien

Second Iraq War, Overthrow, and Execution

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, the United States thought that Saddam might provide chemical or biological weapons to those opposed to U.S. policy. The attacks on America gave the Bush Administration an excuse to go after Saddam and eliminate him.

However, it has been proven that Saddam Hussein had absolutely no role in 9/11 and that he and Osama Bin Laden were enemies. Another important point worth mentioning is that the plans to invade Iraq were put in place well before 9/11 ever happened.

Author Eric Margolis mentions this as well, saying that “the original plan for a U.S. invasion of Iraq was developed and promoted in the late 1990s by a faction on the extreme right of the Republican Party which came together under the banner of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC).”

On March 19, 2003, then President George W. Bush sent U.S. troops into Iraq and the second conflict against Iraq began. On April 9, 2003, Baghdad fell to the coalition forces as Saddam’s statue was toppled and taken down. Hussein managed to evade the coalition forces until he was captured in December 2003 in an underground bunker near a farmhouse in Tikrit.

He would be taken to a U.S. base where he would be transferred to the Iraqi government authorities in June 2004. Saddam was put on trial and charged with crimes against humanity. On December 30, 2006, this brutal dictator that was once a staunch U.S. ally and an enemy of the Islamic regime in Iran was executed by hanging on December 30, 2006 at the age of 69.


Margolis, Eric. American Raj: Liberation or Domination? Toronto: Key Porter Books Limited, 2008.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2016 Ara Vahanian