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“”Evil incarnation of the Mario Brothers, also goes by the name 'Wario'. Has been known to terrorize the country of Iraq and the Mushroom Kingdom, resides in Bagdhad, Tikrit, Drain Pipes, and The cloud level.
|—Urban Dictionary on Saddam Hussein|
Saddam Hussein (28 April 1937 – 30 December 2006) was the amalgamation of every tinpot dictator ever seen. (The "Blood Quran", his psychopathic eldest son, the open admiration of Josef Stalin, the generally flamboyant attitude). His brutality and cagey political skill managed to impress the likes of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Donald Trump, probably the three worst Presidents we've had in terms of foresight in the modern era. He is a textbook case of blowback, gassing the Kurds with supplies from the United States when he was supposed to be gassing the Iranians. He kept more of a grasp on reality in his later years as a result, which made dealing with him easier; he was essential to our victory in the First Gulf War.
One day he made the critical mistake of attacking another sovereign state (Kuwait) to avoid paying some bills. While, up to that point, he'd been a staunch ally of the United States, President George H. W. Bush knew that allowing Hussein to get
control of too much oil away scot-free would be a really bad precedent. The US goal was to boot Saddam out of Kuwait, use that leverage in order to squash the Arab peace process with Israel, and dispel the ghosts of Vietnam once and for all. Bush Sr. accomplished all three without destroying the delicate balance of power; Saddam never rebuilt his conventional forces fully and didn't pose a serious threat to his neighbors again. Détente.
Ten or so years of no-fly zones and economic sanctions later, Hussein was toying with the idea of selling oil in Euros, when he accidentally failed to get deeply involved in sending a bunch of al-Qaeda operatives to attack the United States on 9/11 while also attempting to deploy bio-weapons that he actually sold before the turn of the millennium.
Even in death, the monster poses a philosophical dilemma to the mainstream left. Did Iraq provide the opening to show that these brutal dictators could, in fact, be removed from power? If we hadn't removed him, would there currently be an Islamist terror-state in Asia with no Western "imperial" power to rally against?
Note: Never make the mistake of describing the Kurds as Saddam Hussein's "own people!", especially in front of a Kurd. They will hit you.
Rise to power
Youth and education
Saddam Hussein was sent to live with his uncle Khairallah Talfah by his lazy mother, who named him "Saddam" meaning "One who resists" due to his failure to succumb to any of her manual abortion attempts. After his uncle, a member of the Nationalist Ba'ath Party was imprisoned for taking part in a nationalist revolution, Saddam was sent to live with his mother and abusive stepfather who raised him as a thief. After Khairallah was released from gaol, Saddam fled his mother and stepfather's home to live with him. Raised by his uncle in nationalist, socialist and Nazi ideas and given a gun for his tenth birthday which he used to shoot a teacher, the young Saddam became a ruthless criminal. Few people could have imagined he would one day emerge from his poor surroundings to become one of the most well-known, intelligent, manipulative, charismatic, and renowned political leaders of his era.
Saddam had an avid interest in history from his early years, a passion that would deepen after he became president. He was an admirer of Hitler, Stalin, the Mafia and Roosevelt. A self-avowed Socialist, Saddam was strongly aligned with the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Nonetheless, he maintained repeatedly that he had a deep respect for the United States and that the technological achievements of America had no equal in any other nation.
Saddam studied briefly at an Iraqi law school, but dropped out in 1957 to join the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party that would later dominate the country. Founded by Syrian Christians, the party was based on such principles as Arab nationalism, anti-Communism, staunch secularism, anti-capitalism, and educational advancement. It was an outspoken advocate for improving women's rights in the Arab world and for abolishing the political power of the clergy.
Saddam, even as a rebellious teenager, felt strongly about the political issues of the day. He deeply admired his uncle for his role in fighting the British in the Anglo-Iraqi war of 1941 (Tulfah would later author "Three Whom God Should Not Have Created: Persians, Jews, and Flies," a racist Iraqi government propaganda pamphlet). He despised Israel, viewing it as an outpost of colonialism in the region. His hero was Abdel Nasser of Egypt, and Saddam was inspired by his example to join the revolution against monarchy throughout the Arab world, a movement which saw the collapse of such regimes in Libya, Iraq, and Egypt. It is widely believed that Saddam belonged to the Futuwa, a paramilitary youth organization which was modeled on the Hitler Youth and was formed in Baghdad in the late 1950s.
The rise of the Ba'ath Party
The US-backed Iraqi monarchy was overthrown in 1958, an event which shocked President Eisenhower. Worse, the new regime was led by a de facto Communist dictator, General Abdel Karim Qassem. Qassem was far bloodier than his predecessor. Further, he withdrew from the Baghdad Pact, an agreement between Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and other countries in the Middle East intended to deter the Soviets from intruding in the affairs of the region. Openly admiring of the USSR, Qassem repeatedly threatened his neighbors, including Iran, where a CIA-sponsored counter-coup had saved the Shah's regime from collapse in 1953. He publicly declared that Khuzestan province in northern Iran was really a part of Iraq, and allegedly armed secessionist revolts from the Arabs who lived there. He amassed troops to invade Kuwait, a move that nearly led to war between Iraq and the United Kingdom (which was committed by treaty to defend Kuwait).
Qassem was overthrown in a 1963 coup orchestrated significantly by the Ba'ath Party. The Ba'ath Party gained limited power in the new government, though it lacked control of the Presidency. It struggled with the military men who had assisted the coup for absolute power. The Ba'ath was purged a few months later, and would have to work to regain political influence. A series of coups and power struggles plagued Iraq until 1968, when the Ba'ath Party gained long-term power. During this time, Saddam gained increasing prominence in the Ba'ath Party. He consolidated more control as a result of the 1963 and 1966 purges within the party that removed the "moderates" and dissidents from within. Remembering the internal squabbles that cost the Ba'ath the limited power that it had gained in 1963; Saddam promoted party loyalty and would later design the security apparatus that enabled the creation of an effective police state.
In July 1968, a bloodless coup led by General Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr, Saddam Hussein and Salah Omar Al-Ali besieged the Iraqi presidential palace and forced Iraqi President Abdul Rahman Arif to resign. The new regime immediately freed all of the Communist and leftist political prisoners of the regime, and heightened tensions with Iran. The Lyndon Johnson administration was vociferously opposed to the new regime, viewing it as a "radical" government brought to power in a "counter-coup" that strengthened the Soviet Union. As a result, diplomatic relations with Iraq, cut off due to the 1967 Six-Day War with Israel, remained completely severed for the next 16 years. The Iraqi government promptly seized all foreign oil fields for the purposes of "combating imperialism." The US made all arms sales to Iraq under this new regime formally illegal in a law passed by the US Congress.
Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, with the support of National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, used the CIA to orchestrate a campaign of sabotage and subversion from 1972 to 1975 for the express purpose of bringing down the government of Iraq. The CIA infiltrated Iraq via Iran and worked with Iranian agents in Northern Iraq to supply arms to Kurdish rebels then trying to topple the regime. Fearful the Iraqis would suspect Iran's role, the US protected its ally Shah Pahlavi by sending Iran large quantities of Russian arms captured by Israel from the Arabs in the 1967 war. These weapons were used to arm the revolt, but they could not be traced to the Iranians. Kissinger, a geopolitical realist concerned with global stability but disinterested in reforming the world, decided to abandon the Kurds in 1975. After a series of border skirmishes between Iraq and Iran over the Khuzestan province, he helped draft a peace treaty between Iran and Iraq to avoid potential bloodshed. To ease tensions, both he and the Shah proposed ending aid to the rebels. The peace treaty was signed, but many Kurds were subsequently slaughtered. "Covert action should not be confused with missionary work," Kissinger opined.
In the midst of this impasse, it was not often remarked that perhaps covert action does not always lead to an intended or desirable result. Ironically, the Ba'ath Party had first risen to prominence in a CIA-sponsored coup. The CIA under Eisenhower and Kennedy had dealt with the rather similar problem of Qassem's leftist regime in a rather similar manner: CIA-sponsored regime change. The CIA repeatedly attempted to assassinate Qassem, armed Kurdish rebels against his regime, allegedly plotted a joint US-Turkey invasion of Iraq to remove him, and worked to isolate him diplomatically. The CIA had contacts with the Ba'athist plotters of the 1963 coup in Iraq and Egypt, and CIA records suggest it financially assisted the coup. Writing in his memoirs of the 1963 coup, long time OSS and CIA intelligence analyst Harry Rositzke presented it as an example of one on which they had good intelligence in contrast to others that caught the agency by surprise. The Ba’ath overthrow “was forecast in exact detail by CIA agents.”
"Agents in the Ba’ath Party headquarters in Baghdad had for years kept Washington au courant on the party’s personnel and organization, its secret communications and sources of funds, and its penetrations of military and civilian hierarchies in several countries… CIA sources were in a perfect position to follow each step of Ba’th preparations for the Iraqi coup, which focused on making contacts with military and civilian leaders in Baghdad. The CIA’s major source, in an ideal catbird seat, reported the exact time of the coup and provided a list of the new cabinet members. …To call an upcoming coup requires the CIA to have sources within the group of plotters. Yet, from a diplomatic point of view, having secret contacts with plotters implies at least unofficial complicity in the plot."
The CIA would have paid a lot of money for this steady supply of information, especially because American planners had determined that the Ba’ath Party would be the best for U.S. policy in Iraq going forward in 1962. The First Political Secretary of the U.S. Embassy in Iraq in 1963 during the coup, Bill Lakeland, has admitted that CIA officer Ed Kane told him that the U.S. “had people who informed us about things…The CIA was kept aware of what was happening…[The CIA] had paid informants within the Ba’ath, but had no control of any operational…It was ultra secret….” The best direct evidence that the U.S. was complicit is the memo from NSC staff member Bob Komer to President John F. Kennedy on the night of the coup, February 8, 1963. The last paragraph reads, "We will make informal friendly noises as soon as we can find out whom to talk with, and ought to recognize as soon as we’re sure these guys are firmly in the saddle. ________excellent reports on the plotting, but I doubt either they or UK should claim much credit for it." Thus, when former CIA Near East Division Chief James Chritchfield claims the 1968 coup was a "radical" "counter-coup," perhaps his language reflects the reality that it overthrew a government the US covertly helped bring to power. It has been said that the Iraqi Ba'athists told their Syrian comrades, in their own defense, that they "had come to power on a CIA train," just as Lenin had been sent into Russia to launch his revolution on a German train in the First World War.
The US's temporary alliance with the Ba'ath ended briefly after the US-backed Iraqi President, Salam Arif, purged the Ba'ath from the government in late 1963. Saddam was apparently arrested in 1964 for trying to overthrow that government. A series of power struggles within the ruling party and the Ba'ath brought the most extremist elements of both to the fore. Salam Arif was overthrown in the 1966 coup that brought his brother, Abdul Rahman Arif, to power. Though the US continued to assist the regime due to the armed revolt against it by the Iraqi Communist Party (which was increasingly aligned with the Ba'ath); in 1967, in the wake of the war with Israel, Arif expelled all of the Americans from the country and cut off all ties with the US. Arif's regime collapsed just one year later, leading to the Ba'athist takeover of Iraq.
General al-Bakr was named President. Though he was a little-known figure outside of Iraq, Saddam quickly became the second-most-important Iraqi official in the country. He was the formal vice-president by 1973. Saddam headed the security apparatus of the state, and thus had considerable leverage to intimidate opponents from within the party as well as from without. He visited countries such as France to represent Iraq throughout the seventies, and signed a treaty of friendship between Iraq and the Soviet Union. While the US worked to destabilize the regime, Moscow's massive supplies of military aid helped to keep it afloat and to avoid a collapse. The Soviet Union played a crucial role in training Iraq's secret police. However, relations between the two countries did occasionally grow strained due to Brezhnev's open disgust at the persecution of Iraqi Communists by the state.
Saddam would regularly tell his colleagues that he sought to make Iraq "into a Stalinist state." They all assumed he was joking, and when they began to suspect he was serious, it was too late to stop him. Al-Bakr attempted in 1979 to demote Saddam to a position of relative obscurity. Saddam responded with a counter-coup, forcing al-Bakr to resign and conducting a ruthless purge of hundreds of Ba'athists to intimidate the rest of the party into acquiescence. He was named President of Iraq on July 16, 1979.
War with Iran
Now the undisputed dictator of Iraq, Saddam started looking elsewhere, beyond Iraq's borders. Incidentally, in 1979, the Iranian Revolution took place, ending in the establishment of the Islamic Republic and the hostage crises that Jimmy Carter had to suffer through. Over in Iraq, there were fears that the long-oppressed Shia majority would stage a similar revolt. Add that to Iraq's longstanding desire to supplant Iran as the dominant force over the Persian Gulf, along with Saddam's insanity, and you had a recipe for disaster waiting to boil over. Border skirmishes between Iran and Iraq increased in number by September 1980, with Iraq shelling and launching border incursions in the disputed territories that Iraq wanted from Iran (but that Iran owned). Iran responded by shelling several Iraqi border towns and posts, and it all went downhill from there.
Often called "World War I in the Cold War," this conflict consisted of large-scale trench warfare with barbed wire stretched across trenches, manned machine-gun posts, bayonet charges, human wave attacks across a no-man's land, and extensive use of chemical weapons such as mustard gas. Half a million Iraqi and Iranian soldiers, with an equivalent number of civilians, were killed in this war. Nevertheless, there were absolutely no reparations or border changes, making the entire thing a pointless exercise of human cruelty[note 1], all because this asshole wanted to flex his muscle over an old rival.
Relations with Syria
In 1980 Saddam gave weapons and safe haven to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood seeking to overthrow another secular Ba'athist dictator, Hafez al Assad, in neighboring Syria whose Alawite regime was allied with Shi'a Iran. This was the beginning of Saddam's support for international terrorism.
And he just couldn't sit quiet for longer than an hour, huh? Evidently not, as Saddam figured to invade and annex Kuwait in August 1990 so he could get its oil and wipe out his foreign debt with Kuwait which bankrolled his war with Iran to the tune of $90 billion.
He was wrong. Sanctions against Iraq were immediately imposed by members of the U.N. Security Council. George H. W. Bush deployed U.S. forces into Saudi Arabia, and urged other countries to send their own forces to the scene. Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and Egypt were among the main supporters of Bush's campaign against Saddam in Kuwait.
Now here's where things get murky. Kuwait, a major oil publisher, lowered oil prices worldwide, which undercut Iraq's efforts to rebuild its war-ravaged economy and infrastructure. When his pleas to OPEC for better treatment to Iraq went unheeded, he chose military action. When he informed American ambassador April Glaspie about it, Glaspie actually said "We have no opinion on your border dispute with Kuwait," which effectively green-lit his invasion since the Americans flat-out said they didn't care. At this point, he wasn't an enemy of America, so had Glaspie and the Secretary of State told him to piss off, he probably wouldn't have attacked Kuwait.
With pressure from Saudi Arabia, itself an oil giant and ally of the U.S., Bush reneged on the apathy and began prepping for war. Saddam offered to withdraw in exchange for convening a peace summit, but he was ignored, since a lot of money, oil, and news ratings were to be earned on the western side due to this war. As a result, Kuwait was the first "front lines" conflict broadcast live, leading to a new wave of pro-war propaganda by the mainstream media. It started with aerial bombardment on 17 January 1991, followed by a ground assault on 24 February. Saddam's forces turned tail, Kuwait was liberated and Coalition forces advanced into Iraq, but Bush called for a ceasefire 100 hours after the ground campaign started, believing that a war against Saddam in Iraq would prove disastrous.
“”He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors.
|—Colin Powell, 24 February 2001|
“”We are able to keep arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt.
|—Condoleezza Rice, "CNN Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer," 29 July 2001|
12 years later, he was proven right. In the lead-up to the invasion, Saddam committed the following blunders:
- He kept firing at US planes that were enforcing the US-declared no-fly zones. The no-fly zones had zero standing under international law and the southern one was pointless, seeing as it was only set up after Saddam had already slaughtered the Shiites who had been provoked into rebellion (via a CIA run radio station based in Saudi Arabia) while everyone else (US included) sat back and watched the "fun".
- He also (supposedly) made an attempt on George H. W. Bush's life. Dubya swore revenge.
- Another claim is that the US was pissed at Saddam for toying with the idea of trading oil for Euros, not dollars.
- Hussein was absolutely dicking about with Hans Blix, drawing things out as long as possible. He wanted Iran to believe that his weapons program was much bigger than it was. He was performing a balancing act with the West and Iran, making the West believe he had nothing to hide but Iran to think he was sitting on a huge cache, which led to UN resolution 1441. Saddam Hussein then realized that he had gone too far and allowed unfettered access to the U.N., but by then the US had committed its forces, and told the inspectors to pull out.
Saddam was tried and executed for crimes against humanity, but Iraq is still suffering through a period where their dictator isn't providing electricity to their homes. And that's the idealistic take on what happened.
His downfall made North Korea even more paranoid, due to both nations being run under Stalinist totalitarianism. His downfall also shows the consequences that would result from overthrowing the Kim dynasty without careful planning. Iraq descended into chaos to this day, even though the invasion only took a month. At this point, the country is mostly run as a democracy, which is good, but not remotely stable. Pretty much immediately after the invasion, Sunni-Shi'a disputes broke out, leading to the insurgency. This also spawned the Islamic State of Iraq, or ISI, which is the predecessor to ISIS, which is in a close race for most repressive regime with the DPRK, meaning that Iraq is still, to a certain extent, still in this competition with North Korea. Look like the Saudis will never be able to make it past third place. The insurgency became a civil war in 2014, between the somewhat democratic government, the fully democratic Kurdish nationalists, and the previously mentioned psychopaths.
Crimes against humanity
“”I have been to Baghdad a number of times. Being in Iraq is like creeping around inside someone else’s migraine. The fear is so omnipresent you could almost eat it. No one talks.
|—BBC Correspondent John Sweeney|
Saddam Hussein was a uniquely brutal tyrant, far worse than Qassem or Al-Bakr; in the modern Arab world, only Muammar Gaddafi and Omar El Bashir arguably approach--or, in Gaddafi's case, approached--his level of sheer thuggery. He made Hafez al-Assad of Syria look like a sissy in comparison. It is estimated that at least 250,000 were killed or disappeared by Saddam's regime; if one factors in the cost in poverty and misery caused by his regime's rampant corruption--especially after the first Gulf War--the number is doubtlessly much higher. By the time of the invasion, Saddam's regime was killing people at a rate of 15,000 to 20,000 per year.
Saddam took Machiavelli's advice that "it is far safer to be feared than to be loved" and ran with it. In 1979, six days after formally assuming the presidency of Iraq, Saddam called a summit of 400 of the seniormost Ba'ath Party members. Saddam's costar at this summit was a hapless political opponent of his, Muhyi Abdel-Hussein al-Mashhadi, who had already been booted from the Party and tortured into "confessing" to plotting against Saddam with Syrian agents. At the summit, al-Mashhadi told the stunned audience that his co-conspirators were among their ranks. He proceeded to read through the Ba'ath elite's roster, ultimately denouncing 68 of the men in the room for treason. One by one, the unlucky 68 were dragged out, as terrified audience members began to weep, shake, and even chant "long live Saddam Hussein!". Saddam sat and watched the whole ordeal, smoking a cigar. To make sure that even those absent could be terrified, Saddam had the entire scene filmed. The 68 accused were given show trials, 22 were sentenced to death by firing squad, and the executions were carried out that very same day; an easy logistical feat, since the trials lasted minutes. In a final sadistic twist, Saddam forced the summit's surviving attendees to serve on the firing squads. Cesare Borgia would have been proud.
Methods of torture employed by Saddam's regime included: amputation of tongues, crucifixion, eye-gouging, genital electric shock, gang rape, mutilation with electric drills and vats of acid, imprisonment in confined spaces in darkness for years at a time, and the amputation of limbs; the latter being a punishment for theft in Sharia law.
Veteran BBC correspondent John Sweeney said during Saddam's rule: "I have been to Baghdad a number of times. Being in Iraq is like creeping around inside someone else’s migraine. The fear is so omnipresent you could almost eat it. No one talks."
Saddam's deliberate manipulation of the sanctions regime, and his skimming from humanitarian aid programs, cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, most of whom were women, children, or elderly. Because when your people are suffering for the crimes and fuck-ups you caused, you are now given free rein to use those sanctions to further torment your people, while lining your pockets with embezzled aid. North Korea's use of permanent crisis to maintain control has some similarities.
Saddam holds the
honor dishonor of being the only dictator since Adolf Hitler to commit genocide using chemical weapons. In 1987-88, Saddam presided over the "Anfal" (meaning "spoils of war"), where his government and military instigated the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of Kurdish (and Shia) civilians. Iraqi Air Force helicopters rained chemical weapons – including mustard gas, Sarin, and VX nerve gas – upon scores of Kurdish villages, causing tens of thousands of Kurds to die of suffocation and burning. He would also use it on the Iranians during the war, with help from the CIA. The Anfal led to the destruction of thousands of villages, the deportation of thousands of Kurds to southern and central Iraq, and the deaths of between one-hundred and two-hundred thousand Kurds.
Some people think that Saddam was the best of two terrible evils. Seeing as the country was the most peaceful it had been (since the 50s and 60s) under his iron boot. The truth is, sadly, each path only leads to more death. It just depends on what we find worst- knowing about evil acts and choosing to ignore them, or going in and stopping said acts at the cost of thousands of lives- and making a hundred new smaller evils in the process. While we detest the Iraq War, we can say that we are not losing any sleep at his ultimate departure from the world.
- Osama Bin Laden, his only real rival and ideological enemy.
- Muammar Gaddafi, his arguably zanier and dumber counterpart in Libyan.
- Hafez Al-Assad, the father of Bashar al-Assad. (He was better at playing dictator than Bashar.) Very politically skilled, as utterly paranoid and ruthless as Saddam but without his more outrageous eccentricities and delusions of grandeur.
- It could be argued that even reparations and border changes wouldn't have changed that fact that it was still a pointless exercise of human cruelty.
- Chulov, Martin, "Qur'an etched in Saddam Hussein's blood poses dilemma for Iraq leaders", The Guardian (12/19/10 15.30 EST).
- Freeman, Colin, "Saddam's demon seed"., The Telegraph (8/6/11 10:00PM BST).
- Aburish, Said K., The Politics of Revenge (2002).
- Kalder, Daniel, "Dictator-lit: Saddam Hussein tortured metaphors, too", Guardian (3/31/11 11.17 EDT).
- Said, Edward, "Lost between War and Peace", London Review of Books Vol. 18 No. 17 · 5 September 1996 p. 10-14. Said: I was an early dissenter from what I saw as a poor deal for Palestinians...after the Gulf War, and Arafat’s disastrous alliance with Saddam Hussein, I had lost confidence in his ability to represent our national interests.
- Sela, Avraham, "Difficult Dialogue: The Oslo Process in Israeli Perspective", Hebrew University of Jerusalem
- Harry Rositzke, The CIA’s Secret Operations: Espionage, Counterespionage, and Covert Action (Boulder, CO: 1977), 109-110.
- United States, Department of State, Nina J. Noring and Glenn W. LaFantasie eds. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963, vol. XVII: Near East 1961-1962, 364-365.
- William J. Zeman, "U.S. Covert Intervention in Iraq 1958-1963: The Origins of U.S. Supported Regime Change in Modern Iraq," (Thesis (M.A.)--California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. Dept. of History, 2006), 52. http://docs.google.com/Doc?docid=0AQk-oiHeEQzzZGNzams5Zm5fM2hrZnJxc2Zr&hl=en
- Zeman, 97.
- Sweeney, "Iraq's Tortured Children", BBC (6/22/02, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK).
- Roth, “War in Iraq: Not a Humanitarian Intervention,” Human Rights Watch, January 2004: "twenty-five years of Ba`th Party rule ... murdered or 'disappeared' some quarter of a million Iraqis"
- "Nigeria's Zamfara Sharia court orders amputation". BBC. 9 September 2011. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-14858441. "An Islamic court in northern Nigeria's Zamfara state has sentenced two youths to amputation of their right hands for stealing a bull."