Saddam Hussein was born on April 28, 1937, in Tikrit, Iraq. Hussein grew up in Auja, a village of mud-brick huts northwest of Baghdad. His parents were poor farmers, but inspired by his uncle Khayrallah Tulfah, an Iraqi army officer and crusader for Arab unity, Hussein gravitated to politics as a teenager. While attending college in Baghdad, he joined the Ba'ath party (at the age of 19), and in 1956 Hussein took part in an abortive coup.
After the overthrow of the monarchy two years later, Hussein connived in a plot to kill the prime minister, Abdel-Karim Qassem. Hussein was shot in the leg during the botched effort and fled the country for several years, first to Syria, then Egypt.
In 1963, with the Ba'ath party in control in Baghdad, Saddam Hussein returned home and began jostling for a position of influence. During this period, he married his cousin Sajida (they later had two sons and a daughter). But within months, the Ba'ath party had been overthrown, and he was jailed, remaining there until the party returned to power in a coup in July 1968. He helped lead the revolt that finally brought the Ba'ath party to power under Gen. Ahmed Hassan Bakr. Saddam Hussein gained a position on the ruling Revolutionary Command Council, from which he built an elaborate network of secret police to root out dissidents. Eleven years later, he deposed Bakr and plastered the streets with 20-foot-high portraits of himself.
In 1979, Hussein achieved his ambition of becoming head of state. The new president started as he intended to go on - putting to death dozens of his rivals.
In the early 1980s, he used chemical weapons to crush a Kurdish rebellion in northern Iraq. Hussein's power struggles extended well beyond his country's borders; bent on dominating the Muslim world, he attacked neighboring countries. In 1980, Iraq invaded Iran, launching an eight-year war that ended in a stalemate.
In August 1990, Hussein invaded Kuwait, proclaiming it Iraq's 19th province. He defied U.N. directives to retreat from Kuwait, provoking what he called "the mother of all battles," the Persian Gulf War. That brief conflict decimated Saddam's military forces, but he managed to rebuild his republic and his power base, beginning with the secret police force.
Following the coalition war against Iraq in 2003, Hussein's government collapsed. He was captured by American forces on December 2003. In November 2006, he was convicted of crimes against humanity by the Iraq Special Tribunal and was sentenced to death by hanging. On December 26, 2006, Saddam's appeal was rejected and the death sentence was upheld. He was hanged four days after in front of lawyers, officials, and a doctor.
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