[R.I.P.] Saddam Hussein (11/29/06) Iraq's Dictator is Executed (Affects/Views)
- Statement by the President
From Times Staff Reports
Saddam's Body: http://www.cnn.com/video/player/player.html?
The judge said Hussein appeared "totally oblivious to what was going
on around him. I was very surprised. He was not afraid of death."
But Haddad's description of Hussein's demeanor before his execution
contrasts markedly with that of another witness, Iraqi national
security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie. "He was a broken man," al-Rubaie
said. "He was afraid. You could see fear in his face."
Today, Saddam Hussein was executed after receiving a fair trial --
the kind of justice he denied the victims of his brutal regime.
Fair trials were unimaginable under Saddam Hussein's tyrannical rule.
It is a testament to the Iraqi people's resolve to move forward after
decades of oppression that, despite his terrible crimes against his
own people, Saddam Hussein received a fair trial. This would not have
been possible without the Iraqi people's determination to create a
society governed by the rule of law.
Saddam Hussein's execution comes at the end of a difficult year for
the Iraqi people and for our troops. Bringing Saddam Hussein to
justice will not end the violence in Iraq, but it is an important
milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy that can govern,
sustain, and defend itself, and be an ally in the War on Terror.
We are reminded today of how far the Iraqi people have come since the
end of Saddam Hussein's rule - and that the progress they have made
would not have been possible without the continued service and
sacrifice of our men and women in uniform.
Many difficult choices and further sacrifices lie ahead. Yet the
safety and security of the American people require that we not relent
in ensuring that Iraq's young democracy continues to progress.
Feared and Pitiless; Fearful and Pitiable
By JOHN F. BURNS
NOBODY who experienced Iraq under the tyranny of Saddam Hussein could
imagine, at the height of the terror he imposed on his countrymen,
ever pitying him. Pitiless himself, he sent hundreds of thousands of
his countrymen to miserable deaths, in the wars he started against
Iran and Kuwait, in the torture chambers of his secret police, or on
the gallows that became an industry at Abu Ghraib and other charnel
houses across Iraq. Iraqis who were caught in his spider's web of
evil, and survived, tell of countless tortures, of the psychopathic
pleasure the former dictator appeared to take from inflicting
suffering and death.
Yet there was a moment when I pitied him, and it came back to me
after the nine Iraqi appeal judges upheld the death sentence against
Saddam last week, setting off the countdown to his execution. As I
write this, flying hurriedly back to Baghdad from an interrupted
Christmas break, Saddam makes his own trip to the gallows with an
indecent haste, without the mercy of family farewells and other spare
acts of compassion that lend at least a pretense of civility to
executions under law in kinder jurisdictions. From all we know of the
preparations, Saddam's death was to be a miserable and lonely one, as
stark and undignified as Iraq's new rulers can devise.
Many Iraqis, perhaps most, will spare no sympathies for him. However
much he may have suffered in the end, they will say, it could never
be enough to atone for a long dark night he imposed on his people.
Still, there was that moment, on July 1, 2004, when Saddam became,
for me, if only briefly, an object of compassion.
He had been brought to a makeshift courtroom in the grounds of a
former presidential palace in Baghdad that became, as Camp Victory,
the American military headquarters in Iraq. It was the first time he
had appeared in public since his capture six months earlier in a
coffin-like subterranean bolt-hole near his hometown of Tikrit when
he emerged unkempt yet proclaiming himself to American soldiers who
hauled him from his hiding place to be "Saddam Hussein, president of
Iraq," and ready to negotiate with his captors.
We know, from accounts given by his Iraqi and American interrogators,
that the old Saddam quickly reasserted himself, heaping contempt on
the new generation of Iraqi leaders who were taken out to a detention
center near Baghdad International Airport the next day to verify for
themselves, and for the world, that the man the Americans had seized
was indeed their former tormentor.
So when the day arrived for his first court appearance, starting the
process that led over the next 30 months to his two trials for crimes
against humanity, there seemed little doubt to me which Saddam would
show up to face the charges Saddam the indignant, Saddam the self-
proclaimed champion of Iraqi and Pan-Arab nationalism, Saddam the
self-anointed figurehead of the insurgency that was already, then,
beginning to look like a nightmare for the invaders.
His American captors had flown Saddam and 11 of his top henchmen to
Camp Victory by helicopter, and led them hooded and shackled at the
waist and ankles to the threshold of the mosque annex that served as
a courtroom. Only at the door to the court were the hoods and
shackles removed, clattering to the floor a moment or two before the
door opened to show Defendant No. 1, Saddam Hussein al-Majid,
standing clasped at the elbow between two Iraqi guards.
From 20 feet away on an observer's bench, seated beside the late
Peter Jennings of ABC News and Christiane Amanpour of CNN, I caught
my first glimpse of the man who had become in my years of visiting
Iraq under his rule, a figure of mythic brutality, a man so feared
that the mention of his name would set the hard, unsmiling men
assigned to visiting reporters as "minders" to shaking with fear, and
on one occasion, in my experience, to abject weeping.
But this was not that Saddam. The man who stepped into the court had
the demeanor of a condemned man, his eyes swiveling left, then right,
his gait unsteady, his curious, lisping voice raised to a tenor that
resonated fear. Quickly, he fixed his gaze on the handful of
foreigners in the court, and I had my own moment of anxiety when it
came to my mind that he was intent on remembering the faces of the
non-Iraqis that were there to witness his humiliation, perhaps to get
word through to his lawyers, and then on to the insurgents, that we
were to be punished for our intrusion. It was only later, after I
learned what he had been told before being taken from his cell to the
court, that I understood that our presence meant something else to
him entirely, that with foreigners present, he was not going to be
summarily hanged or shot.
THE Americans who were his jailers in the first days after his
capture aboard an American aircraft carrier and then at a converted
detention center known as Camp Cropper at the edge of Baghdad's
airport had chosen, on that summer day, to give Saddam a taste of
the fear that he exhilarated in imposing on others. All he was told
was that he was being taken "to face Iraqi justice." Small wonder, as
the architect of a quarter-century of repression, that he should fear
that he was about to suffer the torture and grisly death that he had
inflicted on so many others.
At that instant, I felt sorry for him, as a man in distress and
perhaps, too, as a once almighty figure reduced to ignominy. But the
expression of that pity to the Iraqis present marked the distance
between those, like me, who had taken the measure of Saddam's terror
as a visitor, shielded from the worst of it by the minders and the
claustrophobic world of closely guarded hotels and supervised
Information Ministry trips, and Iraqis who lived through it with no
That I could feel pity for him struck the Iraqis with whom I talked
as evidence of a profound moral corruption. I came to understand how
a Westerner used to the civilities of democracy and due process
even a reporter who thought he grasped the depths of Saddam's
depravity fell short of the Iraqis' sense, forged by years of
brutality, of the power of his unmitigated evil.
After that initial encounter with Saddam, I saw him many times
walking within 10 feet of my feet in the glass-walled press gallery
in the courtroom at the former Baath Party headquarters, chosen as a
venue for his trials by the Regime Crimes Liaison Office, the unit
created by the United States Justice Department, to help Iraqi judges
and lawyers create what became the Iraqi High Tribunal, the special
court designated to try high-ranking members of the old regime. But
the Saddam who dominated that courtroom was another figure haughty,
defiant, often beside himself with anger, but, above all,
remorseless. If the death penalty held any fear for him, when it was
handed down in November, for the killing of 148 men and teenage boys
during a systematic persecution of the Shiite town of Dujail in 1982,
he never showed it.
Almost the only chink in his prideful armor showed when he demanded
at the Dujail trial that he be shot by firing squad, the privilege as
he told it, due to him as the still legitimate, as he claimed
commander in chief of Iraq's armed forces. That plea was quickly
denied by the chief judge. It was a point never again raised by
Saddam, who took, at the end, to proclaiming his eagerness to die as
a "martyr" for Iraq, and his belief that this would earn his passage
to paradise. But the plea to be spared hanging suggested that fear
of humiliation, if not of death was a close companion during the
1,000-odd days he spent in solitary confinement in Camp Cropper.
Of other strains of humanity there was little sign. During the Dujail
trial, and just as much during the Anfal trial that followed, at
which Saddam and six other defendants were accused of murdering as
many as 180,000 Kurds in the late 1980's, he showed no hint of
remorse as survivors of the torture chambers and the desert
internment camps and, in the case of the Anfal campaign, the chemical
weapons attacks and the mass graves, told their pitiful stories. Head
to one side, hand pressed to his head, fingers splayed, writing
detailed notes on yellow legal pads, Saddam listened impassively to
the accounts of women hung upside down to be beaten, of sons holding
wet cloths to their faces and finding the twisted bodies of mothers
and fathers and sisters and brothers heaped in an agony of death from
mustard-gas attacks, and of young men who scrambled back to life from
beneath the bloodied bodies of fellow villagers in remote pits
scraped from the desert wadis of Iraq.
LIKE some ghastly accountant with an obsession for detail but no
morsel of pity, Saddam limited his questions to peripheral issues:
What were the precise geographic coordinates of the mass graves? How
could a boy no more than 10 at the time recall so precisely the
details of a chemical attack? Why should anyone credit the testimony
of a man brother to seven others who were executed after the
alleged attack at Dujail who admitted he belonged to Dawa, an Iran-
backed religious party?
Not once did he avail himself of what seemed like the expedient
response of a man who had pleaded not guilty to involvement in any of
these crimes: an expression of sorrow for the victims, albeit coupled
with renewed denials of his responsibility.
Like many another dictator before him, Saddam so sealed himself off
from his own people, in his scores of palaces, and on his carefully
staged, video-recorded walkabouts among crowds of ululating citizens,
that he seemed never to grasp, even in the extremities of his last
weeks, how hated he was by his people. In the courtroom, he insisted,
repeatedly, that he remained Iraq's lawful president and thus immune
to prosecution, even as the judges responded by calling him "ex-
president" and ordering him to sit down. He was sustained in this
make-believe world by his former acolytes, who would stand in the
dark as he entered, greeting him with expressions of undying fealty.
Among the most insistent of these courtiers were two men who were
scheduled to die with him on the gallows after their appeals in the
Dujail case were denied, his half-brother, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti
and Awad al-Bandar, chief judge of the revolutionary court who passed
the death sentences on the men and boys from Dujail, in a court
hearing that lasted only hours with the dock too crowded for many of
the condemned even to enter the court, and with no legal
representation. This miserable precedent appeared to make no impact
on Saddam and his fellow defendants, who protested at every
opportunity during their own trials at the denial of what they
claimed were their proper rights and comforts. The quality of the
prison food including American military rations known as meals-
ready-to-eat was one such issue; the quality of the cigarettes
given to them another.
Saddam, prideful to the last, left much of the caviling over prison
conditions to his erstwhile minions. And shortly before he was
sentenced to death, he demonstrated, inadvertently, that in the
shrunken world of his captivity he remained the leader who dare not
be defied. An American official who worked closely with the Iraqi
court told of watching on a closed-circuit relay as Saddam and other
defendants in the Dujail trial waited one day in a holding room off
the courtroom floor. At the time, Saddam had declared a hunger strike
on his own and his associates' behalf in protest of the Dujail case
continuing after the walkout of the defense lawyers, who had been
replaced by counsel appointed by the court.
At one end of the room, visible on the surveillance cameras, was a
table laid with food, including cellophane-wrapped oatmeal biscuits
of the kind available in every American military canteen in Iraq.
Thinking his fellow defendants were distracted, one of the accused,
Taha Yassin Ramadan, a former vice president renowned even among
Saddam's henchman for his brutality, slipped two pockets of biscuits
into his pocket, only for Saddam to march on him demanding to know
who gave him permission to eat. Mr. Ramadan, the American official
said, denied he had taken anything from the table. "Empty your
pockets, you betrayer!" Saddam demanded. Whereupon Mr. Ramadan lamely
admitted his guilt and, with the sheepish deference born of two
decades in Saddam's inner circle, returned the biscuits to his basket.
Violence marked his rise, rule and fall
By Borzou Daragahi and David Lamb, Special to The Times
Saddam Hussein, who ruled Iraq with ruthless force and led his people
into three devastating wars while pursuing his goal of dominating the
Arab world, cast a large shadow over world events and the nation that
he controlled for most of the last 30 years.
Though never an army officer, he frequently wore military uniforms
and styled himself as a fearless strategist and warrior. The wars he
started cost more than 1 million lives, but he never won any of them
and lived in constant fear, seldom sleeping in the same palace two
nights in a row and employing look-alikes to foil assassination
Nearly four years after U.S.-led forces toppled his Baath Party
regime and a little more than three years after he was caught hiding
in a hole in the ground near his hometown, his death further shuts
the door on an era of secular Arab nationalism, now being eclipsed
throughout the Middle East by Islamist ideas and leaders.
Hussein took with him to the grave a trove of secrets. The former
Iraqi leader allegedly ordered assassinations abroad and used his
country's vast oil wealth to curry favor with Middle Eastern
governments while maintaining undercover dealings with intelligence
services throughout the region and the West.
One famous photograph shows Hussein shaking hands with Donald H.
Rumsfeld in 1983, who served as an informal envoy to Baghdad at a
time when the United States was aiding Iraq in its eight-year war
For his country, now convulsed in civil war, Hussein's most lasting
and damaging legacy was the way his selective patronage and brutal
violence divided Iraqis along lines that continue to split them.
Hussein moved rivers to reward Sunni Arab villagers loyal to his
government and drained swamps to punish Shiite Muslims who rose up
against him. He moved rebellious Kurds from the northern city of
Kirkuk while selling cheap land in the city to Arabs to reward
loyalists and upend the ethnic balance of the country's oil-rich
He imprisoned tens of thousands, ordered the killings of political
enemies, real and imagined, including two of his sons-in-law, and
used poison gas to wipe out whole villages in the Kurdish areas of
northern Iraq. He granted construction contracts to favored Arab
tribes, while depriving whole categories of people such as Shiite
Kurds of their citizenship rights.
Such violence and manipulations may have established a semblance of
stability. But they also built up a sense of entitlement by Sunnis
and resentment on the part of Shiites and Kurds that fueled violence
by death squads, militias and insurgents once the U.S. invasion of
2003 toppled his regime.
Hussein fostered a grotesque cult of personality around himself as
the embodiment of the Iraqi state and all of Iraqi history. As he
consolidated absolute power in the 1980s, his face and figure went up
all over the country. Here was Hussein on horseback. There he was in
Kurdish costume. His likeness adorned the walls of every cafe, bank
and government office. Hussein's initials were inscribed on the
stones used to rebuild ancient archeological sites.
"With our souls, with our blood, we will sacrifice for you, Saddam,"
schoolchildren, old women and office workers chanted whenever Hussein
The result was a culture of dependence and subservience to the state
that has plagued efforts to rebuild Iraq. To date, other than Muqtada
Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, not a single Iraqi who suffered
through Hussein's final years of rule has emerged as a credible
political leader. Perhaps the most telling illustration of Hussein's
influence on Iraq is that nearly all of post-invasion Iraq's
leadership has been culled from among exiles.
Saddam Hussein Abdul-Majid Tikriti was born April 28, 1937, to a poor
family of Sunni peasants in the tiny mud-hut village of Al Auja, near
the city of Tikrit on the Tigris River about 100 miles north of
Baghdad. His father, Hussein Majid, died within a year of his birth,
and his mother, Subha, married a man named Ibrahim Hassan.
Young Hussein earned money by selling watermelons to train passengers
passing through town. When he was 10, apparently to escape his
abusive stepfather, Hussein ran away from home and went to live with
his uncle Khayrallah Tulfah, a former general who had been dismissed
from the army for supporting a coup attempt.
By then, Tulfah was an embittered man, eking out an existence as a
schoolteacher in Baghdad. He was also anti-Western, a fascist and a
Sunni chauvinist. The influence he exerted over Hussein can be
inferred in part from the title of a pamphlet the uncle wrote and
Hussein had published years later: "Three Whom God Should Not Have
Created: Persians, Jews and Flies."
At his uncle's instigation, Hussein committed his first killing while
still in his teens. The victim was Saadoun Tikriti, a communist
supporter of Gen. Abdul Karim Qassim, who later became Iraq's prime
minister. He also happened to be Hussein's brother-in-law.
Hussein came of age in the late 1950s, a time of post-colonial change
as Arab nationalism arose to challenge governments set up by the
British and French. Like many Arabs, Hussein was inspired by the
vision of a pan-Arab Middle East propagated by the charismatic Gamal
Abdel Nasser, who became president of Egypt in 1956.
That year, Hussein took part in a coup against Iraq's King Faisal II.
The coup failed. But Hussein became a feared figure in the Iraqi
political underground. In 1957, at age 20, he joined the Iraqi branch
of the Baath Party, a secular, pan-Arab political movement founded in
Syria in the 1940s that combined elements of socialism and Nazism.
In Baathism, Hussein found "an ideology that both justified his
violent hatreds and harmonized his inner turmoil," according to the
late Egyptian diplomat Tahseen Bashir. The party's promise of one
strong, united Arab nation was imbued with a vision of grandeur and
power perfectly suited to Hussein's ambitions. He rose quickly in the
"Saddam learned early on the first rule of street politics during
that time in Baghdad," Bashir said. "In the context of Iraqi
politics, survival of the fittest meant survival of the most brutal,
the most cunning and, above all, the most violent."
In 1958, the Iraqi monarchy was overthrown by non-Baathist officers
led by Qassim. King Faisal II was gunned down with his family and
aides. Eighteen months later, the Baathists made their first grab for
power, trying to assassinate Qassim by machine-gunning his car.
Hussein, a member of the hit team, was slightly wounded. He disguised
himself as a Bedouin and trekked across the desert to Syria, then
moved on to Egypt.
The Baathists succeeded in overthrowing Qassim in 1963. The usurpers
broadcast images of his corpse on television for several nights. In
Iraqi politics, one Arab diplomat noted, "losers do not get the
chance to retire gracefully."
Hussein returned to Baghdad immediately after the coup and became the
new regime's chief enforcer. As head of an infamous interrogation
center known as the Palace of the End, he allegedly oversaw the
torture of the nascent regime's enemies.
But the Baathists were unable to retain power. Within months they
were overthrown by the army, which jailed Hussein. Two years later,
he escaped and resumed the task of building the party's internal
security apparatus, employing carefully chosen Tikriti clansmen
through whom he would gradually consolidate his control over the
party, the army and, finally, the country.
Coming to power
The Baathists seized power once and for all in 1968, this time with
the help of the army. Gen. Ahmed Hassan Bakr, the party's secretary-
general, became president. Hussein remained in the background as
deputy chairman of the new Revolutionary Command Council but presided
over a reign of terror that purged non-Baathists from power and
quieted almost all of Iraq's quarrelsome clans, factions and
He launched midnight raids on the homes of suspected opponents,
organized show trials and staged public executions targeting select
groups, including Jews, who at the time were a significant community
"We do not need Stalinist ways to deal with traitors here," Hussein
would later remark of the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, whose rule of
terror he admired and studied closely. "We need Baathist ways."
The regime's main tool to keep the country together was unbridled
fear. One well-documented incident illustrates this principle.
In July 1979, Hussein eased Bakr out of office and assumed the
presidency. In a meeting that was videotaped and later shown secretly
to other Arab leaders, Hussein called senior Baathist officials
together to listen to Muhyi Abd Husayn Mashhadi, a member of the
Revolutionary Command Council, "confess" to taking part in a plot to
overthrow the new government.
After the dramatic confession, Hussein lighted a cigar and, between
puffs, slowly read off the names of 21 other party officials who were
asked to stand and leave the room.
"Everyone knew what was happening," said a senior Western
diplomat. "Every time a name was called, the cadres in the room would
begin shouting, 'Long live Saddam!' in the hopes that they would be
spared. Every time the hysterical cheering died down, Saddam would
take another puff on his cigar and call out another name."
The officials were later killed the first batch of many executions
Beyond fear, Hussein also employed money. During the 1970s, he and
his Baath Party colleagues nationalized the oil industry. They used
money from oil exports to build schools, hospitals, roads and
housing, and to buy loyalty from Iraq's many tribes and clans.
But from the beginning, Hussein mostly lavished his largess on Sunni
areas while ignoring others, building up resentment and hostility in
Iraq's Shiite south and the Kurdish north.
Hussein also spent handsomely on himself and his family. He favored
finely tailored suits, expensive cars and Cuban cigars. Until the war
in 2003, his family lived in splendor in palaces around the country.
Although his travels outside the Middle East were rare, his family
members were known to take elaborate shopping vacations in Paris and
Hussein was married to the same woman, Sajida, a former
schoolteacher, from 1958 until the late 1980s, when they separated.
Known to be a philanderer with numerous romantic liaisons, he took a
second wife, Samira Shabandar, in the mid-1980s. They had a son, Ali,
who was born about 1987. His two sons from his marriage to Sajida,
Qusai and Uday, were known for their ruthlessness and played key
roles in their father's rule. Hussein also had three daughters with
Sajida, Raghad, Rana and Hala.
War without end
In 1980, Hussein invaded Iran, hoping to take advantage of that
country's isolation after its Islamic Revolution. The disastrous
eight-year war that followed ultimately shaped Iraq's domestic
politics and crushed its promising economy. Hussein's treatment of
Iraqi Shiites and Kurds whom he considered agents of Iran sealed his
fate and hardened Iraq's divisions.
Two years into the war, Hussein's motorcade came under fire during a
visit to the Shiite town of Dujayl, a stronghold of the Iranian-
backed Dawa Party.
Hussein responded brutally, signing off on the deaths of at least 148
villagers, destroying the town as part of a "development" plan and
banishing hundreds of families to desert encampments. Those were the
acts on which his death sentence was based.
A few years later, it was Kurds who were massacred, as Iraqi air
force helicopters dropped chemical weapons, believed to have been
sarin and mustard gas, on villages in northern Iraq. The death toll
is believed to have been in the tens of thousands, and hundreds of
villages were destroyed.
In one attack, on the town of Halabja, as many as 5,000 people were
believed to have been killed and perhaps twice that many wounded.
Many in the West first became aware of Hussein's efforts to obtain
weapons of mass destruction in 1981, when Israeli planes destroyed a
nuclear reactor at Osirak, near Baghdad, that would have enabled Iraq
to manufacture nuclear weapons. At least 25 pounds of enriched
uranium was reported to have been at the site of the reactor, which
was being built by Italian and French companies.
Hussein was celebrated across the Middle East for his strident stance
against Israel. Through the years, he championed the Palestinian
cause, providing support for the families of suicide bombers and
housing and education to Palestinian refugees in Iraq.
But throughout the 1980s, his opposition to Israel remained largely
rhetorical, as his army remained bogged down in the war with Iran. In
1988, Iraqi forces used poison gas to push back the Iranian army.
Then, with both countries exhausted and hundreds of thousands dead on
both sides, the United Nations mediated a cease-fire.
Soon, Hussein sought to restart his nuclear weapons program, but his
reach for regional power was frustrated by a $70-billion war debt,
including billions owed to the small, wealthy Persian Gulf nation of
Kuwait, just south of Iraq.
Although most intelligence analysts missed the signals, a serious
crisis was brewing between Iraq and Kuwait. Arab officials now
concede they miscalculated and should have read the warnings in
Hussein's public threats against Kuwait and boasts about chemical
weapons. But no one miscalculated more than Hussein when, on Aug. 2,
1990, he ordered his troops to invade.
"What stood out most clearly about Saddam was his insulation," a
Pentagon analyst later said. "He was an underground fighter with an
intense suspicion of the outside world, a man who didn't know or
understand the West. His misperceptions led him to miscalculations
that made him a very difficult man to predict."
Even as the administration of President George H.W. Bush assembled a
massive force to drive his army out of Kuwait, Hussein appeared to
have no conception of what a modern military force could do. As his
commanders later told U.S. officials, he had mastered the technology
of a rifle but didn't understand the capabilities of a laser-guided
"The great duel, the mother of all battles, has begun," Hussein
declared Jan. 17, 1991, on government radio after the U.S. air
campaign began. "The dawn of victory nears as this great showdown
Operation Desert Storm, a campaign led by the U.S. and generally
supported by the Arab world, devastated Baghdad and Iraqi military
After a 100-hour ground war, the Kuwaiti monarchy was restored, with
175,000 Iraqi troops surrendering and an estimated 85,000 dead, one
of the most lopsided defeats in modern military history.
In the following months, uprisings by Shiite forces in the south and
Kurdish rebels in the north put added pressure on Hussein's regime.
With Americans watching, the Shiite rebellion was put down brutally
by elements of Hussein's Republican Guard. But a "no fly" zone over
northern Iraq enforced by U.S. and British pilots allowed Kurds to
establish a largely autonomous region over the next several years.
U.N.-imposed sanctions on Iraq's oil devastated its economy,
impoverishing the once-proud middle-class country. Iraq slid into
further ruin, with hunger widespread, children dying for lack of
medicine and the per capita income cut in half, to $1,200 a year.
During the next decade, Hussein turned to religion to bolster his
regime. Although his Baathist ideology was socialist and secular, he
built gargantuan mosques and put up billboards around Baghdad showing
himself kneeling on a prayer mat.
Far from learning any lessons from his defeat in the war, Hussein
continued to play cat-and-mouse with U.S. forces and the
He manipulated an "oil for food" program set up by the United
Nations, using it to accumulate cash for weapons and patronage. His
forces engaged in sporadic military incidents, many sparked by
Hussein's refusal to give U.N. weapon inspectors full access to
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, neoconservative
policymakers in Washington, who viewed Iraq as the primary stumbling
block to U.S. interests in the Middle East, consolidated their hold
on the U.S. foreign policy apparatus. President George W. Bush
labeled Iraq as part of an "axis of evil," arming to threaten the
Hussein called the Sept. 11 attacks "God's punishment" of the
Americans, though there is no evidence he was involved. "The United
States reaps the thorns its rulers have planted in the world," he
said the day after the attacks.
As diplomatic efforts to get Hussein to agree to U.N. inspections
resumed, Hussein's government denied that he had any weapons of mass
destruction to show U.N. inspectors.
After the war, those denials proved to have been true. Iraq's weapons
programs had deteriorated under the pressure of sanctions. But as
Hussein's commanders told U.S. investigators after the invasion,
their president had bluffed, not wanting to let the world, or his own
generals, know that he lacked chemical or biological weapons out of
fear the news would embolden his enemies, particularly Iran.
It also became clear that Hussein never believed the Americans would
oust him. He expected a repeat of a 1998 bombing campaign, which had
damaged his regime but not overthrown it.
But he hinted that even if he were toppled, that would not be the end
of the fight.
"The battle will not be over until the guns stop, when the national
will of the people completely succumbs to all that the aggressor
wants to see done," Hussein told CBS News anchor Dan Rather in an
interview shortly before the U.S. invasion.
"Air supremacy and missile supremacy are not enough," he said. "In
the final analysis, guns will continue to tell the tale of a
courageous people, defending itself with its own fighters."
On March 17, 2003, Bush gave Hussein 48 hours to leave Iraq. Two days
later, U.S. warplanes began bombing targets where Hussein and top
aides were believed to be sleeping.
U.S. and British troops entering from Kuwait took ground rapidly.
Hussein, defying his military commanders' advice, devised a strategy
that ensured quick defeat. His military commanders later told U.S.
investigators that until the very end, Hussein was far more afraid of
Iranian-backed Shiite rebels rising up against him in the south than
of American troops seizing his capital.
By April 9, Baghdad had fallen to U.S. forces. Hussein and his sons,
taking as much as $1 billion in cash, escaped into the Sunni
homelands of northwest Iraq and began rallying tribesmen and former
In July, Uday and Qusai were killed in a shootout in Mosul. Hussein
continued to evade capture, issuing occasional tape-recorded messages
that called on Iraqis to resist the U.S.-led forces.
As the year wore on, a dramatic rise in insurgent attacks lent an air
of urgency to finding Hussein. The U.S. government offered a reward
of $25 million for information leading to his capture. Then, on Dec.
13, 2003, American forces caught him, secreted in an underground hide-
out at a farmhouse near Tikrit.
During the last three years of his life, Hussein, along with former
aides, was housed at Camp Cropper, the U.S. prison for important
detainees, not far from one of his opulent former palaces. In 2005,
he and seven others were placed on trial for the killings of the
Neither Hussein's capture nor his trial slowed the country's descent
into civil war. The number of U.S. troops and Iraqis killed continued
to accelerate. Hussein himself, long despised and mistrusted by the
rest of the Arab world, became a cause celebre worldwide as he
condemned the trial as a farce and the U.S.-backed government of Iraq
as a puppet.
"I am the president of Iraq," he declared forcefully during an early
session of the trial. "I will not answer to this so-called court."
After a contentious, chaotic trial during which three defense lawyers
were gunned down and a judge was removed for being too lenient toward
the defense, the court, on Nov. 5, 2006, convicted and sentenced
Hussein to hang along with his half brother Barzan Ibrahim Hasan and
former judge Awad Hamed Bandar.
Despite criticism by rights groups that said the trial was unfair,
the verdict was upheld Tuesday, three weeks after the start of the
Through his lawyers, Hussein released a letter, one he said he would
have preferred to have read aloud in court. He called upon warring
Iraqis to set aside their differences and depicted himself as
gracefully resigned to his death.
"Here I am presenting myself as a sacrifice" he wrote. "If God wants
this, he will take my soul up in heaven with martyrs and believers.
And if not, he is the most merciful. He created us and we all will
return to him."
Key moments in his life
Saddam Hussein rose from humble beginnings to a seat of ruthless
April 28, 1937: Saddam Hussein born to a family of peasants in
village of Al Auja, near the town of Tikrit on the Tigris River,
about 100 miles north of Baghdad
1957: Joins Iraqi branch of the Arab socialist Baath Party.
July 17, 1968: Baath Party takes power. Hussein becomes deputy
chairman of the new Revolutionary Command Council.
July 16, 1979: Takes full power; later that summer has 22 leading
party members executed on charges of plotting a coup.
September 1980: Orders invasion of Iran.
1982: Hussein signs off on the deaths of at least 148 villagers in
Dujayl after he comes under fire during a visit.
March 1988: Iraqi forces use chemical weapons against Kurdish
villages in and around Halabja, killing as many as 5,000 people.
Aug. 20, 1988: U.N.-brokered cease-fire ends Iran-Iraq war, estimated
to have killed as many as 1 million.
Aug. 2, 1990: Orders invasion of Kuwait.
Jan. 16, 1991: U.S. attacks Iraq.
March 3, 1991: Cease-fire ends war.
April 1991: U.N. Security Council orders Iraq to surrender all
chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and establishes monitoring
Nov. 8, 2002: Security Council unanimously approves Resolution 1441
calling on Iraq to disarm or face "serious consequences."
March 20, 2003: U.S. begins bombing Baghdad.
April 9, 2003: Baghdad falls to U.S. forces.
Dec. 13, 2003: Hussein captured by American forces.
October 2005: Hussein goes on trial before Iraqi High Tribunal on
charges of ordering the 1982 killing of Shiite villagers in Dujayl.
Trial lasts until July 2006.
Nov. 5, 2006: Sentenced to death.
Sources: Times reports, Associated Press, Encyclopedia Britannica
On the Gallows, Curses for U.S. and `Traitors'
BAGHDAD, Dec. 30 Saddam Hussein never bowed his head, until his
His last words were equally defiant.
"Down with the traitors, the Americans, the spies and the Persians."
The final hour of Iraq's former ruler began about 5 a.m., when
American troops escorted him from Camp Cropper, near the Baghdad
airport, to Camp Justice, another American base at the heart of the
There, he was handed over to a newly trained unit of the Iraqi
National Police, with whom he would later exchange curses. Iraq took
full custody of Mr. Hussein at 5:30 a.m.
Two American helicopters flew 14 witnesses from the Green Zone to the
execution site a former headquarters of the Istikhbarat, the
deposed government's much feared military intelligence outfit, now
inside the American base.
Mr. Hussein was escorted into the room where the gallows, with its
red railing, stood, greeted at the door by three masked executioners
known as ashmawi. Several of the witnesses present including
Munkith al-Faroun, the deputy prosecutor for the court; Munir Haddad,
the deputy chief judge for the Iraqi High Tribunal; and Sami al-
Askari, a member of Parliament described in detail how the
execution unfolded and independently recounted what was said.
To protect himself from the bitter cold before dawn during the short
trip, Mr. Hussein wore a 1940s-style wool cap, a scarf and a long
black coat over a white collared shirt.
His executioners wore black ski masks, but Mr. Hussein could still
see their deep brown skin and hear their dialects, distinct to the
Shiite southern part of the country, where he had so brutally
repressed two separate uprisings.
The small room had a foul odor. It was cold, had bad lighting and a
sad, melancholic atmosphere. With the witnesses and 11 other people
including guards and the video crew it was cramped.
Mr. Hussein's eyes darted about, trying to take in just who was going
to put an end to him.
The executioners took his hat and his scarf.
Mr. Hussein, whose hands were bound in front of him, was taken to the
judge's room next door. He followed each order he was given.
He sat down and the verdict, finding him guilty of crimes against
humanity, was read aloud.
"Long live the nation!" Mr. Hussein shouted. "Long live the people!
Long live the Palestinians!"
He continued shouting until the verdict was read in full, and then he
composed himself again.
When he rose to be led back to the execution room at 6 a.m., he
looked strong, confident and calm. Whatever apprehension he may have
had only minutes earlier had faded.
The general prosecutor asked Mr. Hussein to whom he wanted to give
his Koran. He said Bandar, the son of Awad al-Bandar, the former
chief justice of the Revolutionary Court who was also to be executed
The room was quiet as everyone began to pray, including Mr.
Hussein. "Peace be upon Mohammed and his holy family."
Two guards added, "Supporting his son Moktada, Moktada, Moktada."
Mr. Hussein seemed a bit stunned, swinging his head in their
They were talking about Moktada al-Sadr, the firebrand cleric whose
militia is now committing some of the worst violence in the sectarian
fighting; he is the son of a revered Shiite cleric, Muhammad Sadiq al-
Sadr, whom many believe Mr. Hussein ordered murdered.
"Moktada?" he spat out, mixing sarcasm and disbelief.
Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser, asked Mr.
Hussein if he had any remorse or fear.
"No," he said bluntly. "I am a militant and I have no fear for
myself. I have spent my life in jihad and fighting aggression. Anyone
who takes this route should not be afraid."
Mr. Rubaie, standing shoulder to shoulder with Mr. Hussein, asked him
about the killing of the elder Mr. Sadr.
They were standing so close to each other that others could not hear
One of the guards, though, became angry. "You have destroyed us," the
masked man yelled. "You have killed us. You have made us live in
Mr. Hussein was scornful: "I have saved you from destitution and
misery and destroyed your enemies, the Persians and Americans."
The guard cursed him. "God damn you."
Mr. Hussein replied, "God damn you."
Two witnesses, apparently uninvolved in selecting the guards,
exchanged a quiet joke, saying they gathered that the goal of
disbanding the militias had yet to be accomplished.
The deputy prosecutor, Mr. Faroun, berated the guards, saying, "I
will not accept any offense directed at him."
Mr. Hussein was led up to the gallows without a struggle. His hands
were unbound, put behind his back, then fastened again. He showed no
remorse. He held his head high.
The executioners offered him a hood. He refused. They explained that
the thick rope could cut through his neck and offered to use the
scarf he had worn earlier to keep that from happening. Mr. Hussein
He stood on the high platform, with a deep hole beneath it.
He said a last prayer. Then, with his eyes wide open, no stutter or
choke in his throat, he said his final words cursing the Americans
and the Persians.
At 6:10 a.m., the trapdoor swung open. He seemed to fall a good
distance, but he died swiftly. After just a minute, his body was
still. His eyes still were open but he was dead. Despite the scarf,
the rope cut a gash into his neck.
His body stayed hanging for another nine minutes as those in
attendance broke out in prayer, praising the Prophet, at the death of
Witness: Saddam Hussein argued with guards moments before death
CNN's Aneesh Raman, Arwa Damon, Ryan Chilcote, Sam Dagher, Jomana
Karadsheh and Ed Henry contributed to this report.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Defiant to the end, Saddam Hussein mocked
Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr moments before he was hanged, a witness
The Iraqi government executed Hussein before dawn as punishment for
his role in a massacre of his own people, more than two decades
before he was toppled by a U.S.-led invasion.
A video of the execution broadcast on Al-Iraqiya state television
showed Hussein, dressed in a black overcoat, being led into a room by
three masked guards. (Watch noose placed around Hussein's neck --
graphic content, viewer discretion advised )
A witness, Iraqi Judge Munir Haddad, said that one of the
executioners told Hussein that the former dictator had destroyed
Iraq, which sparked an argument that was joined by several government
officials in the room.
As a noose was tightened around Hussein's neck, one of the
executioners yelled "long live Muqtada al-Sadr," Haddad said,
referring to the powerful anti-American Shiite religious leader.
Hussein, a Sunni, uttered one last phrase before he died,
saying "Muqtada al-Sadr" in a mocking tone, according to Haddad's
The judge said Hussein appeared "totally oblivious to what was going
on around him. I was very surprised. He was not afraid of death."
But Haddad's description of Hussein's demeanor before his execution
contrasts markedly with that of another witness, Iraqi national
security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie. "He was a broken man," al-Rubaie
said. "He was afraid. You could see fear in his face." (Watch al-
Rubaie describe Hussein's final moments )
The former dictator refused to wear a hood as he was hanged, al-
Hussein's death came in "a blink of the eye" after his executioner
activated the gallows just after 6 a.m. (10 p.m. Friday ET), said al-
"This dark page has been turned over," al-Rubaie said. "Saddam is
gone. Today Iraq is an Iraq for all the Iraqis, and all the Iraqis
are looking forward. ... The [Hussein] era has gone forever."
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who didn't attend the execution,
used it as an opportunity to plead for national unity to ward off
deadly sectarian violence which is straining Iraq's fledgling
"In the name of the people I call on all men of the past regime and
manipulated by it to reconsider their stances," al-Maliki said in a
written statement released after the execution.
"The door is still open for every person who does not have blood of
innocents on his hands to join in rebuilding of Iraq, which will be
for all Iraqis without exceptions or discrimination." (Watch what
Hussein's death could mean in Iraq )
Deadly car bombs Saturday struck a mainly Shiite neighborhood in
Baghdad and the southern Shiite town of Kufa, officials said. (Full
Word of Hussein's execution was followed by Iraqi street
celebrations. (Full story)
Burial place undecided
Hussein, 69, will be buried somewhere in Iraq "in the next few
hours," although talks are still under way to decide where, al-Rubaie
"We will wash him, wrap him, put him in an Islamic coffin, someone
from the Islamic community will read a death prayer over him and he
will be buried with old Islamic rituals," he said.
The Shiite Iraqi channel Biladi TV broadcast video of what appeared
to be Hussein's body wrapped in a white shroud with only his head
exposed. (Watch as Hussein's body lies in a shroud -- graphic
content, viewer discretion advised )
Al-Rubaie said that while the execution was carried out with due
respect to Hussein -- and following "all international and Islamic
standards" -- some witnesses and the executioner could not resist
celebrating by dancing around the body after the hanging.
"It's a very ordinary action of a number of people -- some of them
officials, some of them ordinary people, even the executioner as well
because they have lost their loved ones -- their fathers, brothers,
sisters -- this is a natural reaction," he said.
"I would like to make this day a day of unity of Iraqis," al-Rubaie
said. "We need to forgive, forget the past now and look forward and
progress toward stability, security and prosperity of Iraq."
The execution took place outside the heavily fortified U.S. Green
Zone, al-Rubaie said, and no Americans were present.
"It was an Iraqi operation from A to Z," he said. "The Americans were
not present during the hour of the execution. They weren't even in
He added that "there were no Shiite or Sunni clerics present, only
the witnesses and those who carried out the actual execution were
On Al-Arabiya television, al-Rubaie said the execution took place at
the 5th Division intelligence office in Qadhimiya.
In the United States, Iraqi-Americans celebrated in the street in
Dearborn, Michigan, home to the nation's largest concentration of
Iraqis. (Watch Iraqi-Americans dancing, kissing and singing in the
Bush: Hussein received fair trial
White House deputy press secretary Scott Stanzel said President Bush
was asleep when the execution took place and was not awakened. The
president had been briefed by national security adviser Stephen
Hadley before retiring and was aware the hanging was imminent,
The White House issued a statement praising the Iraqi people for
giving Hussein a fair trial.
"Fair trials were unimaginable under Saddam Hussein's tyrannical
rule," Bush's statement read. "It is a testament to the Iraqi
people's resolve to move forward after decades of oppression that,
despite his terrible crimes against his own people, Saddam Hussein
received a fair trial." (Full story)
Hussein was hanged for his role in the 1982 Dujail massacre, in which
148 Iraqis were killed after a failed assassination attempt against
the then-Iraqi president. (Watch what happened in Dujail )
Two other co-defendants -- Barzan Hassan, Hussein's half-brother, and
Awad Bandar, the former chief judge of the Revolutionary Court --
were also found guilty and had been expected to face execution with
Hussein, but al-Rubaie said their executions were postponed "because
we wanted to have this day to have an historic distinction."
Hussein executed -- and Iraq braces
The deposed tyrant declines to wear a hood and shows no remorse in
the death chamber. Violent reprisals by Sunnis are expected.
By Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Solomon Moore, Times Staff Writers
BAGHDAD A defiant Saddam Hussein was hanged at dawn today in a
secret concrete death chamber here as the Muslim call to prayer
echoed over the capital.
Hussein and 14 Iraqi government representatives were flown by
helicopter to the site, according to Iraqi High Tribunal Judge Munir
Haddad. Guards escorted Hussein into the room, where he denounced the
West and Iran.
Hussein then climbed the high ladder to the gallows.
As his executioners placed a noose around his neck, Hussein blanched
but betrayed no emotion, Haddad said.
Hussein refused to wear a hood.
The charged silence that settled over the execution chamber was
broken by an exchange between Hussein and four guards, who were
apparently followers of Muqtada Sadr, the militant Shiite cleric
whose father was killed by Hussein.
"Muqtada Sadr!" they cried out.
Hussein scoffed in reply.
His last word was a sarcastic "Muqtada," Haddad said. "And then he
No cleric was provided. But as Hussein's life ebbed away, Haddad
said, some of those present uttered a Muslim prayer often used by
Shiite congregations to express gratitude: "May Allah bless Muhammad
and his descendants."
The deposed Iraqi president had been convicted of crimes against
humanity Nov. 5 for the killings of 148 men and boys from the town of
Dujayl after a 1982 assassination attempt a comparative handful
among the tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths for which he was
responsible during his nearly four-decade rule.
His execution officially ends a bloody chapter in this nation's
history but is not expected to quell the sectarian civil war and
violent insurgency that have racked the country since his overthrow
by an American-led invasion in 2003.
As news of the execution spread, some Iraqis here celebrated with the
customary gunfire into the air, and television channels broadcast
Hussein retrospectives complete with film of his many victims.
The hanging was photographed and videotaped, in part to provide proof
in this rumor-driven society that the former dictator was truly dead,
Iraqi TV also reported. But such documentation was not immediately
The deposed Iraqi president's death warrant was signed Friday by the
nation's two vice presidents, and execution witnesses gathered in
Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, according to an Iraqi
official with knowledge of the proceedings. The hanging took place in
an intelligence facility in northwest Baghdad.
U.S. officials said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki met with
Cabinet officials and other politicians throughout Friday to plan the
execution. Security was Iraqi leaders' main concern. Most officials
expect Hussein's death to be followed by a rash of insurgent attacks
as former Baathists retaliate against the Shiite-led government.
The government also sorted through execution procedural requirements
Friday, including the timing of the execution and the assembly of the
U.S. military officials handed Hussein over to Iraqi officials around
8 p.m. Friday Baghdad time, according to one of Hussein's defense
Hussein's execution seemed to be much less than the historic turning
point many people in Iraq and the United States once thought it would
With Iraq mired in violence, the former dictator's demise no longer
appeared to signal the beginning of new order. Instead, it seemed
another reminder of the country's divisions.
And though Iraq has seen some positive developments, such as national
elections, many Americans remain unconvinced that things in Iraq have
fundamentally changed for the better.
President Bush said in a written statement that Hussein had been
executed after receiving a fair trial, "the kind of justice he denied
the victims of his brutal regime."
"Fair trials were unimaginable under Saddam Hussein's tyrannical
rule. It is a testament to the Iraqi people's resolve to move forward
after decades of oppression that, despite his terrible crimes against
his own people, Saddam Hussein received a fair trial," Bush said in
the statement issued in Crawford, Texas, where the president is
taking a winter vacation at his ranch.
The execution "will not end the violence in Iraq," he said, "but it
is an important milestone" in Iraq's effort to become a self-
sustaining democracy and U.S. ally in fighting terrorism.
Deputy White House Press Secretary Scott Stanzel said Stephen J.
Hadley, Bush's national security advisor, briefed the president about
6:15 p.m. CST about the imminent execution.
Stanzel said Hadley told the president that Maliki had informed
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, that the execution
would take place within several hours. He added that Bush went to bed
before the execution, around 9 p.m. CST, and was not awakened after
it was carried out.
Maliki legal advisor Mariam Rayis said Hussein's death warrant was
signed by Vice Presidents Tariq Hashimi, a Sunni Arab, and Adel Abdul
Mehdi, a Shiite. President Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish death penalty
opponent, was out of Baghdad on Friday and delegated his capital
authority to Mehdi, Rayis said.
The gallows was set up by midnight Baghdad time, Rayis said, and
Hussein was led to the scaffold dressed in normal clothes.
Defense lawyer Najib Nuaimi said U.S. military officials asked him
Friday morning to send someone to pick up Hussein's personal effects,
such as clothing, books including a Koran and a manuscript
Hussein had been writing.
"He was writing his biography," Nuaimi said. "But I don't think he
had a chance to complete it."
Among the witnesses at Hussein's hanging were a representative from
the Interior Ministry, Iraqi High Tribunal Judge Munir Haddad, chief
prosecutor Munqith Faroon, a physician, and a cleric who read from
the Koran, Rayis said. Mowaffak Rubaie, Iraq's national security
advisor, also attended.
Survivors from Dujayl did not attend, Rayis said.
Ali Hassan Mohammed Haidari, the first witness to take the stand
against Hussein in the Dujayl case, wanted to see the execution but
decided he didn't want to risk the dangerous drive to Baghdad, 60
He said the execution made his family "very happy" but would not
quell suffering. "You can imagine a mother who has lost seven
children cannot avoid shedding tears even in the midst of this happy
moment," he said.
Other Dujayl victims said their relief over Hussein's death was
dampened by the fact that they had not witnessed their tormentor's
"I have been waiting for the last 40 years for such a moment," said
Dujayl Mayor Mohammed Zubaidi, whose father and brother were killed
in jail by Hussein's regime. "I was always hoping that this execution
would take place inside the town of Dujayl because this is where the
Hussein's wife, who is in Qatar, and a daughter in Jordan could not
attend the execution because they are both fugitives from Iraqi
justice, Rayis said, and Hussein's lawyers were barred from attending.
Hussein defense attorney Bushra Khalil said that Raghad Ali,
Hussein's eldest daughter, wanted her father to be buried in
Yemen "until Iraq is free of the occupiers."
Hussein's family is "depressed," Khalil said.
Khalil said Hussein had told her that he refused sedatives offered by
Americans to calm his nerves and he had been resigned to his fate.
"We asked him if he would like us to communicate anything to the
leaders of the Arab world," she continued.
"He said no. His only request would be to Allah."
Khalil warned that Hussein's death would have violent consequences
Hussein's lawyers sought a temporary restraining order Friday at an
appellate court in Washington, D.C., to force the U.S. military to
retain custody of Hussein. Hours before Hussein's death, the court
refused to intervene.
Hussein's execution coincided with the end of the hajj, the seasonal
Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. Most Sunnis began Eid al-Adha, the Feast
of Sacrifice, after morning prayers today; most Shiites will begin
Nuaimi said that Maliki, a Shiite, had pushed for Hussein's execution
during the holiday to "make a gift during Eid to his party."
Hussein "will be the sacrificial lamb for the Shiites, and the
Iranians in particular," said Nuaimi, referring to many Muslims'
practice of slaughtering lambs after pilgrimage for celebratory
U.S. officials expressed concern that news of the execution's
imminence, which began circulating Thursday, might have given
insurgents time to plan attacks. U.S. military officials said they
had beefed up security in Baghdad in advance of the execution and to
ward off possible retaliatory violence.
Iraqi and U.S. officials said the government would probably extend
Friday's curfew indefinitely.
Hussein's family wants to bury him in his hometown of Tikrit in
northern Iraq but are afraid the government will cremate him and
scatter the ashes, Nuaimi said.
Rayis said Hussein's body was to be wrapped in a white sheet and
would be buried by Iraq's Directorate of Social Welfare if it not
claimed by a family member.
His execution ended other legal proceedings against Hussein,
including his genocide trial involving the Anfal military campaign.
That operation left tens of thousands of Kurds dead by gunfire,
bombings and poison gas.
Saddam Hussein, Defiant Dictator Who Ruled Iraq With Violence and
The hanging of Saddam Hussein ended the life of one of the most
brutal tyrants in recent history and negated the fiction that he
himself maintained even as the gallows loomed that he remained
president of Iraq despite being toppled by the United States military
and that his power and his palaces would be restored to him in time.
The despot, known as Saddam, had oppressed Iraq for more than 30
years, unleashing devastating regional wars and reducing his once
promising, oil-rich nation to a claustrophobic police state.
For decades, it had seemed that his unflinching hold on Iraq would
endure, particularly after he lasted through disastrous military
adventures against first Iran and then Kuwait, where an American-led
coalition routed his unexpectedly timid military in 1991.
His own conviction that he was destined by God to rule Iraq forever
was such that he refused to accept that he would be overthrown in
April 2003, even as American tanks penetrated the Iraqi capital,
Baghdad, in a war that has become a bitterly contentious, bloody
After eluding capture for eight months, Mr. Hussein became the
American military's High Value Detainee No. 1. But he heaped scorn on
the Iraqi judge who referred to him as the "former" president after
asking him to identify himself on the first day of his trial for
crimes against humanity, which ultimately lead to his execution.
"I didn't say `former president,' I said `president,' and I have
rights according to the Constitution, among them immunity from
prosecution," he growled from the docket. The outburst underscored
the boundless egotism and self-delusion of a man who fostered such a
fierce personality cult during the decades that he ran the Middle
Eastern nation that joking about him or criticizing him in public
could bring a death sentence.
If a man's life can be boiled down to one physical mark, Mr.
Hussein's right wrist was tattooed with a line of three dark blue
dots, commonly given to children in rural, tribal areas. Some
urbanized Iraqis removed or at least bleached theirs, but Mr.
Hussein's former confidants told The Atlantic Monthly that he never
Ultimately, underneath all the socialist oratory, underneath the
Koranic references, the tailored suits and the invocations of Iraq's
glorious history, Mr. Hussein held onto the ethos of a village
peasant who believed that the strongman was everything. He was trying
to be a tribal leader on a grand scale. His rule was paramount, and
sustaining it was his main goal behind all the talk of developing
Iraq by harnessing its considerable wealth and manpower.
Mosques, airports, neighborhoods and entire cities were named after
him. A military arch erected in Baghdad in 1989 was modeled on his
forearms and then enlarged 40 times to hold two giant crossed swords.
In school, pupils learned songs with lyrics like "Saddam, oh Saddam,
you carry the nation's dawn in your eyes."
The entertainment at public events often consisted of outpourings of
praise for Mr. Hussein. At the January 2003 inauguration of a
recreational lake in Baghdad, poets spouted spontaneous verse and the
official translators struggled to keep up with lines like, "We will
stimulate ourselves by saying your name, Saddam Hussein, when we say
Saddam Hussein, we stimulate ourselves."
While Mr. Hussein was in power, his statue guarded the entrance to
every village, his portrait watched over each government office and
he peered down from at least one wall in every home. His picture was
so widespread that a joke quietly circulating among his detractors in
1988 put the country's population at 34 million 17 million people
and 17 million portraits of Saddam.
Battles and Bloodshed
Throughout his rule, he unsettled the ranks of the Baath Party with
bloody purges and packed his jails with political prisoners to defuse
real or imagined plots. In one of his most brutal acts, he rained
poison gas on the northern Kurdish village of Halabja in 1988,
killing an estimated 5,000 of his own citizens suspected of being
disloyal and wounding 10,000 more.
Even at the end, he showed no remorse. When four Iraqi politicians
visited him after his capture in December 2003, they asked about his
more brutal acts. He called the Halabja attack Iran's handiwork; he
said that Kuwait was rightfully part of Iraq and that the mass graves
were filled with thieves who fled the battlefields, according to
Adnan Pachachi, a former Iraqi foreign minister. Mr. Hussein declared
that he had been "just but firm" because Iraqis needed a tough ruler,
Mr. Pachachi said.
It was a favorite theme, one even espoused in a novel attributed to
Mr. Hussein called "Zabibah and the King."
At one point, the king asks the comely Zabibah whether the people
needed strict measures from their leader. "Yes, Your Majesty,"
Zabibah replies. "The people need strict measures so that they can
feel protected by this strictness."
Aside from his secret police, he held power by filling the
government's upper ranks with members of his extended clan. Their
Corleone-like feuds became the stuff of gory public soap operas. Mr.
Hussein once sentenced his elder son, Uday, to be executed after he
beat Mr. Hussein's food taster to death in front of scores of
horrified party guests, but later <br/><br/>(Message over 64 KB, truncated)