Saddam Hussein (1937-2006) was the president of Iraq from 1979 to 2006. He was born to a peasant family near Tikrit in north-central Iraq but was educated in Baghdad. At age 20, he joined the Ba’ath Party, a secular Pan-Arab political movement committed to liberating Arab countries from western domination. He was imprisoned from 1964 for his political activities. After escaping in 1967, he participated in the coup that brought the Ba’ath Party to power. He served as deputy to the president, Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr, before succeeding him to office upon Bakr’s resignation in 1979.
As president, Hussein attacked Iran in 1980, shortly after Shiite clerics successfully overthrew the Shah. Hussein opposed the radical Islamic government of his neighbor and hoped to exploit the country’s political turmoil to seize control of its rich oil fields. But in 1988, the war ended in a stalemate, leaving more than a million dead and Iraq’s national debt vastly increased.
To improve his nation’s finances, Hussein invaded oil-rich Kuwait in 1990 triggering the first Persian Gulf War. American president George H.W. Bush built a coalition that included Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, as well as Great Britain, France, and Canada. Beginning with massive air strikes on 16 January 1991, the coalition drove Iraq from Kuwait and occupied much of southern Iraq before President Bush declared a cease-fire on 28 February.
Over the decade following the war, Hussein provided uneven cooperation with United Nations arms inspectors charged with enforcing the cease-fire requirement that he dismantle all weapons programs. Following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, President George W. Bush argued that Hussein’s uneven record of cooperation was one of the reasons that he should be removed from power. Following the American invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Hussein fled the capital and remained in hiding until captured in December 2003. He was tried before an Iraq court for crimes against humanity that included the massacre of 148 Shiite citizens of Al-Dujayl. He was convicted on 5 November and hanged 30 December 2006.