The contemporary history of Iraq is closely linked to the life and career of its Chief of State, Saddam Hussein. He was born in 1937 in Tikrit (north of Iraq) into a family of poor farmers from Sunni denomination. Due to family problems, he did not finish secondary school. In 1957, he became member of the Baath party.

In October 1957, he was charged with an attempt to assassinate general Kassem and was put into jail. He escaped from prison and went first to Syria and then toEgypt where he finished his secondary school. In 1961 he became a student at the Law Faculty of Cairo University but didn’t finished his studies. In 1963, following a Coup d’Etat, the Iraqi branch of the Baath party took power and Saddam Hussein returned to Iraq. The party could not maintain its hold on power and Saddam Hussein went underground. He was arrested in October 1964 and at his release from prison, in 1966, he was elected Co-Secretary General of the Baath Party.

The Baath party took finally control of power on 30 July 1968 and Ahmad Hassan Al-Bakr, a cousin of Saddam Hussein, became President of the Republic. In November 1969, Saddam became Vice-President of the Command of the Revolution Council, the real man in command, and he gradually enlarged his powers by eliminating his enemies.

On the 16th of July 1979, Ahmad Hassan Al-Bakr was dismissed and Saddam Hussein replaced him as President of the Republic. He worked out a voluntarist and pragmatic policy. In order to consolidate his power he took decisions that marked contemporary Iraq. In domestic politics he nationalized the oil industry and used the returns from the oil trade to boost agricultural reforms, general education and the industrialization of the country.

In August 1992, the UN appointed the inspectors team to resume inspections of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programme. In Autumn 1998 Saddam Hussein expelled the inspectors. this marked the beginning of British-American bombings in the « no-fly zones ».

On the regional sphere, the Islamic revolution in Iran (1979) gave him the opportunity to embody the frustrated hopes of Arab nationalism. After the end of the conflict (1990), the Iraqi economy was almost bankrupt and Saddam asked Arab countries to cancel Iraq’s debt towards them. Arguing their rejection of his proposal end the historical rights over Kuwait, the Iraqi army invaded the Emirate on 2 August 1991. Kuwait was liberated on 28 February 1991. Paradoxically, the end of the Second Gulf War reinforced Saddam’s power. In March 1991, the Shiite et Kurdish uprisings were violently repressed, without any reaction from the part of the international community. The desertion of his two sons in law in 1995 and their assassination in February 1996 was proof to the brutality of the Iraqi regime.

On 15 October 2002 a referendum on the continuation of the presidential mandate of Saddam Hussein was held. The mandate was extended with a 100% vote in favour. Before the war outburst in 2003, Saddam was Prime Minister, Marshal, President of the Command of the Revolution Council, Supreme Chief of the Armed forces and Secretary General of the Baath Party.

On the 13th of November 2002, he accepted UN Resolution 1441, authorizing the return of the arms inspectors to Iraq (see UNMOVIC).

Saddam Hussein is married and has four children. His two sons played an important role in Iraqi political life. The oldest son, Uday, amongst other public duties, was member of the Chamber of representatives, Editor in Chief of the newspaper Babel -one of the leading official newspapers- Shabab TV -youth television-, president of the Iraqi Photographers Association, head of the Olympic Committee and the National Football Team, and head of the state’s Youht Union and the National Union of Iraqi Students. After he shoot one of his uncles in the leg in 1999, he was briefly exiled to Switzerland and lost much of the influence on his father. Although he was allowed to return to Iraq, he was never again considered for Saddam’s succession. Qusay, Saddam’s youngest son, had gradually replaced his brother as heir. When he was only 25 years old, Qusay was in charge of the suppression of the Shia uprising that followed Iraq’s eviction from Kuwait in 1991. After the attack to his brother in 1996 (he was seriously wounded), he consolidated his position as a heir. Qusay chaired two of the most important committees designed to keep the regime in power: the National Security Council and the Special Security Committee. Qusay took control of the Fedayeen militia -a paramilitary unit created by his brother- in 1997. Qusay chaired also the Republican Guard and in May 2001 had been appointed Vice-Dircetor of the Military services of the Baath party and regional Commander in chief. On the eve of US-led attack in March 2003, Qusay had been charged by Saddam Hussein of the control of four key regions, including Baghdad and Tikrit.

Both brothers were said to control much of Iraq’s finances and were apparently involved in the lucrative oil-smuggling business taking place paralel to the international embargo.

After the US and its allies launched the war against Iraq on the 20st of March 2003 and despite the pursuit of the high officials of Saddam Hussein’s Regime, the Iraqi president disappeared before the fall of Baghdad. His fate and his whereabouts are not known but various recordings published on Arabic TV channels indicate that he is alive. Saddam’s both sons, Qusay and Uday were number two and number three respectively in the most-wanted list of 55 key figures in the defeated Iraqi regime distributed by the US. A reward of 25 Million $ was offered for information leading to the capture of the former president and another one of 15 Million for each of his sons. The US Department of Defense announced on July 23 that the two brothers Uday and Qusay were killed the previous day in a gun battle in the town of Mosul (North Iraq).

Given that the United States has refused that he be judged by the International Criminal Court a Special Iraqi Tribunal has been constituted to prosecute Saddam Hussein. Seven accusations of high crimes against humanity have been held against him, notably for the gassing of the Kurds in Halabja (1988), the crushing of the Shiite rebellion (1991), the war against Iran (1980-1988), the invasion of Kuwait (1990), and the murder of Shiite religious dignitaries and leaders of political parties. He faces the death penalty.

The legality of the Special Iraqi Tribunal is questioned by the lawyers of the old dictator because the tribunal does not rest on a legal foundation since Iraq didn’t have a General Assembly. Moreover, the arrest itself seems to be contested by his lawyers given that the United States and Great Britain invaded Iraq without a mandate and thus in violation of international law. This will be in any case the chosen line of defense of his lawyers.

The hearings of the trial started in 2005 and showed a combative man. Saddam Hussein declared he was still President of Iraq and for this reason this judgement was illegitimate as the court which he does not recognise the authority. He called for rebellion against the Americans and the cessation of fighting in Iraq, the microphones were then turned off and the trial went on behind closed doors. He pleaded not guilty for the massacre of Douajil. He will nevertheless be formally accused of crimes against humanity.

On November 5 2005 Saddam Hussein is sentenced to death by hanging.

The former Iraqi president was hanged on December 30, 2006. This date is all the more symbolic that it is the first day of Eid al-Kebir, the biggest Muslim holiday, the feast of sacrifice during which the custom is to slaughter an animal.

The decision to kill Saddam Hussein on such symbolic day is perceived by Sunni population of the Arab world as an insult on the part of Shiites, whose Eid starts only the next day.

The dissemination of the video of his hanging on the Internet aroused the anger of the Sunni people. The dignity of Saddam Hussein at the time of his death revived his popularity among the Sunni community which sees it now as a martyr.

The trial has been questioned with virulence in a report by Human Rights Watch : According to the organization, the conduct of the court reflects a lack of understanding of fundamental fair trial principles, an inability to adequately ensure adequatly detailed notice of the charges against Saddam Hussein and shortcomings in the timely disclosure of incriminating evidence. In other words, HRW believes that the trial did not meet key fair trial standards.

According to the report, the relevance of the verdict is questionable, imposition of the death penalt as part of an unfair trial is indefensible.

For more information: Human Rights Watch report on the trial of Saddam Hussein.