Asharq Al Awsat and Agencies, London – Saddam Hussein, former president of Iraq was hanged at dawn on 30 December 2006 for crimes against humanity, a dramatic, violent end for a leader who ruled Iraq by fear for three decades before he was toppled by a U.S. invasion in 2003.
A subdued Saddam Hussein was led shackled into a hall early on Saturday in Baghdad, a noose was placed around his neck and a guard pulled a lever that swiftly ended his life and a chapter of Iraq’s history.
The Iraqi dictator was born Saddam Hussein Abdul Majid al Tikriti on the April 28, 1937 in al Ajwa village outside Tikrit, 150km north of Baghdad.
Saddam Hussein combined a shrewd tactical mind with a taste for violence as he rose from humble beginnings to enjoy three decades of absolute power in Iraq. But overarching ambition, which saw him invade neighboring Iran and Kuwait and defy former U.S. allies who accused him of developing nuclear and chemical weapons, destroyed Iraq’s oil-rich economy and finally brought him down.
In 1956, Saddam Hussein joined the uprising against pro-British royalist rulers and became a militant in the pan-Arab, secular Baath Party. Three years later, a year after the overthrow of the monarchy, he took part in an attempt to kill Prime Minister Abdel-Karim Kassem before he fled Iraq. In February 1963, Saddam Hussein returned to Baghdad when the Baath Party seized power in a military coup but nine months later the Baathists were toppled. Saddam was caught and jailed. Whilst in prison, he was elected deputy secretary-general of the party. In July 1968, Saddam helped to plot the coup that put the Baath Party back in power, deposing President Abdul-Rahman Aref. He came to power on July 16, 1979 after President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr stepped down as chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC).
Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq between 1979 and 2003. His ruthless rule largely kept the lid on simmering tensions between Arabs and Kurds and between majority Shia Muslims and the strongman’s dominant fellow Sunnis. However, his power crumbled when U.S. tanks swept into Baghdad in April 2003. After eight months in hiding, Saddam Hussein was captured in December that year by American soldiers who found him hiding in a hole in the ground near his hometown of Tikrit.
Iraqis who lived for years under the gaze of proud Saddam statues and posters saw humiliating images of him in custody, mouth held open by a probing medic, an unfamiliar beard streaked grey and disheveled after months on the run. But when his trial opened in October 2005, he was back in a neat suit and defiant from the start, insisting “I am the president of Iraq” and denouncing the U.S.-backed court.
Saddam, 69, was found guilty of mass killing in the deaths of 148 Shia men from the village of Dujail. Many were killed after an assassination attempt on Saddam by Shia militants in the village in 1982. Others were executed after a trial.
Saddam, meaning “one who confronts” in Arabic, returned to court in August in a separate trial to face charges of genocide for a military campaign against ethnic Kurds in 1988. However, the trial was not concluded by the time of his death and the charges lapse. Under the statute governing the Iraqi High Tribunal, the death sentence was carried out accordingly within 30 days of a final decision on the appeal.
Throughout the trial, Saddam had been in U.S. custody at Camp Cropper, part of the U.S. military headquarters at Baghdad airport, even though he was legally held by the Iraqi court.
In his last days, Saddam Hussein said in a letter that his pending execution should be seen as a sacrifice for the nation and called on Iraqis to unite and fight U.S.-led forces in the country. In the letter, he called on Iraqis to “direct your enmity towards the invaders. Do not let them divide you”. But he urged them “not to hate the peoples of the countries that committed aggression against us,” but “differentiate between the decision-makers and the peoples”. “Here I offer myself in sacrifice. If God almighty wishes, it (my soul) will take me where he orders to be with the martyrs,” Saddam said. “If my soul goes down this path (of martyrdom) it will face God in serenity.” The defense team said the letter was dictated shortly after Saddam was sentenced to death in November for crimes against humanity during his 24-year rule.
As president, he appealed variously to Arab nationalism, Islam and Iraqi patriotism and would appear in the traditional clothes of an Iraqi peasant, military uniform or Western suits. In court appearances he projected the image of a pious Muslim, tie-less in a sober suit and clutching a Quran. His lawyers and co-accused respectfully called him “Mr. President”. He took that formal post in 1979 after using his skills as a street fighter and conspirator to get his Baath party into power. Surrounding himself with relatives from his hometown of Tikrit, he maintained an iron grip on Iraq despite bloody wars, uprisings, coup plots and assassination attempts.
Once an ally of the United States, which aided him in his eight-year war against Iran, he was demonized by Western leaders after his army invaded Washington’s ally Kuwait in 1990. For some years, U.S. policy was to contain Saddam but after the Sept. 11 attacks President George W. Bush chose Iraq as the next target in his “war on terror” after Afghanistan.
During his Dujail trial Saddam Hussein said: “Even if they put me in hellfire, God forgive me … I would say, ‘Fine, for the sake of Iraq.’ And I will not cry, for my heart is full of belief.”
Upon his death, his enemies rejoiced, his defenders proclaimed him a martyr, and others looked ahead to the impact the execution of deposed Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, would have on Iraq.