Published December 15, 2003
Saddam Hussein (search) emerged from a humble background to become the unquestioned leader of a nation that was once one of the Arab world's richest and most powerful.
Saddam's peasant father died before Saddam was born on April 28, 1937, in village of al-Oja near desert town of Tikrit (search), north of Baghdad. Saddam was raised mainly by an uncle.
Violence was long a part of Saddam's political strategy. A year after joining underground Baath Socialist Party in 1957, Saddam spent six months in prison in the slaying of his brother-in-law, a communist. In 1968, the Baath took power in a coup Saddam helped organize. Saddam pushed aside coup leader Gen. Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr (search) to take over as president in July 1979, a rise accompanied by a purge in which hundreds of senior party members were imprisoned or executed.
Saddam spent earnings from Iraq's vast oil wealth on education and infrastructure in the 1970s — and on one of the world's largest armies, which he used to quash dissent at home and to try to fulfill his ambitions abroad.
In 1980, he launched a war with neighboring Iran, hoping for a quick victory in the confusion following that country's Islamic revolution. But the war dragged on for eight years, killing a total of around one million people from the two sides. The war brought Saddam closer to the United States, which sold his regime arms and other aide as a bulwark against Iran.
But Saddam became an international pariah with his 1990 invasion of neighboring Kuwait. After U.S.-led troops forced his army out of the Gulf emirate in early 1991, Saddam dug in against United Nations' economic and military sanctions.
For more than a decade, Saddam remained defiant. "We are in our country and whoever is in his own homeland ... and is forced to face an enemy that stands on the side of falsehood and comes as an aggressor from beyond seas and oceans will no doubt emerge triumphant," he told his nation in a televised speech in 2002 as U.S. threats mounted to force him to surrender any nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.
Those threats ended with the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and Saddam's ouster in April, as American troops swept into Baghdad and statues of the Iraqi leader were pulled down. The 66-year-old Saddam fled into hiding while loyalists and other Iraqi guerrillas waged an insurgency against the American occupation of the country.
Saddam and his wife, Sajida Khairallah Telfah, had three daughters and two sons. His sons, Odai and Qusai, were killed by American troops in a July raid in the northern town of Mosul. Saddam is also believed to have a third and youngest son, Ali, by Samira Shahbandar, daughter of a prominent Iraqi family, who has been described as his second wife.