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Saddam Hussein

Hussein, Saddam (sädämˈ hōsānˈ) [key], 1937–2006, Iraqi political leader. A member of the Ba'ath party, he fled Iraq after participating (1959) in an assassination attempt on the country's prime minister; in Egypt he attended law school. Returning to Iraq in 1963 after the Ba'athists briefly came to power, he played a significant role in the 1968 revolution that secured Ba'ath hegemony. Hussein held key economic and political posts before becoming Iraq's president in 1979.

As president, he focused on strengthening the Iraqi oil industry and military and gaining a greater foothold in the Arab world while using brutal measures to maintain his power. In 1980 he escalated a long-standing dispute with Iran over the Shatt al Arab waterway into a full-scale war (see Iran-Iraq War) lasting eight years. On Aug. 2, 1990, Hussein ordered an Iraqi invasion of neighboring Kuwait; however, Iraq was forced out in early 1991 by an international military coalition (see Iraq; Persian Gulf War).

Following the war, Hussein weathered a Kurdish rebellion in the north and quelled a Shiite insurrection in the south, while his country suffered the effects of international economic sanctions. Hussein's resistance to UN-supervised weapons inspections imposed as part of the conditions for ending the Gulf War led to U.S. and British bombing raids against Iraq beginning in 1998. With the threat of war with the U.S. and Britain looming in 2002, Iraq agreed to let UN inspectors return, but the failure of Iraq to cooperate fully with the United Nations led to a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in Mar., 2003. In a little less than a month Anglo-American forces ended Hussein's control over nearly all Iraq, although guerrillas continued to mount attacks in the following months. Hussein survived the invasion, but was not captured until Dec., 2003.

In 2004 he was transferred to Iraqi legal custody and arraigned on charges stemming from his presidency. The Iraqi government put Hussein on trial in 2005 for crimes against humanity, for ordering the execution of 143 men in the Shiite village of Dujail following an assassination attempt on him there in 1982. In 2006, charges of genocide, resulting from the anti-Kurd Anfal campaign in the late 1980s, also were brought against him. Hussein was convicted and sentenced to death in the Dujail case in Nov., 2006; after an unsuccessful appeal he was hanged in Dec., 2006.

See K. M. Woods et al., ed., The Saddam Tapes (2011).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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