• RSS icon
  • Share icon
  • Printer friendly format

Saddam Hussein

Last modified 10 September 2011.

First published 12 August 2001. Reviewed 28 October 2010

Full name Saddam Hussein al-Majid al-Tikriti. AKA 'Great Uncle', AKA 'Lion of Babylon', AKA 'Lion of Iraq', AKA 'Beast of Baghdad'. Saddam translates to 'One Who Confronts'.

Country: Iraq.

Kill tally: Approaching two million, including between 150,000 and 340,000 Iraqi and between 450,000 and 730,000 Iranian combatants killed during the Iran-Iraq War. An estimated 1,000 Kuwaiti nationals killed following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. No conclusive figures for the number of Iraqis killed during the Gulf War, with estimates varying from as few as 1,500 to as many as 200,000. Over 100,000 Kurds killed or "disappeared". No reliable figures for the number of Iraqi dissidents and Shia Muslims killed during Saddam's reign, though estimates put the figure between 60,000 and 150,000. (Mass graves discovered following the US occupation of Iraq in 2003 suggest that the total combined figure for Kurds, Shias and dissidents killed could be as high as 300,000). Approximately 500,000 Iraqi children dead because of international trade sanctions introduced following the Gulf War.

Background: Following the First World War Iraq is placed under British mandate. Iraqi nationalists, who believed their support for the British during the war would be rewarded with independence, rebel. Complete independence is finally granted in October 1932.

The Iraqi military become increasingly involved in politics following independence, staging a coup d'état in 1936. A protracted period of political instability follows. Opposition groups, including the Baath (Arab Socialist Resurrection) Party, begin to make inroads. The Baath Party is committed to socialism, Arab nationalism and secularism. More background.

Mini biography: Born on 28 April 1937 in the village of al-Awja, near Tikrit, on the Tigris River in northwest Iraq, into a landless but influential Sunni family. He is a member of the al-Khatab clan. Saddam will later have his genealogy fabricated to claim direct descent from the Prophet Mohammed.

Saddam's father either dies or abandons the family before Saddam is born. When a son dies soon after, Saddam's still-pregnant mother tries to abort the unborn Saddam and commit suicide but is stopped by a neighbouring Jewish family.

Following his birth, his mother places Saddam into the care of his maternal uncle, Khairallah Tulfah, an army officer, fervent Arab nationalist and former Nazi sympathiser. When Saddam is three his uncle is imprisoned for participating in a failed coup. Saddam is returned to his now remarried mother but is mistreated by her and his stepfather.

1947 - Saddam's uncle is released from jail. Saddam runs away from home to live with him in Tikrit. Unable to read or write, Saddam now begins his formal schooling.

1955 - After his graduation from primary school Saddam follows his uncle to Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, and enrols at the Karkh high school. While in Baghdad he becomes involved in the Arab nationalist movement, joining the Baath Party in 1957.

1958 - The Iraqi monarchy is overthrown in a coup on 14 July and a republic is declared. The country remains unstable, however, as the Iraqi Communist Party struggles with the Baath Party and other nationalist groups for dominance.

Saddam is recruited by his uncle to assassinate a prominent communist in Tikrit. He kills his victim, a distant cousin, with a single shot to the head. Saddam, who is still a secondary student, is arrested and imprisoned for six months before being released for lack of evidence.

1959 - Saddam is recruited for another assassination plot, this time by his cousin and a Baath Party leader, General Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr. The target is Brigadier Abdul Karim Qasim, the communist-aligned head of the Iraqi Government. A team of gunmen make the attempt on 7 October but fail, reputedly because Saddam opens fire too soon. Qasim survives with injuries.

Saddam, who has been wounded in the leg during the assassination bid, flees to Syria then Egypt, where he completes his secondary school studies. Others in the Baath Party are arrested and tried for treason.

1961 - The British declare Kuwait, a small, coastal emirate to the south of Iraq, independent on 19 June. Until the First World War Kuwait had been a province of Mesopotamia, the ancient state from which Iraq had been carved. Iraq does not accept Kuwait's independence, a position that will have devastating ramifications in 30-years time.

1962 - Saddam studies at the Cairo Law School and consolidates links with other exiled members of the Iraqi Baath Party, becoming their leader. He also becomes interested in the life and theories of the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Later he boasts that he will turn Iraq into a Stalinist state.

1963 - The Baath Party attains power in Iraq when Qasim's government is overthrown in the 'Ramadan Revolution' of 8 February, reportedly with the aid of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). However, the party's time in power is short. Another coup in November ousts the Baathists.

Saddam, who has returned to Iraq to work with the Baath government's security services and to study at the Baghdad Law College, again goes into exile. He makes frequent incursions back into the country but is arrested by the Iraqi authorities on 14 October 1964 and sent to prison. While in prison he is elected to the Iraqi Baath leadership.

On 5 May 1963 Saddam marries Sajida Khairallah Tulfah, his uncle's daughter and Saddam's first cousin. The couple will have two sons, Uday and Qusay, and three daughters, Raghad, Rana and Hala.

In 1986 Saddam marries a second wife, Samira Shabandar, with who he has a son, Ali. He will also take a third and a fourth wife; Nedhal al-Hamdani and Iman Huweish respectively.

1965 - The Baath Party resurfaces as a force, with Bakr as secretary-general. Saddam is made Bakr's deputy in September 1966.

1967 - Saddam escapes from prison and resumes work on organising the Baath security services.

1968 - On 17 July the Baath Party returns to power in a bloodless coup that Saddam has helped organise. A group of Sunni Iraqis from Tikrit take the top posts in the new Baath government. Bakr is made president. Saddam is appointed as acting deputy chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council (the government's most powerful decision-making body).

On 30 July Saddam takes personal charge of a purge to rid the new government of old-guard figures. Two months later, following an unsuccessful coup attempt against it, the Baath government cracks down again, with Saddam and Bakr directing a further series of purges designed to eliminate opposition.

1969 - Already a central figure in the Baath Party, Saddam becomes the dominant force. He is confirmed as deputy chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, made deputy to the president and deputy secretary-general of the Baath Party Regional Command (the party's executive) and placed in charge of internal security.

As deputy president he takes control of the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission.

He also personally directs attempts to deal with a push for self-government by the Kurdish minority in Iraq's north.

1970 - Saddam joins the Baath Party National Command. The party, meanwhile, introduces measures to entrench its power. The constitution is modified on 16 July, and again in 1973, a covert surveillance network headed by Saddam is established and a Baath militia formed.

Power within the party gravitates to three members of the Talfah family from Tikrit - Bakr, Saddam and General Adnan Khayr Allah Talfah, Saddam's brother-in-law.

A permanent settlement with the Kurds appears to have been reached when they accept a peace agreement offering them significant autonomy. Under the 'Manifesto of 11 March 1970' the Kurds will be given self-rule, starting in 1974. However, the agreement will never come into effect.

1971 - Saddam obtains a degree in law from the University of Baghdad.

Iraq begins a program to develop chemical weapons, setting up a small research facility at Rashad, to the northeast of Baghdad.

1972 - In May Iraq signs a 15-year Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union. Iraqi communists are brought into the government and the Soviets begin to provide technical aid.

Iraq relies heavily on the Soviet Union for the build-up its stockpiles of conventional weapons and military hardware, with about 90% of arms imports initially coming from the Soviets. The Soviet Union will continue to supply Iraq with the bulk of its conventional weapons well into the 1980s, although the level of imports will progressively decrease. By 1979, 63% of Iraq's weapons imports are purchased from the Soviet Union. Between 1981 and 1985, the figure falls to 55%.

Meanwhile, Saddam directs the nationalisation of Iraq's oil industry. The move, boosted by a dramatic rise in the price of oil in 1973, provides the government with funds to modernise the health, education and agricultural systems and to embark on major infrastructure projects.

1973 - Though he is not a soldier and has never received any formal military training Saddam is ranked as a lieutenant-general in the Iraqi Army. In 1976 he is promoted to general.

1974 - Conflict with the Kurds resurfaces over the issue of rights to the oil fields in the Kirkuk region. Following an attempt by the Baath Party to assassinate the Kurdish leadership, full-scale fighting breaks out. The Kurd dissidents receive support from Iran, Syria, Israel and the United States and are able to inflict heavy losses on the Iraqi forces. However, the backing from the US will only be short-lived.

Iraq's chemical weapons program is formalised with the establishment of a dedicated organisation called al-Hasan Ibn al-Haitham. During the 1970s Iraq also begins to research the production of biological weapons.

Late in 1974 Iraq begins to negotiate with France over the purchase of a nuclear reactor. The reactor deal goes through but the facility is destroyed by Israel before it is fully operational.

France will also become Iraq's second most important weapons supplier after the Soviet Union, selling a wide range of military hardware including air defence systems, fighter jets and missiles.

But France and the Soviet Union are not alone. In the early 1980s Italy will sell Saddam a navy fleet. Arms and weapons technology are also sought from Britain, China, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), Brazil, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Egypt and elsewhere.

1975 - In an effort to weaken the Kurds, Saddam signs the 'Algiers Agreement' with the Shah of Iran on 6 March. Under the agreement Iraq drops claims on territory on the northern border with Iran in return for the ending of Iranian assistance to Kurdish separatists. The agreement is mediated by US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

The agreement also resolves the long-running dispute with Iran over the border at the Shatt al-Arab (the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers), setting the midpoint as the boundary, although both countries still claim ownership of two small islands in the strait.

In the wake of the Algiers Agreement Kurds are forcibly relocated from their heartland in the north. All Kurdish villages along a 1,300 kilometre stretch of the border with Iran are razed.

Assyrians living in northern Iraq are also targeted. In 1976-77 over 200 Assyrian villages in the region are razed and their occupants relocated to urban areas, primarily in and around Baghdad. During the operation many churches are destroyed, including some that are over 1,000 years old.

1976 - Saddam turns his attention to the economy, introducing a successful state-sponsored industrial modernisation program based on Baath socialist principles. The program increases social wealth, improves education and health care, provides housing for the poor and promotes the equitable redistribution of land.

While serving as deputy chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, Saddam also introduces a mandatory literacy project for all Iraqi citizens. Failure to attend is punishable by three years in jail. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis learn to read, an achievement that earns Saddam an award from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

With the home front secure Saddam focuses on regional politics, advocating Arab unity against foreign intervention. He achieves regional and international prominence in November 1978 when he denounces Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's signing of the Camp David Accords on peace between Egypt and Israel.

1977 - Saddam is elected assistant secretary-general of the Baath Party National Command. With Bakr said to be ill, Saddam is now head of government in all but name.

1979 - The Shah of Iran is overthrown in an 'Islamic Revolution' in February. The new Islamic Republic of Iran is headed by the Shia cleric Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini, who Saddam had expelled from Iraq in October 1978.

On 11 July the Revolutionary Command Council transfers Iraq's presidential powers from Bakr to Saddam. When Bakr officially resigns on 16 July, Saddam initiates steps to secure the presidency without having to face a vote within the party. Bakr is placed under house arrest. When he dies in 1982 he is still in custody.

On 22 July Saddam summons all the members of the Revolutionary Command Council and hundreds of other Baath Party leaders to a conference hall in Baghdad and announces that a coup plot had been uncovered involving members of the audience. Sixty-six "traitors" are identified on the spot, arrested and removed.

Among those arrested are five members of the Revolutionary Command Council. They and 17 others are publicly executed.

The purge of the party, government and military continues for the next few weeks. Hundreds are killed.

With any possible opposition now silenced, Saddam is formally appointed as president. He also becomes secretary-general of the Baath Party Regional Command, chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, field marshal and commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

A personality cult is soon built up around the now-absolute leader. Statues of Saddam and memorials to his "achievements" are constructed in almost every city, town and village in the country. His portrait is displayed in every business and government office and in most private homes. He is idolised in the state-controlled media. To criticise or mock him publicly is to risk death.

1980 - Iraqi Shias, inspired by the revolution in Iran, organise into a religiously based opposition and attempt to assassinate members of the Iraqi Cabinet. Saddam responds by ordering the deportation to Iran of thousands of Shias of Iranian origin and the arrest and execution of a leading Iraqi Shia cleric. Ayatollah Khomeini calls for the overthrow of Saddam's government.

The tension is heightened on 17 September when Saddam cancels the 1975 agreement over the Shatt al-Arab and claims the entire waterway as Iraqi territory. On 22 September Iraqi planes bomb air bases inside Iran, beginning the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. At the same time, Iraqi troops march across the Shatt al-Arab into southwestern Iran.

The war initially goes well for Iraq, but by March 1982 the Iraqis are on the defensive as Iran launches extensive "human-wave" assaults against Iraqi positions.

The war bogs down to a stalemate, with both sides resorting to the bombing of cities and urban centres. It is also reported that Iraq is summarily executing thousands of Iranian prisoners of war and Kurdish civilians.

1981 - The US Government begins to court Iraq, holding official talks on matters such as trade and regional security.

The US is still smarting from the seizure of its embassy in Tehran and the taking of American diplomats as hostages in November 1979 following the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Attempts by Iran to export the revolution to other regions in the Middle East are also of concern. Iraq is seen as a bulwark against the spread of Iran's militant Shia extremism.

1982 - Saddam orders the withdrawal of troops from Iranian territory in June and attempts to negotiate a cease-fire with Iran. However, the Iranians continue to advance, crossing the Shatt al-Arab in the south to within and few kilometres of Basra, Iraq's second largest city, and capturing mountain passes in the north, where they are assisted by Kurds.

With the aid of tanks, rocket launchers and helicopter gunships purchased from the Soviet Union the Iraqis are able to contain and reverse the Iranians but cannot remove them entirely from their territory. Kurdish resistance is quelled by the reported use of chemical weapons and forced deportation to Iran.

Iraq's armoury receives another boost in February when the country is removed from a US Government list of alleged sponsors of terrorism. Iraq is now receiving major arms shipments from the Soviet Union and France, and the US has just opened up as a potential weapons supplier.

The year is also marked by an attempt to assassinate Saddam as his convey enters the village of Dujayl, 60 km north of Baghdad, on 8 July. At least 15 people are summarily executed and hundreds are arrested following the attack. A further 148 are executed after show trials. Following the assassination attempt, Saddam withdraws from direct contact with the public.

1983 - In December the US sends a special Middle East envoy to Iraq to hold talks with Saddam. The envoy, Donald Rumsfeld, the future US secretary of defence under the administration of George W. Bush, is the highest-ranking American official to visit Baghdad in more than 16 years.

At their meeting on 20 December Rumsfeld tells Saddam that the US is ready to resume full diplomatic relations.

1984 - Rumsfeld returns to Baghdad for meetings with the Iraqi foreign minister on 24 March, the same day that the United Nations (UN) releases a report finding that Iraq is using mustard gas and the nerve agent tabun against Iranian troops.

The US State Department also acknowledges Iraq's actions, releasing a statement on 5 March saying that "available evidence indicates that Iraq has used lethal chemical weapons."

Nevertheless, full diplomatic relations between Iraq and the US are restored in November, allowing the US to provide Iraq with further aid, including battle-planning assistance, to fight the war.

1985 - The US and other Western nations are drawn further into the war when both Iran and Iraq begin to attack international shipping in the Persian Gulf, threatening the flow of oil from the region. The US, Britain and France will all deploy naval vessels to the Gulf to safeguard oil shipments.

The British Government also becomes entangled in Iraq's chemical weapons programs, secretly providing a British-based company with financial backing for the construction of a chlorine plant capable of producing the precursors necessary to manufacture mustard gas and nerve agents.

The plant, Falluja 2, is located about 60 km west of Baghdad. It is later reported by 'The Guardian' newspaper that the British Government, at the time headed by Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher, was aware that the plant could be used in the production of chemical weapons.

1986 - In March the UN secretary-general formally accuses Iraq of using chemical weapons against Iran, citing a UN report by four chemical warfare experts. The reports says the weapons used include both mustard gas and nerve gas and that the use of chemical weapons appears to have been more extensive in 1981 than in 1984.

According to a British representative at the Conference on Disarmament held in Geneva in July, "Iraqi chemical warfare was responsible for about 10,000 casualties."

1987 - Saddam launches the so-called Anfal (spoils of war) campaign against Kurdish dissidents who have aided the Iranians during the war. It is reported that thousands of Kurds are indiscriminately killed when villages are attacked with poisonous gas. The international humanitarian organisation Human Rights Watch estimates that at least 40 such chemical attacks take place.

The most notorious attack occurs at the village of Halabjah on 16 March 1988 when mustard gas and nerve agents are used to kill up to 5,000 and injure up to 10,000 more.

Overall an estimated Kurdish 4,000 villages and towns are razed and hundreds of thousands of Kurds are "cleansed" from the region by forced deportation. Many Kurds flee across the borders with Turkey and Iran. More than 100,000 Kurdish civilians are reported as killed or "disappeared". By the end of 1989 the Kurdish resistance has been crushed.

1988 - The Iran-Iraq war finally ends on 20 August when a cease-fire is formally declared. The conflict has claimed between 150,000 and 340,000 Iraqis killed and about 250,000 wounded. More than 50,000 are being held as prisoners of war in Iran. Property damage is estimated in the tens of billions of dollars, with the destruction especially severe in the southern part of Iraq. Between 450,000 and 730,000 Iranians have died during the conflict.

US intelligence sources estimate that at least 30,000 Iranians and Kurds have died as a result of Iraq's use of chemical weapons.

Meanwhile, Iraq begins to produce biological agents. Large-scale production commences in 1989 at four facilities near Baghdad. Iraq's conventional military forces are also rebuilt and by 1990 will be the world's fourth largest.

1990 - On 17 July Saddam accuses neighbouring Kuwait of overproducing oil to force the price down and further damage the war-crippled Iraqi economy. Saddam claims that the action amounts to a declaration of war. He warns that he will attack Kuwait if it does not meet Iraqi demands, including the redrawing of the border, slowing of oil production and a reduction of the amount of oil taken from a field extending into Iraq.

Iraqi troops invade Kuwait on 2 August, quickly overrunning the country. An estimated 1,000 Kuwaiti nationals are killed following the invasion.

The UN calls for the full withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait. On 6 August the UN imposes trade sanctions on Iraq, including an embargo on sales of Iraqi oil. Imports of food and some medicines are permitted.

1991 - On 16 January, after Saddam ignores a UN Security Council demand for Iraq's unconditional withdrawal and formally annexes Kuwait, a coalition of 33 world nations led by the US counterattacks, starting the six-week Gulf War, also known as 'Operation Desert Storm'.

The Desert Storm ground offensive begins on 24 February. The Iraqis are quickly forced out of Kuwait. Thousands of Iraqi soldiers die and much of Iraq's infrastructure is destroyed. Kuwait is also devastated as the fleeing Iraqis set over 1,160 oil wells alight and create about 320 oil lakes.

The war ends on 27 February. A cease-fire is declared on 3 March. Estimates of total Iraqi deaths during the war vary from as few as 1,500 to as many as 200,000, although it is widely believed that about 3,500 civilians were killed and about 100,000 soldiers. The number of coalition troops killed is 345 (268 from the US and 77 from other coalition members).

The permanent cease-fire agreement requires Iraq to destroy all of its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons as well as missiles with a range of more than 150 kilometres and to allow verification by inspectors from the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The trade sanctions and an oil embargo will remain in force until the inspectors certify that all weapons of mass destruction have been identified and destroyed.

Saddam unconditionally accepts the agreement but rejects an attempt by the UN to establish an "oil for food" program that will allow Iraq to sell a limited amount of oil in exchange for food, medicine and humanitarian supplies.

Meanwhile, Saddam moves to quell rebellions by the Kurds in the north and Shias in the south, who have been encouraged to rebel by the false promise of US support. Iraq places an economic blockade on its Kurdish regions. The blockade is exacerbated by the international trade sanctions against Iraq. Up to two million Kurds flee across the borders with Turkey and Iran.

The international community responds by establishing a "safe haven" north of the 36th parallel. The region, which encompasses nearly one-fifth of Iraq's territory and population, will become an autonomous zone outside of Saddam's control and protected by a "no fly zone" over which Iraqi aircraft are forbidden to patrol.

In the south Saddam launches a campaign against the Shias, including Shia Marsh Arabs. Much of the marshland is drained. Villages are razed and their occupants deported. Up to 200,000 Marsh Arabs flee. As many as 150,000 are killed. The Shia holy cities of Najaf and Karbala are attacked and over 100 Shia clerics disappear. Beginning in March chemical weapons filled with sarin gas and CS (tear) gas are dropped from helicopters onto targets in and around Najaf and Karbala. A no fly zone is subsequently also imposed on Iraq's southern regions.

1994 - Saddam is appointed as prime minister of Iraq. In an effort to break the trade sanctions Saddam masses Iraqi troops near the Kuwait border in October but is forced to back down.

A US Senate committee, meanwhile, reports on its investigation into the possible impact on the health of Gulf War veterans of dual use chemical and biological substances exported from the US to Iraq. The report finds that from 1985 to 1989 pathogenic, toxigenic, and other biological research materials were shipped to Iraq by US firms and that the exports were approved and licensed by the US Department of Commerce, with shipments continuing up until November 1989.

"These exported biological materials were not attenuated or weakened and were capable of reproduction," the report says.

On 25 May 1994, during a statement to the Senate committee, Dr Gordon C. Oehler, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency's Non-Proliferation Centre, confirms that the agency "had been quite aware of Iraq's chemical weapons development program from its very early inception" and that this knowledge had been passed on to the president, the secretary of defence and the secretary of state.

Oehler says that "regarding the involvement of United States firms, we were watching Iraq's programs very carefully, and it was clear that the major players assisting Saddam were not American firms. They were principally Europeans. We saw little involvement of US firms in Saddam's weapons of mass destruction program."

Full copy of the Senate committee report.

1995 - On 9 August Lieutenant-general Hussein Kamel al-Majid, the head of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program and a close confidant of Saddam, defects to neighbouring Jordan along with his brother Saddam Kamel. Al-Majid's subsequent confirmation of the existence of a biological weapons program forces Iraq to admit that it had imported at least 39 tonnes of growth media for biological agents.

Acting on information provided by al-Majid the UNSCOM inspectors locate secret laboratories for the production of biological weapons, including anthrax, botulinum and aflatoxin. All known stockpiles and equipment for the production of bioweapons are destroyed.

Al-Majid and his brother, who are also Saddam's sons-in-law, return to Iraq in February 1996 after they are assured that they will be granted a pardon by Saddam. Instead they are killed in a gunfight with their relatives on 23 February, a few days after their return. Saddam is reported to have "explicitly endorsed the killings, which, as he saw them, 'purified' and healed the family by amputating from the 'hand' an 'ailing finger'."

1996 - On 20 May Iraq finally agrees to accept the oil for food program. The first imports are to arrive in 1997. Most of the oil sold goes to Russian firms.

Meanwhile, CIA agents within UNSCOM attempt to orchestrate a coup against Saddam. However, the plot is uncovered and over 100 people are executed.

The weapons inspection program is then placed in jeopardy when Saddam tries to ban US nationals from the inspection teams and refuses to grant unlimited access to presidential "sites".

1997 - The weapons inspection program falters once more when inspectors are denied access to eight of Saddam's presidential "palaces". On 29 October Iraq orders all UNSCOM inspectors out of the country. They are allowed back in November.

1998 - In March restricted access to the presidential sites is granted. However, the weapons inspections dispute flares again in August when Saddam demands that US influence on the program be reduced.

In October the weapons inspectors find proof that Iraq has armed the nerve gas VX. Iraq completely suspends cooperation with UNSCOM.

The weapons inspectors are withdrawn from Iraq on 16 December, just hours before the US and Britain launch 'Operation Desert Fox', four days of punitive air strikes against suspected weapons facilities. Further attacks will continue sporadically into March 1999.

The weapons inspections carried out since the end of the Gulf War have discovered and destroyed 40,000 munitions for chemical weapons, 2,610 tonnes of chemical precursors and 411 tonnes of chemical agents. All infrastructure and facilities capable of being used for the production of biological and nuclear weapons, and most of the missile delivery systems, have also been identified and destroyed.

The inspections have found no firm evidence that Iraq is engaged in ongoing biological or nuclear weapons development activities but have confirmed that the country has the technical capacity to build a nuclear device and to resume its chemical and biological programs.

UNSCOM claims that much of Iraq's stockpile of chemical and biological weapons still remains unaccounted for. The IAEA says it is convinced the "intrusive" inspections it carried out up to 1998 found all the weapons-grade uranium Iraq had at the time.

Iraq maintains that while it did produce chemical and biological weapons all have been destroyed.

Saddam tells his deputies, "We don't have anything hidden. ... When is this (the UN weapons inspections) going to end? ... (The inspectors) destroyed everything and said, 'Iraq completed 95% of their commitment.' ... We cooperated with the resolutions 100% and you all know that, and the 5% they claim we have not executed could take them 10 years to (verify). ... Don't think for a minute that we still have WMD. We have nothing."

1999 - The credibility of UNSCOM is seriously damaged in January when reports emerge that some of the weapons inspectors had been covertly supplying intelligence information to foreign agencies, including the CIA, Britain's M16 and Israel's Mossad. Iraq requests that all US and British personnel serving with the UN in Iraq be replaced.

In August the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) reports that child mortality in the centre and south of Iraq, where the Iraqi Government administers the oil for food program, has more than doubled since the sanctions were imposed and warns of an impending humanitarian emergency.

UNICEF estimates that if the substantial reduction in child mortality throughout Iraq during the 1980s had continued through the 1990s, there would have been 500,000 fewer deaths of children under five in the country as a whole during the eight-year period 1991 to 1998.

In December the "oil-for-food" deal is extended to allow Iraq to sell as much oil as it wants. UNSCOM is replaced by a new body, the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), although its authority is immediately rejected by Saddam.

The UN Security Council demands that the UNMOVIC inspectors be allowed "immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access" in Iraq to determine within 60 days the "key remaining disarmament tasks to be completed" and to establish a program for future inspections.

2000 - The International Committee of the Red Cross reports on the catastrophic breakdown of the health system, hygiene, and water supply in Iraq. UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan expresses grave concern over the humanitarian crisis.

Meanwhile, it is reported that Saddam is using the funds generated by the oil for food program for personal enrichment and to shore up the support of the Iraqi elite. Saddam is alleged to have spent over US$2 billion on 48 presidential palaces. 'Forbes' magazine estimates Saddam's personal wealth at US$7 billion.

It is later revealed that a 10% kickback is being systematically skimmed from oil sales under the oil for food program, with suppliers being told to inflate their prices to cover the cost. At the same time, the Iraqi government tries to keep the cost of its oil as low as possible in order to allow for further profiteering.

2001 - Ten years after the end of the Gulf War the sanctions remain in place, although in February the US and Britain suggest that the current arrangements should be replaced with "smart" sanctions targeting military supplies and the Iraqi elite. Russia blocks the initiative.

Iraq maintains that all its weapons of mass destruction have been destroyed, that there is no need for further inspections, and that the sanctions should be lifted. According to the Iraqi Government, the sanctions have caused 1,471,425 deaths since August 1990.

Saddam marks the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Kuwait by proclaiming that Iraq was victorious in the Gulf War.

Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, US President George W. Bush nominates Iraq as one of the members of an "axis of evil" that also includes Iran and North Korea.

On 21 November President Bush tells Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld that he wants to develop a plan for war with Iraq.

2002 - On 12 September President Bush takes his case to the UN Security Council, calling on the council to demand that Iraq disclose and destroy all weapons of mass destruction, end support for terrorism and cease the persecution of its population.

Saddam's personal response to the crisis is read to the UN on 19 September. "I hereby declare before you that Iraq is clear of all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons," Saddam says in the prepared text.

"Our country is ready to receive any scientific experts, accompanied by politicians you choose to represent any one of your countries, to tell us which places and scientific installations they would wish to see, particularly those about which the American officials have been fabricating false stories, alleging that they contain prohibited materials or activities."

On 8 November the Security Council adopts a new weapons inspection resolution for Iraq. An advanced inspection team of about 30, including UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Dr Hans Blix and IAEA Director General Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, arrives in Baghdad on 18 November. Formal inspections begin on 27 November. In December Saddam directs his senior officials to cooperate completely with the inspectors.

2003 - In a speech broadcast on Iraqi television on 6 January Saddam accuses the US of having an agenda for the Middle East that extends beyond the threatened invasion of Iraq.

"The objective is ... to subject the Arab Gulf area to a full, complete and physical occupation through which to achieve many goals," Saddam says in the pre-recorded address.

"These include political interference and military intervention in the countries of the region in a manner unaccustomed before, with a view to securing complete control over their resources."

On 9 January Blix and ElBaradei deliver interim assessments of their progress to the UN Security Council, saying the inspections teams have found no "smoking guns" during "ever wider sweeps" of Iraq.

In the US, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell says that "the lack of a smoking gun does not mean that there's not one there."

President Bush warns that "time is running out."

"It appears to be a rerun of a bad movie," President Bush says. "He (Saddam) is delaying. He is deceiving. He is asking for time. He's playing hide and seek with inspectors. One thing for sure is, he's not disarming."

On 18 March Bush announces that the only way war can be avoided is if Saddam and his sons leave Iraq within 48 hours. "Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict commenced at a time of our choosing," Bush declares.

The invasion, called 'Operation Iraqi Freedom', beings on 20 March with an attempt to "decapitate" the regime through a targeted aerial bombing raid on a bunker in the southwest of Baghdad thought to be occupied by Saddam and other senior members of the government. However, Saddam is not at the site.

US and British ground troops enter Iraq from Kuwait and rapidly advance north to Baghdad, reaching the city's outskirts by 2 April. They encounter little opposition from Saddam's crumbling and disconsolate forces. Baghdad falls on 9 April.

Tikrit, Saddam's home town, is occupied on 14 April, effectively ending the war. Despite predictions, the Iraqis use no chemical or biological weapons at any stage during the conflict.

On 1 May President Bush declares that major combat operations in Iraq have ended. However, violence continues and builds under the US occupation and the final death toll for the invasion is still to be tallied.

Estimates for the number killed during the first four years of the invasion range from 30,000 to over one million.

On 9 November 2006, Iraq's health minister says that based on Health Ministry and Baghdad morgue statistics an estimated 150,000 civilians had been killed since the invasion. A later report by Iraq's Human Rights Ministry finds that 85,694 Iraqi civilians, military and police were killed between the start of October 2004 and the end of October 2008.

In January 2008, a World Health Organisation study finds that between 104,000 and 223,000 violent deaths occurred in Iraq between March 2003 and June 2006.

Official US Army documents published on the Wikileaks website in October 2010 put the death toll at 109,032 for the period January 2004 to December 2009. The toll is composed of 3,771 coalition forces, 15,196 Iraqi forces, 66,081 civilians and 23,984 enemy.

Meanwhile, the occupying forces fail to uncover any evidence to suggest that Iraq was engaged in programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. Hans Blix later says that Iraq probably destroyed almost all of its weapons of mass destruction in 1991, following the first Gulf War.

Saddam survives the invasion and goes into hiding, moving among a network of safe houses. His last reported public appearance occurs on 9 April at the Adhamiya Mosque in northern Baghdad.

According to witnesses, Saddam says to the gathered crowd, "I salute the Iraqi people and I ask them to defend themselves, their homes, their wives, their children, and their holy shrines. ... I am fighting alongside you in the same trenches."

Saddam's regime comes closer to its final extinction on 22 July when his sons Uday and Qusay are killed in a fierce gun battle with US forces at a villa on the western outskirts of Mosel, the largest city in northern Iraq.

Saddam's luck finally runs out on the evening of 13 December when he is captured alive by US troops during a raid on a farm 15 km south of Tikrit in the Sunni Triangle and near his home village of al-Awja. He is found hiding in a camouflaged "spider hole" and taken into custody without a shot being fired. His first words on capture are, "I am Saddam Hussein, president of Iraq, and I am willing to negotiate."

Saddam is imprisoned in Camp Cropper, a heavily fortified compound within a vast US military base 16 km from the centre of Baghdad. He is kept in solitary confinement and housed in a three by four metre white-walled, air-conditioned cell. He has no access to newspapers, radio or television.

The Iraqi Governing Council immediately announces that Saddam will be publicly tried in Iraq for his crimes against humanity. According to members of the council who visit Saddam, the former dictator remains "unrepentant and defiant."

"When we told him, 'if you go to the streets now, you will see the people celebrating,' he answered, 'those are mobs.' When we told him about the mass graves, he replied, 'those are thieves'," one of the visitors, Adel Abdel-Mahdi, says. "He didn't seem apologetic. He seemed defiant, trying to find excuses for the crimes in the same way he did in the past."

"He was not remorseful at all," Ahmed Chalabi, another of the visitors, says. "It was clear he was a complete narcissist who was incapable of showing remorse or sympathy to other human beings."

"He tried to justify his crimes by saying that he was a just but firm ruler," Adnan Pachachi reports.

When questioned by a US interrogation team led by the CIA, Saddam is reported to deny that his regime had weapons of mass destruction. "No, of course not," he is reported to say, "The US dreamt them up itself to have a reason to go to war with us."

2004 - On 2 February the US administrator of Iraq, Paul Bremmer, confirms that Saddam will be handed over to the Iraqis for trial.

According to Bremmer, Saddam "is not cooperating, but he is not a troublemaker either."

On 1 July Saddam appears in court for the first time. He is told that he will face charges relating to seven crimes committed over three decades, including the killing of political activists, the killing of religious figures in 1974, the killing of thousands of the Kurdish Barzani clan in 1983, the Anfal ethnic cleansing campaign against Kurds in 1987-1988, the gassing of Kurdish villagers in Halabjah in 1988, the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the suppression of Kurdish and Shia uprisings in 1991.

"(US President) Bush is a villain. This is all theatre. It is for his reelection," Saddam is reported to say at the hearing, "I am not the criminal here. ... The real criminal is Bush."

On 6 October the CIA's Iraq Survey Group finally confirms that there were no weapons on mass destruction in Iraq prior to the March 2003 invasion.

The Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the Director of Central Intelligence on Iraq's WMD finds that Iraq ended its nuclear program in 1991, after the first Gulf War. Biological weapons stocks were destroyed in 1991 and 1992, and the biological weapons program was abandoned in 1995. Chemical weapons stockpiles were destroyed in 1991.

2005 - At the start of June the Iraqi Government indicates that Saddam's trial will focus on 12-14 "fully documented cases", including the execution of 148 people from the village of Dujayl near Baghdad following an attempt to assassinate Saddam there on 8 July 1982.

The trial will be held before five judges. There will be no jury. If convicted, Saddam will face the death penalty.

Formal charges against Saddam for the killings at Dujayl are announced on 17 July. The trial begins on 19 October. Saddam and seven others are charged with conspiring to torture and kill 148 men and teenage boys from the village.

Saddam refuses to confirm his name and questions the legitimacy of the proceedings.

"I won't answer to this court, with all due respect to the individuals involved in it, and I reserve my constitutional rights as the president of Iraq," he says.

2006 - On 1 March Saddam admits to the court that he was responsible for ordering the trials of the men and teenage boys arrested at Dujayl.

"They (the 148 men and teenage boys from Dujayl) were charged according to the law, just like you charge people according to the law," he says. "When the person says he's responsible, why go to others and search? Saddam Hussein was a leader and says 'I'm responsible'. ... Do you think I'm going to deny responsibility or rely on others? ... Is referring a defendant who opened fire at a head of state, no matter what his name is, a crime? ... I referred them to the Revolutionary Court according to the law."

On 4 April charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity are brought against Saddam and six others for their roles in the deaths of at least 50,000 Kurds during the Anfal campaign of 1987-1988. Saddam and one of his six co-defendants, his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majeed, AKA 'Chemical Ali', are also charged with genocide.

At the Dujayl trial the next day Saddam faces cross-examination for the first time. Under questioning he admits approving the death sentences for the 148 men and boys from Dujayl who were executed.

"That is one of the duties of the president," Saddam says. "I had the right to question the judgement. But I was convinced the evidence that was presented was sufficient."

The prosecution completes its case on 24 April. At the resumption of the trial on 15 May Saddam and his co-defendants are formally charged and asked to enter pleas. When Saddam refuses the chief judge records a plea of not guilty on his behalf.

The case for the defence begins immediately after the charges are read and lasts until 13 June. The defence argues that the executions and associated actions were a legitimate application of Iraqi law at the time and claim that 45 of those alleged to have been executed are either still alive or died under different circumstances.

The trial moves into its closing stages, winding up completely on 27 July. It has lasted for nine months, sat for 40 public sessions and heard evidence from 130 witnesses.

The Anfal trial begins on 21 August. Saddam refuses to enter a plea to the charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The court again enters a plea of not guilty on his behalf.

The prosecution alleges that about 182,000 people were killed during the Anfal campaign and that chemical weapons were used in an operation that amounted to an attempt to "wipe out the Kurdish civilian population."

Among the evidence the prosecution presents are memos from Saddam's office, some reported to bear the former dictator's signature, that approve chemical attacks against Kurdish villages.

The defence challenges the legitimacy of the court and claims that the alleged crimes were lawful actions against Kurdish guerrillas and Iranian troops during a time of war.

On 11 September Saddam tells the court that the Iraqi people "should not suffer from guilt that they killed Kurds."

According to Saddam, his government did not discriminate against Kurds and only the insurgents among them were persecuted. "In any country in the world where there is rebellion the authorities ask the army to defeat it," Saddam tells the court.

However, Saddam will not live to see the end of the Anfal trial.

On 5 November he is found guilty of murder in the Dujayl case and sentenced to be "hanged until he is dead for crimes against humanity." The sentence is upheld by an appeals court on 26 December. Under Iraqi law the sentence must be carried out within 30 days of the appeal court's ruling.

Saddam is hanged at 6 a.m. on 30 December. His body is buried the next day at al-Awja, his home village.

Comment: There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein was a ruthless killer and that his regime was dictatorial, murderous and repugnant.

Up to 450,000 Iraqi and 730,000 Iranian combatants died during the Iran-Iraq War. An estimated 1,000 Kuwaiti nationals were killed following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. As many as 200,000 Iraqis died in the ensuing Gulf War. Approximately 500,000 Iraqi children died because of international trade sanctions introduced after the war.

Between 60,000 and 150,000 Iraqi dissidents and Shia Muslims are estimated to have been killed during Saddam's reign. Over 100,000 Kurds were killed or "disappeared". (Mass graves discovered following the US occupation of Iraq in 2003 suggest that the total combined figure for Kurds, Shias and dissidents killed could be as high as 300,000). Amnesty International estimates that at the time of Saddam's downfall in April 2003 there were about 300,000 Iraqi refugees around the world, with over 200,000 residing in Iran. Other sources claim between three and four million Iraqis, or about 15% of the population, fled the country seeking refuge.

An obituary published in The Guardian compares Saddam to the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

"Stalin was his exemplar," the obituary says. "The likeness came from more than conscious emulation: he already resembled him in origin, temperament and method. Like him, he was unique less in kind than in degree, in the extraordinary extent to which, if the more squalid forms of human villainy are the sine qua non of the successful tyrant, he embodied them. Like Stalin, too, he had little of the flair or colour of other 20th Century despots, little mental brilliance, less charisma, no redeeming passion or messianic fervour; he was only exceptional in the magnitude of his thuggery, the brutality, opportunism and cunning of the otherwise dull, grey apparatchik."

While all this is true the circumstances behind Saddam's rise to power are not black and white. The continuing relevance of events deep in Iraq's history; the complexity of the ethnic and regional setting; political meddling in Iraq and throughout the Middle East by foreign powers, including Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the US; all these factors combined to create and sustain the monster that Saddam became.

Britain and the US, as the leading advocates for the prosecution of the first Gulf War, the placement of the trade sanctions and the 2003 invasion are also implicated in the deaths of thousands of innocent Iraqis.

The human rights and weapons development records of other countries in the Middle East also bear scrutiny. It can be argued that on these indices there was little to distinguish Saddam's Iraq from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel, and that since the intervention of the United Nations following the Gulf War Saddam's worst excesses had at least been contained.

It is also worth remembering that underlying lofty statements about the need for disarmament and "regime change" that have emanated from Britain and the US there are other more venal factors at play.

Iraq has proven oil reserves of about 115 billion barrels, or about 10% of the world's known stock. Iraq's total projected reserves could be as high as 220 billion barrels. That's a lot of oil, and it's all land-based, making it easy and inexpensive to extract.