Saddam Hussein

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. In 1936 the Iraqi military stage a coup d'├ętat and overthrow the government. A protracted period of political instability follows. Opposition groups, including the Baath (Arab Socialist Resurrection) Party, begin to become more influential. 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 their first son dies soon after her husband leaves, 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, Saddam's mother places him 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.

After his uncle is released from jail in 1947, Saddam runs away from home to stay with him in Tikrit. Saddam completes his primary education in Tikrit then 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. In 1957 he joins the Baath Party.

Meanwhile, Iraq continues to be wrenched by political instability as the Iraqi Communist Party, the Baath Party and other nationalist groups jockey for dominance. On 14 July 1958 the Iraqi monarchy is overthrown in a coup and a republic is declared.

1958 - 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 grant independence to Kuwait, a small, coastal emirate to the south of Iraq. 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 has 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.

Saddam continues to study law sporadically over the next decade. In 1971 he obtains a law degree from the University of Baghdad.

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, 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 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 also takes a third and a fourth wife; Nedhal al-Hamdani and Iman Huweish respectively.

1965 - The Baath Party resurfaces as a force, with al-Bakr as secretary-general. Saddam is made al-Bakr's deputy in September 1966. In 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. Al-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 al-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. A covert surveillance network headed by Saddam is established and a Baath militia is formed. Though he is not a soldier and has never received any formal military training, Saddam is given the rank of lieutenant-general in the Iraqi Army in 1973. In 1976 he is promoted to general.

Saddam also takes control of the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission, oversees the nationalisation of Iraq's oil industry, and directs attempts to deal with a push for self-government by the Kurdish minority in Iraq's north.

Saddam joins the Baath Party National Command in 1970. Power within the party gravitates to three members of the Talfah family from Tikrit - President al-Bakr, Saddam and General Adnan Khayr Allah Talfah, Saddam's brother-in-law.

1971 - Iraq begins a program to develop chemical weapons, setting up a small research facility at Rashad, to the northeast of Baghdad. The program is formalised in 1974 with the establishment of a dedicated organisation called al-Hasan Ibn al-Haitham.

During the 1970s Iraq also begins to develop a biological weapons program. Large-scale production of biological agents commences in 1989 at four facilities near 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 continues to supply Iraq with the bulk of its conventional weapons well into the 1980s, although the level of imports 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%.

The shortfall is made up by providers from other countries. France becomes 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. In the early 1980s Italy sells 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.

The United States provides Iraq with aid and battle-planning assistance during the Iran-Iraq war.

The British Government becomes entangled in Iraq's chemical weapons programs when it secretly provides 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, called Falluja 2, is located about 60 km west of Baghdad. It is later reported by 'The Guardian' newspaper that the British Government was aware that the plant could be used in the production of chemical weapons.

The United States becomes implicated in Iraq's biological weapons programs when US firms are allowed to ship pathogenic, toxigenic and other biological research materials to Iraq from 1985 to 1989. The shipments are made with the knowledge of the CIA, the US president, the US secretary of defence and the US secretary of state.

1974 - Tensions between the government in Baghdad and the Kurdish minority in the north are heightened by a dispute over 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.

In an effort to weaken the Kurds, Saddam signs the Algiers Agreement with the Shah of Iran on 6 March 1975. 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 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, many Kurds are forcibly relocated. 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).

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

1979 - On 11 July the Revolutionary Command Council transfers Iraq's presidential powers from al-Bakr to Saddam. After al-Bakr officially resigns on 16 July, Saddam initiates steps to secure the presidency without having to face a vote within the party. Al-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.

Meanwhile, 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.

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. At the same time, Iraqi troops march across the Shatt al-Arab into southwestern Iran. The Iran-Iraq war has begun.

The war initially goes well for Iraq, but by March 1982 the Iraqis are on the defensive as Iran launches sustained "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.

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.

Meanwhile, an attempt is made to assassinate Saddam while he visits the village of Dujayl, 60 km north of Baghdad, on 8 July. At least 15 people are summarily executed and hundreds are arrested in the aftermath of the unsuccessful attack. A further 148 are executed after show trials. Following the assassination attempt, Saddam withdraws from direct contact with the public.

1984 - During March, the United Nations (UN) releases a report finding that Iraq is using mustard gas and the nerve agent tabun against Iranian troops. A second UN investigation in 1986 finds that the use of chemical weapons is continuing and appears to be more extensive than in 1984.

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.

An estimated Kurdish 4,000 villages and towns are razed during the Anfal campaign. Over 100,000 Kurdish civilians are reported as killed or "disappeared". Hundreds of thousands more are "cleansed" from the region by forced deportation. Many flee across the borders with Turkey and Iran. 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.

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.

Six weeks of sustained air strikes are followed by an overwhelming ground offensive. 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 now 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, becomes 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.

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 the 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'."

Along with the material identified by al-Majid, the weapons inspections carried out by UNSCOM following the Gulf War discover and destroy 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, are also identified and destroyed.

The UNSCOM inspections find no firm evidence that Iraq is engaged in ongoing biological or nuclear weapons development activities. UNSCOM does, however, believe that Iraq retains the technical capacity to build a nuclear device and to resume its chemical and biological programs.

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 MI6 and Israel's Mossad.

UNSCOM is replaced by a new body, the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC).

2001 - Following the 11 September 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 - 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".

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. 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 dispirited 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.

Saddam survives the invasion and goes into hiding, moving among a network of safe houses. His luck finally runs out on the evening of 13 December when he is captured alive by US troops during a raid on a farm 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 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."

2005 - The Iraqi Government indicates that Saddam's trial will focus on 12-14 "fully documented cases", including the execution of 148 people following the attempt to assassinate Saddam while he visited the village of Dujayl near Baghdad 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. It concludes on 27 July 2006.

2006 - The verdict on Saddam's trail is handed down on 5 November.

Saddam is found guilty of murder 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 6:00am on 30 December. His body is buried the next day at al-Awja, his home village.

At the time of his death, Saddam is also facing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role 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, A.K.A. Chemical Ali, are also charged with genocide.

Postscript

Violence and killings continue in Iraq for years after the 2003 invasion, despite the presence of a large US occupation force.

Estimates for the number killed during the first four years of the occupation 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.

In 2004 the CIA's Iraq Survey Group 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.

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 First Gulf War. As many as 200,000 more Iraqis died as a consequence of the Second Gulf 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 (essential condition) 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 United States; 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 First Gulf War, Saddam's worst excesses had at least been contained.

It is also worth remembering that since Saddam's ouster, Iraq has become a breeding ground for evermore extreme Islamic jihadists, and that the extremity of actions of groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has to a large degree been fuelled by anger over the consequences for Iraq and the Middle East of the US-led invasions of 1991 and 2003. Sometimes it really is better to stick with the devil you know.