Dec. 29, 2006 — -- His father died before he was born and his mother is said to have been suicidal when she was carrying him, trying to abort the pregnancy.
His stepfather allegedly beat him, and in high school, he was a tough guy, immersed in revolutionary politics. At 22, he was tapped by the leaders of the Socialist Ba'ath party to assassinate the then-prime minister. The coup failed and Saddam Hussein fled to Cairo.
When he returned, some years later, he did so to rule. By 1979, he was Iraq's president, prime minister and commander in chief. He quickly purged any would-be competitors, arresting scores of cabinet ministers, bureaucrats and high ranking members of the Ba'ath party. Twenty-one Iraqis were executed on a single day in August of 1979.
A year later, Saddam Hussein went to war against neighboring Iran. He used chemical weapons against his own people, the Kurds in the north, as well as on the Iranians. Hundreds of thousands of people died in a devastating eight-year war that cost each country deeply.
By the end of the war, Saddam Hussein had built the fourth largest army in the world.
Oil revenues funded his military research and it is believed that by the time his forces invaded Kuwait in 1990, Iraqi scientists were getting closer to the completion of a nuclear device.
U.S. President George H.W. Bush told Americans, "Iraq cannot be allowed to benefit from its invasion of Kuwait."
On a January night in 1991, coalition planes and American cruise missiles were launched at Iraq to force the Iraqi army from Kuwait. The next day, Saddam Hussein appeared on Iraqi TV and said that the greatest of all battles had started. By God's grace, Saddam said, Iraq would emerge from the conflict victorious.
But the Gulf War ground conflict lasted barely 100 hours before Saddam Hussein was forced to withdraw his army from Kuwait.
The leader was momentarily weakened. Encouraged by U.S.-sponsored radio broadcasts, some Iraqis believed the United States would come to their assistance and rose up against Hussein. The leader would strike down the rebellion viciously.