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updated 12/14/2003 8:22:41 AM ET 2003-12-14T13:22:41

How was Saddam captured?
After eight months on the run, former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was found, hiding in a hole. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, reported that the former Iraq leader was found in a small walled compound, several miles south of Saddam’s home town of Tikrit. Saddam was hidden in a “spider hole,” camouflaged with bricks and dirt, that was barely large enough to lie down in. Sanchez said Saddam went quietly in the end, a “tired man” presenting a “cooperative posture.” No shots were fired and no U.S. troops were injured.

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What is Saddam's background?
Saddam Hussein was born in 1937 into a poor farming family in Tikrit, a small town north of Baghdad. His father died at an early age, leaving Saddam to be raised by his widowed mother and other relatives. He moved to Baghdad to study in 1955. Saddam is a Sunni Muslim in a country where the majority of Iraqis are Shiites.

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How did Saddam get involved in politics?
According to Ambassador Edward Peck, who served as the U.S. chief of mission to Iraq in 1977-80, Saddam took an interest in politics at an early age. Soon after moving to Baghdad in 1955, he joined the opposition Baath Party, an Arab nationalist movement. In 1959, he helped organize an assassination attempt on Abdul Karim Kassem, the military president of Iraq. Both Kassem and Saddam were injured in the gunbattle, and Saddam subsequently fled to Egypt. He studied law in Cairo while continuing party-affiliated activities. He returned to Baghdad in 1963, married and rose to the post of assistant secretary general of the Baath Party. The party remained in opposition to the government until 1968, when it seized power in a coup.

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How did Saddam rise to his present position?
Years of underground work provided Saddam Hussein with a small core of loyal, like-minded friends, many related to him by blood or marriage and most from his home town of Tikrit. After the coup in 1968, this clique established itself as the Revolutionary Command Council with absolute authority in the country. Saddam became vice chairman of the council in 1969. He worked closely with Gen. Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, the council's chairman and president of Iraq. Saddam took a leading role in addressing the country's major domestic problems. He negotiated an agreement in 1970 with separatist Kurdish leaders, giving them autonomy. The agreement later broke down, leading to brutal fighting between the regime and Kurdish groups. In foreign affairs, Saddam negotiated a settlement with Iran in 1975 that contained Iraqi concessions on border demarcation. In return, Iran agreed to stop supporting opposition Kurds in Iraq. Saddam also led Arab opposition to the 1979 Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel. Al-Bakr gradually withdrew from politics during the 1970s and formally retired in 1979. That left the path clear for Saddam to become chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council and president of the country.

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What have been the significant events of Saddam's presidency?
In 1979 Iran's government was overthrown by Islamic fundamentalists and their supporters, and Saddam feared radical Islamic ideas were spreading inside Iraq, especially among the country's majority Shiite Muslim population. In September 1980, Saddam abandoned his 1975 agreement with Iran and invaded. After making some initial gains, Iraq's troops were stopped. By 1982, Iraq was looking for ways to end the war. Saddam reached out to other Arab governments for financial and diplomatic support and began to target the Iranian oil industry. The Iranians, hoping to bring down Saddam, refused a cease-fire until 1988. The Iran-Iraq war left Iraq devastated, with hundreds of thousands of casualties and a debt of about $75 billion. Still, Saddam had an experienced and well-equipped army, which he used to influence regional affairs. The most notable use of military power was to pressure Kuwait to forgive its share of Iraq's debt. In August 1990, Saddam invaded Kuwait, annexing the entire country. An international coalition led by the United States evicted Iraq in the first Gulf War, in January and February of 1991.
Despite his defeat, the same year Saddam suppressed an uprising among Shiites in the south. Kurds who rebelled in the north were saved from complete defeat only because the international community protected them. Saddam's small clique of friends and family was divided after the war, and in the following years he arrested, exiled and killed many among them who were thought to threaten his rule. In the mid-1990s, Saddam began to interfere with the work of U.N. weapons inspectors assigned to ensure that Iraq had destroyed its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons capabilities. His government insisted that sanctions against Iraq should be lifted in return for its compliance with U.N. resolutions and accused the United States of seeking not to disarm Iraq but to overthrow his regime. Arguments over the inspections led to a series of international confrontations. In 1998, Saddam averted conflicts in February and again in November by agreeing to allow inspections to continue. However, when he blocked inspections in December, the United States and Britain launched a four-day series of air strikes on Iraqi military and industrial targets. In response, Saddam declared that Iraq would allow no further inspections. In November 2002, after months of heightened pressure from the United States and the United Nations, Saddam submitted to a U.N. resolution that ordered the immediate return of weapons inspectors to Iraq.

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Does Saddam see himself as an international statesman?
In his evaluation of the Iraqi president, Edward Peck, former U.S. chief of mission in Baghdad, said that Saddam doesn't seem to “have any understanding of international relations, geo-politics, the march of events across the nations, across the continents. I think he is a reasonably intelligent and very effective leader of a very tightly run dictatorship. He has shown some skills in survival and keeping himself in power. He is not however someone, when they suggest he is watching events in America, to time his moves this way or that way, I think that's a bit disingenuous, because I don't believe he thinks that way; and I don't believe his advisors, those few people with whom he surrounds himself are willing or able to tell him things that he doesn't want to hear.”

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Were relations between Saddam and the West always strained?
In fact, they were not. Saddam was once among the West's allies in the Middle East. Former U.S. diplomat Edward Peck points out that in the 1970s “his relationship with the West was quite strong, when Iraq was very wealthy (in terms of oil) and very strongly active in spending money on a whole range of things.” After the Shiite Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, U.-S.-Iraqi relations became even closer, Peck said, “The perception in the U.S. was that Iran was a bigger threat than Iraq, and so we backed Iraq eventually, very extensively. Mr. Rumsfeld traveled there three times to encourage Saddam with military information and anthrax and intelligence, and even perhaps some dual-use items; and also seeking establishment of full relations, which came about in 1983.” All that would change in 1990.

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Why did Saddam attack Kuwait and provoke the Persian Gulf War of 1991?
Historically, Kuwait was part of Iraq under the Ottoman Empire. In 1899, Kuwait became a British protectorate, and in 1961, it was granted independence. Though Iraq objected and asked for reunification with Kuwait, the Iraqi government eventually recognized Kuwait as a separate country in 1963. Relations remained uneasy, but during the Iran-Iraq war Kuwait lent diplomatic and economic support to Baghdad. The costly war resulted in a huge debt for Iraq, and Baghdad asked Kuwait to forgive the debt. Edward Peck, a former U.S. chief of mission in Baghdad, said that a variety of factors led to the invasion of Kuwait, including a sense in Iraq that it was being cheated out of Iraqi oil by Kuwaiti oil rigs on the border between the two nations, which were drilling at a slant and therefore accessing Iraqi oil. Iraq also accused Kuwait of producing more oil than agreed to under OPEC quotas, thus depressing the price of international oil, Iraq's main export. Saddam decided that these circumstances justified an invasion of its neighbor.

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What are Saddam and the Baath Party's politics?
Former U.S. diplomat Edward Peck points out that the Baath Party that Saddam heads is secular, socialist and in the Scandinavian mold, under which private enterprise is allowed to flourish. Peck also notes differences between the Scandinavian and Iraqi systems. In the Iraqi model, there is no room for any political opposition or freedom of speech. The Iraqi government has invested heavily in infrastructure, including roads, schools and water-cleansing and sewage plants. Much of the money for this came from the nationalization of the oil industry in the 1970s, in which Saddam played an influential role.

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Who are the people that Saddam trusts?
Over the years, Saddam has surrounded himself with people who come from the same region of Iraq as he does. Former U.S. diplomat Edward Peck said Saddam's coterie of advisers include the man who has served as his deputy since 1979, Izzat Ibrahim. Peck also lists Dr. Sa'dun Hammadi, speaker of the National Assembly, and Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan as members of the president's inner circle. In fact, says Peck, in the 1970s there was a move among senior Iraqi officials to drop the tradition of adding their hometown to their names, as a public relations exercise to avoid charges of favoritism. The president's sons, Uday and Qasay, also are among those he trusts. Then there is Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, who incidentally is not only from the Tikrit area but is also a Christian. In the end, said Peck, Saddam really trusts nobody. “He was quite a secretive kind of guy for reasons I suppose that are clear.” And especially now, “as the net closes he is going to rely further on his instincts, which have brought him this far, than on any advice from others.”

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How popular is Saddam among the people?
Despite claims by the international media and the U.S. government about Saddam's unpopularity among his people, former U.S. diplomat Edward Peck, who served in Iraq, has this to say: “Saddam is not anywhere near as popular as he would like to think he is, a situation which probably applies to every politician in the world. But he certainly is not anywhere as unpopular as we would like to think he is. He has a lot of support and a lot of people who think that Saddam deserves support because he is leading the nation in the face of assaults.” Peck says the attacks against Iraq have possibly brought some support to Saddam even from people who hate his regime.

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