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BACKGROUND REPORT – March 22, 2003: Saddam Hussein - 2003-03-26

This is VOA Special English Background Report on Iraq's leader.

When Saddam Hussein was born in April of nineteen-thirty-seven, it did not seem likely he would someday rule the country. His father died before Saddam was born. So did an older brother. The family lived in the Tikrit area, north of Baghdad. Published reports tell of a poor and depressed mother and childhood years spent with relatives who mistreated him.

By the late nineteen-fifties, Saddam Hussein was a young revolutionary. He helped try to kill Abdul Kareem Kassem, the Iraqi dictator. After that, he fled to Syria and Egypt, but later returned home and went to prison. While there, he was elected to the National Command of the Baath Party. He escaped from prison in the late nineteen-sixties and rose to power with the support of other Arab nationalists.

On July sixteenth, nineteen-seventy-nine, he replaced Ahmed Hasan al-Bakr as president of Iraq. The new leader promised a more modern Iraq, but he also became known for repressing political opponents.

Saddam Hussein proposed the most complete self-government plan ever offered to the Kurdish people in northern Iraq. Yet he expelled many Kurds from their homes and destroyed all the Kurdish villages along a border area with Iran.

In nineteen-eighty, Iraq invaded Iran. Among the issues was Iranian support for Iraqi Kurdish rebels. During the war, Saddam Hussein's troops killed thousands of Kurds in the north with chemical weapons. The eight years of war deeply damaged Iraq's economy.

In nineteen-ninety, Saddam Hussein ordered the invasion of Kuwait. An American-led coalition attacked Iraq the following January. The war began with thirty-nine days of bombing. Then came four days of ground war, before Iraq withdrew from Kuwait.

The United Nations punished Iraq with severe economic restrictions. The U-N also told Iraq to end its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs. Now, twelve years later, there is another war in the Persian Gulf.