Saddam Hussein grew up barefoot in a mud hut in the town of Takrit, north of Baghdad on the Tigris River. He never met his father. His mother, Subha Tulfah, was deeply disturbed—suicidal and homicidal. She repeatedly tried to kill the child in her womb. In one episode, she jumped in front of a bus, where, according to an apocryphal account, the deranged woman screamed: “I am giving birth to the devil!” Some witnesses recalled the pregnant woman banging a door against her extended belly.
Against all odds, the child survived his mother. When he was born, she gave him the name “Saddam”—meaning “the one who confronts.”
Abandoned by his mother, Saddam was raised by a politically active uncle, who became his role model, and taught him to be a genocidal racist. When the budding despot was an adolescent, his uncle wrote a pamphlet titled, “Three Whom God Should Not Have Created: Persians, Jews, and Flies.” Saddam later turned the title into a credo, etched on a plaque on his office desk.
Upon taking power, Saddam transformed Iraq into a monument to himself. The megalomaniac sought to rebuild the Biblical city of Babylon—a $200-million project in which every tenth brick was inscribed, “Babylon was rebuilt in the reign of Saddam Hussein.” This would be his apotheosis, but it was never completed, stopped by the man that Saddam hated as much as Jews: George W. Bush.
By dispatching U.S. troops to Iraq in 2003, Bush ended two-and-a-half decades of non-stop terror by Saddam, including the most wide-scale use of chemical weapons by any nation since World War I.
As part of the 1991 Gulf War ceasefire, Saddam had agreed to allow U.N. weapons inspectors to dispose of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, which he claimed he did not possess. As the inspectors soon learned, however, his arsenal was staggering, including bio weapons like anthrax and botulinum toxin. His country remains the only in history to weaponize aflatoxin, a substance that gradually causes liver cancer and has no battlefield utility whatsoever; it could be used to give cancer to certain ethnic groups.
U.N. inspectors also uncovered an enormous Iraqi nuclear weapons program. Spread among 25 facilities, the $10-billion program employed 15,000 technical people. Based on a Manhattan Project bomb design, Iraqi scientists pursued five different methods for separating uranium.
The world feared how Saddam’s clandestine support of WMDs might be coupled with his open support of terrorism. The final terrorism report by the Clinton State Department devoted more words to Iraq than any other country. In April 2002, Saddam publicly offered $25,000 to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers who blew themselves up in the service of killing Jews. Abu Abbas and Abu Nidal, the two most wanted terrorist ringleaders of the last 20 years, both lived with safe haven in Baghdad. Saddam operated his own terror camps. One of the most chilling was a facility south of Baghdad called Salman Pak, where terrorists (prior to September 11) had conducted training missions on a 707 fuselage, where they practiced the art of hijacking an aircraft without guns, using only knives and utensils. Just like the September 11 hijackers, these terrorists were mostly of Saudi origin.
By 1998, the watchful eye of the global community had frustrated and enraged Saddam, and he did his best to further obstruct U.N. inspectors. In December of that year, inspections stopped. The world wrung its hands over how to get Saddam to comply.
Then came September 11, which, as George W. Bush put it, “changed everything.” The Bush administration responded by first removing the Taliban government that harbored Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan. Estimating that the next devastating attack could be ordered by Saddam, the American president decided that the Iraqi dictator was an unacceptable danger in the post-9/11 world. He judged that the only way to disarm Saddam was to dislodge Saddam. Sure, the Bush administration had other reasons for removing Saddam—human rights, the objective of creating a “democratic peace” in the Middle East—but Saddam’s history with WMDs and sponsorship of terrorism were the two primary factors in the 2003 invasion.
The wisdom of these goals continues to be hotly debated. Yet, one thing is now certain: Saddam Hussein’s ability to perpetrate violence against his nation, his neighbors, and the world, is finished—moribund. He was executed on December 30. He stands almost alone among modern tyrants in that he received due justice. He is dead as a result of American intervention, as are the two thugs we once feared as his heirs: his sons, Uday and Qusay. This is a magnificent achievement, unthinkable only five years ago.
Contrary to popular perception, we did find some WMDs in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, though we did not find the stockpiles we expected. Importantly, as former U.N. chief inspector David Kay reported, we did discover “intent and infrastructure” by Saddam to again “ramp up” WMD production once a tired, divided international community threw in the towel on the inspections process.
Thanks to a simpler process—a hanging—Saddam will never realize his nuclear ambitions. His prophecy of dying a violent death was realized, but, mercifully, not in the giant explosion we all long feared. The Bush administration’s daunting long-term task in Iraq outlives him, far from completed, and dangerously unstable. Yet, the danger posed by Saddam Hussein is finally over—that’s a big, big deal, one worth celebrating.