Saddam Hussein may have come from a humble background, but after joining the Arab Baath Socialist Party at the age of nineteen, he quickly climbed the ranks.

With the Baath party taking power in a coup d' etat on 8 February 1963, Hussein returned from Egypt where he had studied law, but was jailed the following year after falling out with the new Iraqi president Abd Al-Salam Arif.

Despite being in detention, Hussein was still elected secretary general of the party. President Arif died in a helicopter crash and his brother, Abd Al-Rahman Arif, was soon ousted by Hussein’s cousin – General Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr.

The secretary general thus became the vice president aged only 32, a position he kept for 10 years. On 16 July 1979, al-Bakr relinquished the presidency to Saddam.

Saddam Hussein

-Born 28 April 1937
-Joined Ba'ath party 1956
-Jailed in 1964 after internal Baath party conflict
-Vice president in 1969
-President on 16 July 1979
-Removed from power April
2003
- Arrested by US occupation forces on 12 December 2003

Since then, Saddam Hussein has rarely been out of the international spotlight. He fell into conflict with Iranian Islamists, and consequently an eight-year-war broke out between Iraq and Iran. He enjoyed the support of almost all western countries who were worried about the newly established regime in Iran which raised the slogan of "exporting Iran's Islamic revolution".

For Washington, it was imperative Iran be contained, fearing the growth of its Islamic revolution. Iraqi-US interests met and Washington removed Iraq from the US State Department’s list of states sponsoring terrorism in 1982.

This support for Saddam changed to enmity when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. The Iraqi army was forced to retreat when a US-led force bombarded Iraq in a military action known as "Operation Desert Storm". The operation was followed by 12-years of economic sanctions that left a destructive impact on Iraq's infrastructure.  

Saddam Hussein modernised his country; developing industries, nationalising the Iraqi oil company, leading the national campaign for the irradication of illiteracy and effecting a revolution in energy industries and public services.

He was widely criticised for dictatorial practices and the lack of free speech in Iraq.

Hussein was toppled by US and British invasion forces on 9 April 2003, leaving the fate of 26 million people, who have suffered more than a decade of UN economic sanctions, hanging in the balance.