Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq from 1979 until 2003, has gained international notoriety for torturing and murdering thousands of his own people. Hussein believes he ruled with an iron fist to keep his country, divided by ethnicity and religion, intact. However, his actions bespeak a tyrannical despot who stopped at nothing to punish those who opposed him.
Having been captured, Saddam Hussein will now be tried for his past crimes. Though prosecutors have hundreds of crimes to choose from, these five are some of Hussein's most heinous.
- Reprisal Against Dujail
On July 8, 1982, Saddam Hussein was visiting the town of Dujail (50 miles north of Baghdad) when a group of Dawa militants shot at his motorcade. In reprisal for this assassination attempt, the entire town was punished. More than 140 fighting-age men were apprehended and never heard from again. Approximately 1,500 other townspeople, including children, were rounded up and taken to prison, where many were tortured. After a year or more in prison, many were exiled to a southern desert camp. The town itself was destroyed; houses were bulldozed and orchards were demolished.
Though Saddam's reprisal against Dujail is considered one of his lesser-known crimes, it has been chosen as the first for which he will be tried.
- Anfal Campaign
Officially from February 23 to September 6, 1988 (but often thought to extend from March 1987 to May 1989), Saddam Hussein's regime carried out the Anfal (Arabic for "spoils") campaign against the large Kurdish population in northern Iraq. The purpose of the campaign was ostensibly to reassert Iraqi control over the area; however, the real goal was to permanently eliminate the Kurdish problem.
The campaign consisted of eight stages of assault, where up to 200,000 Iraqi troops attacked the area, rounded up civilians, and razed villages. Once rounded up, the civilians were divided into two groups: men from ages of about 13 to 70 and women, children, and elderly men. The men were then shot and buried in mass graves. The women, children, and elderly were taken to relocation camps where conditions were deplorable. In a few areas, especially areas that put up even a little resistance, everyone was killed.
Hundreds of thousands of Kurds fled the area, yet it is estimated that up to 182,000 were killed during the Anfal campaign. Many people consider the Anfal campaign an attempt at genocide.
- Chemical Weapons Against Kurds
As early as April 1987, the Iraqis used chemical weapons to remove Kurds from their villages in northern Iraq during the Anfal campaign. It is estimated that chemical weapons were used on approximately 40 Kurdish villages, with the largest of these attacks occurring on March 16, 1988 against the Kurdish town of Halabja.
Beginning in the morning on March 16, 1988 and continuing all night, the Iraqis rained down volley after volley of bombs filled with a deadly mixture of mustard gas and nerve agents on Halabja. Immediate effects of the chemicals included blindness, vomiting, blisters, convulsions, and asphyxiation. Approximately 5,000 women, men, and children died within days of the attacks. Long-term effects included permanent blindness, cancer, and birth defects. An estimated 10,000 lived, but live daily with the disfigurement and sicknesses from the chemical weapons.
Saddam Hussein's cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid was directly in charge of the chemical attacks against the Kurds, earning him the epithet, "Chemical Ali."
- Invasion of Kuwait
On August 2, 1990, Iraqi troops invaded the country of Kuwait. The invasion was induced by oil and a large war debt that Iraq owed Kuwait. The six-week, Persian Gulf War pushed Iraqi troops out of Kuwait in 1991. As the Iraqi troops retreated, they were ordered to light oil wells on fire. Over 700 oil wells were lit, burning over one billion barrels of oil and releasing dangerous pollutants into the air. Oil pipelines were also opened, releasing 10 million barrels of oil into the Gulf and tainting many water sources. The fires and the oil spill created a huge environmental disaster.
- Shiite Uprising & the Marsh Arabs
At the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991, southern Shiites and northern Kurds rebelled against Hussein's regime. In retaliation, Iraq brutally suppressed the uprising, killing thousands of Shiites in southern Iraq.
As supposed punishment for supporting the Shiite rebellion in 1991, Saddam Hussein's regime killed thousands of Marsh Arabs, bulldozed their villages, and systematically ruined their way of life. The Marsh Arabs had lived for thousands of years in the marshlands located in southern Iraq until Iraq built a network of canals, dykes, and dams to divert water away from the marshes. The Marsh Arabs were forced to flee the area, their way of life decimated.
By 2002, satellite images showed only 7 to 10 percent of the marshlands left. Saddam Hussein is blamed for creating an environmental disaster.