Since he is a pretty recent dictator, we tend to know more about former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein than most of the others on our list. We know him as the guy who invaded Kuwait in 1990 and who then had his country invaded by an American-led military coalition in 1991.
The Americans returned again in 2003, toppled his government, arrested him while he was on the run, and handed him over to his enemies who executed him on December 30, 2006.
Before his execution, though, Saddam Hussein left a large swath of misery across the Middle East. He invaded Iranian territory in 1980, setting off the Iran-Iraq War, which left more than one million people dead. As crazy as that was, though, there were plenty of other crazy things he did while in power.
He was the only national leader to use chemical weapons since the world wars, he routinely imprisoned, tortured, and murdered his political opponents, and he waged a war of repression and discrimination against the largest religious group in his country, the Shiite Muslims.
But perhaps the crazy thing he did that had some pretty horrific consequences was letting his two sons, Qusay and Uday, do whatever they wanted.
Perhaps, it wasn’t all their fault, as Saddam was said to have brought them to watch torture sessions and executions when they were children. Still, the two young men subjected Iraq to a special kind of terror and maliciousness that even their father didn’t seem to possess. He put Uday and Qusay in positions of power and, in return, they helped bankrupt the nation and committed acts of violence and rape against innocent Iraqis with impunity.
Qusay and Uday were a major reason why so many Iraqis turned against their once populist leader.
Raised by Wolves
Saddam Hussein was born in 1937 in the northern Iraqi town of Tikrit. It was truly a different era: Iraq was still part of the British Empire and World War II was still a couple of years away. Saddam’s father died before he was born and his mother didn’t want him, so he was raised by his uncle Talfah.
Talfah was perhaps the greatest influence in the future dictator’s life. He was the father of Saddam’s first wife (yes, Saddam married his first cousin!) and he imbued in his protégé many of the ideas and activities for which Saddam was later known. Talfah was an ardent Arab nationalist and he was also a bit of a crook. Saddam later combined those ideas when he came to power.
Things actually could’ve gone much differently for Hussein. He was a school teacher for several years and, by all accounts, was good at it, but his political activities were more important to him.
Saddam Hussein crossed the Rubicon when he became involved in a plot to assassinate the leader of Iraq in 1959. Although the plot was unsuccessful and forced Saddam into years of exile in Syria and Egypt, it gained him an immense amount of respect from his fellow Ba’ath Party members. He then served a couple of years in Iraqi prison during the 1960s for political crimes and, by that time, he was firmly entrenched in the inner workings of the Ba’ath Party.
And he knew that, in the cutthroat world of Iraqi politics, violence was always the answer.
After the Ba’ath Party assumed power of Iraq in 1968, Saddam became head of the armed forces and the police, which he used to ruthlessly suppress all political discontent. By the time he became the sole leader of the country in 1979, he had already sent thousands to prison, or early graves. And many more would meet that fate.
Saddam made a lot of crazy decisions after he assumed complete power, such as torturing and executing many of the top men in his own party, but probably the craziest thing he did was give his two emotionally unstable sons so much power.
Like Father, Like Sons
Uday was born in 1964 in Tikrit, while Saddam was in prison, and Qusay was born in 1966 months after his release. Although their mother Sajida spoiled both boys, there was no doubt that little Uday was her favorite.
The Iraqi dictator scoffed when his wife doted on the boys, especially Uday, who was his heir apparent. To compensate for the extra feminine attention, Saddam would bring his sons to military drills and—if they were really good—he’d even let them witness some torture sessions and executions!
Due to a combination of his poor parenting and inability to see the sociopaths that Uday and Qusay were, or possibly because of it, Hussein made the crazy decision of giving the two plenty of power and money.
Qusay was generally more laid back and less psychopathic than his older brother, although he was no angel. Qusay was given several responsibilities and positions by his father in the military and intelligence services, which he used to do his father’s bidding.
One of the crazier things that Qusay did was to empty the marshes of southern Iraq to suppress the Shiite rebellion there in 1991. Although he did stop the rebellion temporarily, he also permanently destroyed the ecosystem and economy in that part of Iraq.
As crazy as Qusay was, though, Uday by far took the cake of crazy. At 6’6, Uday could be quite intimidating and he had no qualms about using his size to intimidate others to get what he wanted.
Uday liked to drive luxury sports cars, wear fine clothing and jewelry, and pick up attractive young women, whether they wanted to go with him or not.
Uday was described as fairly intelligent, if not unhinged. He invested in several businesses in Iraq, with government money, and was the owner of a professional soccer team in the 1980s. If you were a player on the team and didn’t perform, you could expect to be locked in a cell, beaten, or both.
Perhaps one of the craziest things Uday Hussein did was murdering his father’s “food taster,” Kamel Gegeo, in front of several witnesses at a 1988 party. It turned out that Gegeo was responsible for introducing Saddam to his second wife, for whom he later left his first wife.
Ever the momma’s boy, Uday had to avenge his mother’s honor and because he couldn’t kill his stepmother, he did the next best thing by killing Gegeo.
The combined acts of the Hussein boys was enough to drive a large segment of the Iraqi population against their father. Uday survived an assassination attempt in 1996, but neither of the Hussein brothers would survive when the Americans came to their house in 2003.
Although most Iraqis weren’t necessarily happy with the American occupation of their country, few were sad to see the crazy Hussein brothers gone.
Did You Know?
- Qusay’s son, Mustapha, was killed with the two brothers when soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division raided their Mosul home on July 22, 2003.
- Qusay was married with three children at the time of his death, while the playboy Uday reportedly married three times.
- After killing Gegeo, Uday fled to Switzerland and was sentenced to death, but he was later forgiven by his father.
- After falling out of favor with his father, Uday was relegated to the number two position. The more serious Qusay was also more popular with members of the Iraqi military and so was declared Saddam’s successor in 2000.
- The US military found a treasure trove of interesting artifacts in Uday’s Baghdad mansion, including pornography, HIV testing kits, dozens of luxury cars, several exotic animals, and a large gym with pictures of George Bush’s daughters tapped to the wall.