Saddam Hussein (1937- ), authoritarian president of Iraq since 1979) who has led his country into two devastating wars. Born to a poor farming family in Tikrīt, a town north of Baghdād, Hussein was raised by his widowed mother and other relatives. He moved to Baghdād in 1955 and became involved in politics, joining the opposition Baath Party, an Arab nationalist movement. Hussein rose quickly within the party and in 1959 helped organize an assassination attempt on Abd al-Karim Kassem, the military president of Iraq. Both Kassem and Hussein were injured in the gun battle, and Hussein fled to Cairo.
Hussein studied law in Cairo while continuing party-affiliated activities. He returned to Baghdād in 1963, married, and rose to the post of assistant secretary general of the Baath Party. The party remained in opposition to the government until 1968, when it seized power in a coup. Years of underground work gave Hussein a small core of like-minded friends...