Saddam: A brutal rule, cut short by war

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It was mere days after he had grabbed power when Saddam Hussein summoned 400 top Iraqi officials, announcing he had uncovered a plot against the ruling party. The conspirators, he said, were in that very room.

As the 42-year-old coolly puffed on a cigar, the plotters' names were read out. As each was called, secret police led them away, executing 22. To make sure his countrymen got the message, Saddam videotaped the whole thing and sent copies around the country.

The plot was a lie. But in a few terrifying minutes on July 22, 1979, Saddam eliminated his potential rivals — consolidating the power he wielded for almost three decades as Iraq's president, until a U.S.-led coalition drove him out in 2003.

The brutality helped him survive war with Iran, defeat in Kuwait, rebellions by northern Kurds and southern Shiites, international sanctions, plots and conspiracies.

It also proved his undoing. Trusting few except kin, Saddam surrounded himself with sycophants, selected for loyalty rather than intellect and ability. When he was forced out, he left a country impoverished — despite its vast oil wealth — and roiling with long suppressed ethnic and sectarian tensions.

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