Originally created 12/15/03

Saddam's long fall: From ostentatious palaces to a hole in the ground



BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A man who lived in sprawling palaces was pulled from a hole in the dirt. A man who challenged the greatest armies in the world was arrested without firing a shot. A man who embezzled billions of dollars and put his image on every Iraqi bank note was found with a single suitcase of cash - bearing the face of an American, Benjamin Franklin.

The image that emerged Sunday of Saddam Hussein in captivity contrasted in almost every way to the life of one of the world's most despised dictators.

"He was subservient and broken," said Iraqi leader Mouwafak al-Rabii, who saw Saddam in detention. "Saddam looked like a thug."

It was quite a fall for the self-proclaimed "builder of modern Iraq."

During Saddam's reign, his picture graced streets and offices in a hundred different guises, from modern-day field marshal to medieval Arab warrior on horseback. His countenance, with a solemn but pleased expression, was printed on Iraqi dinars of every denomination.

He moved between dozens of palaces scattered across Iraq - sprawling, grandiose complexes with houses for his children, his bodyguards, his aides and his prostitutes, as well as hospitals, gymnasiums and zoos. Two of the palaces were topped with 10-foot busts of Saddam in a tropical helmet.

When the palaces weren't enough, he rebuilt the ancient city of Babylon, ordering his name inscribed on the stones alongside those of Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar.

He spent lavishly on the country as well. During a 1970s oil boom, Saddam headed an economic planning council that oversaw the building of vast industrial plants, huge housing projects, eight-lane highways, bridges, airports, universities and communication grids.

Millions of Iraqis were able for the first time in their lives to wear designer clothing and vacation in London, Madrid or Paris. Others started tasting imported foods and driving Japanese, German or French cars - all at government subsidized prices.

Baghdad became a hub for Arab writers and artists who gathered at annual festivals. An Iraq-based foreign development fund provided economic aid to poor nations in Africa. Tens of thousands of Iraqi students were sent West on state scholarships.

"Saddam seemed to be building an empire, and only waiting to declare himself its emperor," Iraqi economist Ghanim Hamdoun said from London.

His opulence was rivaled only by his brutality. Conservative estimates say he had 300,000 people executed; some say the number is over 1 million. Once, Saddam had a cameraman film him as he walked along a row of executed opponents, putting a final bullet into each one's head.

In 1988, when Kurds in northern Iraq were pushing for autonomy, he bombed and shelled the town of Halabja with cyanide gas. At least 5,000 men, women and children died.

Saddam built a huge army, with nearly 1 million soldiers at the start of the 1991 Gulf War. He went to war with neighboring Iran in 1980, fighting for eight years before agreeing to a cease-fire. In 1990 he invaded Kuwait, and seemed surprised when a U.S.-led coalition drove him out. He ordered his scientists to build a nuclear bomb.

But after a lifetime of successful brinksmanship, he went too far in a final dare to the United States. When President George W. Bush told him to resign or face an invasion, Saddam retorted that the Americans would face a bloodbath.

Less than a month later, the Americans were in his main palace, and Saddam was in hiding.

Few details emerged Sunday about his whereabouts in the months that followed. But details of his capture indicated that Saddam had taken a long, hard fall.

U.S. soldiers found him hidden in a hole with nothing more than a pistol on his lap. The adobe house above him was rudimentary at best, with a single bed and one chair. A soldier who participated in the raid said it "smelled really bad."

"You could just about see the palaces from there," said Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of the division that conducted the raid. "It's rather ironic that he was in a hole in the ground across from those great palaces he built."

Saddam's hair was long and matted, and he wore an unkempt salt-and-pepper beard. He appeared bewildered but put up no resistance as the Americans fished him out of the hole and put him on a helicopter to take him to detention at an undisclosed location.

Those who met with him said he bore little resemblance to the man who remade modern Iraq. Four members of the Governing Council found him sitting on a bed in a white gown and dark jacket. For the first time, Iraq's new leaders faced down their predecessor.

"We told him, 'Had we been in your place, you would have cut us to pieces,"' al-Rabii said. He said the politicians questioned Saddam about his atrocities, and the former leader responded with rambling, confused answers.

"Saddam appeared in his true face, using bad language and insults," he said. "When I left the room - and I was the last to leave - I wanted to punch him in the face to cool myself down."

And for the Iraqi people, who stared in awe at the televised images of Saddam in his disheveled state while an American medic probed his mouth, there was little nobility left of Iraq's great builder.

"For the last 35 years Saddam Hussein presented himself as a lion against the Americans and the West," said Laad Hamadi, a civil engineer. "And now, today, they found him like a mouse."

A glance at the life of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein:

April 28, 1937 - Born in village near desert town of Tikrit, north of Baghdad.

1957 - Joins underground Baath Socialist Party.

1958 - Arrested for killing his brother-in-law, a Communist, spends six months in prison.

Oct. 7, 1959 - On Baath assassination team that ambushes Iraqi strongman Gen. Abdel-Karim Kassem in Baghdad, wounding him. Saddam, wounded in leg, flees to Syria then Egypt.

Feb. 8, 1963 - Returns from Egypt after Baath takes part in coup that overthrows and kills Kassem. Baath ousted by military in November.

July 17, 1968 - Baathists and army officers overthrow regime.

July 30, 1968 - Takes charge of internal security after Baath ousts erstwhile allies and authority passes to Revolutionary Command Council under Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, Saddam's cousin.

July 16, 1979 - Takes over as president from al-Bakr, launches massive purge of Baath.

Sept. 22, 1980 - Sends forces into Iran; war last eight years.

March 28, 1988 - Uses chemical weapons against Kurdish town of Halabja, killing estimated 5,000 civilians.

Aug. 2, 1990 - Invades Kuwait.

Jan. 17, 1991 - Attacked by U.S.-led coalition; Kuwait liberated in a month.

March, 1991 - Crushes Shiite revolt in south and Kurd revolt in north.

April 17, 1991 - Complying with U.N. Resolution 687, starts providing information on weapons of mass destruction, but accused of cheating.

Feb. 20, 1996 - Orders killing of two sons-in-law who in 1995 defected to Jordan and had just returned to Baghdad after receiving guarantees of safety.

Dec. 16, 1998 - Weapons inspectors withdrawn from Iraq. Hours later, four days of U.S.-British air and missile strikes begin as punishment for lack of cooperation.

Nov. 8, 2002 - Threatened with "serious consequences" if he does not disarm in U.N. Security Council resolution.

Nov. 27, 2002 - Allows U.N. experts to begin work in Iraq for first time since 1998.

Dec. 7, 2002 - Delivers to United Nations declaration denying Iraq has weapons of mass destruction; later, United States says declaration is untruthful and United Nations says it is incomplete.

March 1, 2003 - United Arab Emirates, at an Arab League summit, becomes first Arab nation to propose publicly that Saddam step down.

March 7 - United States, Britain and Spain propose ordering Saddam to give up banned weapons by March 17 or face war; other nations led by France on polarized U.N. Security Council oppose any new resolution that would authorize military action.

March 17 - United States, Britain and Spain declare time for diplomacy over, withdraw proposed resolution. President Bush gives Saddam 48 hours to leave Iraq.

March 18 - Iraq's leadership rejects Bush's ultimatum.

March 20 - U.S. forces open war with military strike on Dora Farms, a target south of Baghdad where Saddam and his sons are said to be. Saddam appears on Iraqi television later in the day.

April 4 - Iraqi television shows video of Saddam walking a Baghdad street.

April 7 - U.S. warplanes bomb a section of the Mansour district in Baghdad where Saddam and his sons were said to be meeting.

April 9 - Jubilant crowds greet U.S. troops in Baghdad, go on looting rampages, topple 40-foot statue of Saddam.

July 22 - Saddam's sons, Qusai and Odai, killed in gunbattle with U.S. troops. American forces then raid the northern city of Mosul and later say they missed Saddam "by a matter of hours."

July 27 - U.S. troops raid three farms in Tikrit. Again, officials later say they missed Saddam by 24 hours.

July 31 - Two of Saddam's daughters, Raghad and Rana, and their nine children are given asylum by Jordan's King Abdullah II.

Sept. 5 - Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno of the 4th Infantry Division says his troops have captured several of Saddam's former bodyguards in the Tikrit area in the past month and may be closing in on the deposed Iraqi dictator.

Nov. 16 - The last of nine tapes attributed to Saddam Hussein since he was removed from power is released. It tells Iraqis to step up their resistance to the U.S.-led occupation, saying the United States and its allies misjudged the difficulty of occupying Iraq.

Dec. 13 - Saddam is captured at 8:30 p.m. in the town of Adwar, 10 miles south of Tikrit. He is hiding in a specially prepared "spider hole."