Why was Saddam Hussein able
to come to power in Iraq?

What factors led to Saddam’s rise to power?

Factor: Military Coups

The Hashemite monarchy was overthrown by a coup in 1958. Another coup, the July Revolution of 1968, organized by the army and Baath Party overthrew President Arif. It led to the Baathist leader Al-Bakr becoming president. Saddam played a key role in this coup.

Factor: The Use of Terror and Fear

As he was in charge of the secret police, he often used them to control the Iraqi people, the army and the Ba’ath Party. They used torture and rape against their enemies and those suspected of “treason” were imprisoned or executed. This made sure that the Iraqi people were obedient.

Factor: Recruiting loyal supporters

He put families and friends in control of key positions of the Government and Army, so he had more power to overthrow or take over control from the President.

Factor: Increasing his popularity

Iraq was nationalised and the government took control over the oil industry from Britain, using the additional income to improve the quality of life and infrastructure of Iraq. They also joined OAPEC against the West as they disliked them for being against Egypt and Syria in the war with Israel.

Factor: Controlling life in Iraq

The Ba’ath Party began controlling all aspects of Iraqi life, including the government, trade unions and sports clubs. They used Education was used to indoctrinate young people, promoting Iraqi nationalism and rejecting foreign culture. 

Factor: Influence of Saddam’s uncle.

Saddam was brought up by his uncle, Khairallah Tulfah, an Arab nationalist and Ba’ath Party member. He educated Saddam about Arab nationalism and socialism and persuaded him to join the Ba’ath Party and he became Head of the Iraqi Intelligence Services by the age of 26.

Saddam Hussein's Purge of the Baath Party

In 1979, Saddam forced President Al-Bakr to resign, purged the Baath Party and became President and dictator of Iraq. This purge was captured on video.

Watch the 9 minute video called Iraq’s 1979 Fascist Coup, narrated by Christopher Hitchens and answer the following questions:

1. What happens at the beginning of the Baath Party Central Committee meeting?

2. How do the other members of the committee react?

3. What happens in the second half of the video that was not shown on PBS?

4. Which dictator did Saddam Hussein model himself on?

Credits for this page are to Mr Joshua Tillott, previously Head of History at YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College, who designed the lesson, factor cards and questions.