Saddam Hussein's Rise to Power | Saddam Hussein against Iran, to 1990 | Iraq Invades Kuwait | Saddam Annexes Kuwait, August 1990 | Saddam Refuses to Withdraw | Operation Desert Storm Begins | Iraq Defeated Militarily | Settlement and Disappointments, 1991
In July 1958, the military in Iraq overthrew that country's monarchy. The coup leader, Abdul Karem Kassem, moved to reduce disparities between Iraq's rich and poor and to form alliances with Communist countries. The Eisenhower Administration was alarmed. So were Iraqis who belonged to the Ba'ath political party – a pan-Arab, Islamic party. Ba'aths and U.S. agents met. The Ba'aths tried to assassinate Kassem. One of their participants was Saddam Hussein, a 19-year-old Iraqi who had been studying at Cairo University. He was shot in the leg and fled to Syria and then back to Egypt.
In March 1963, the Ba'aths overthrew and killed Kassem. In November a counter-coup, led by General Abdel Salam Arif, drove the Ba'aths from power, and in 1964 a new constitution was proclaimed. In April 1966 Arif died in a helicopter crash, and his brother, another general, replaced him as Iraq's president.
In July 1968 another coup by the Ba'ath party brought to power Ahmed Hassan Bakr. Thirty-one year-old Saddam Hussein was one of Bakr's distant relatives, and he took charge of the Bakr's secret police. His job was to enforce Bakr's authoritarian rule, and in November 1969 he became Bakr's vice president.
In the early 1970s, Saddam became the power behind the presidency. He supervised modernization of Iraq's countryside, where most Iraqis lived. He mechanized agriculture and distributed land to farmers. Farm cooperatives were established, with profits distributed according to individual work. Expenditures for agriculture doubled between 1974 and 1975. With the increase in production and Saddam's reforms the living standard of rural people increased. Oil profits were invested in industrialization. Saddam was associated with his Ba'athist Party's economic and welfare programs, and his appeal among Iraqis increased.
In 1976, Hussein acquired the rank of general. Although hardly a Communist, Hussein's favorite reading had been about Josef Stalin – who had acquired power and adulation early in the 20th century. Using intimidation, Hussein moved closer to such power. Bakr's fear of his vice president Hussein grew, and he tried to get rid him. Instead, in 1979, Hussein pushed his relative, Bakr, aside and took power.
In taking control, Hussein called a meeting attended by government and party officials. To secure his rule and as a warning, Hussein called out the names of the dozens of individuals he wanted to be rid of. They were obliged to leave the hall and were escorted to their executions.
These were prosperous times for Iraq, which was one of the world's big oil producers. And Hussein was popular among many of Iraq's common people in appreciation for their prosperity.