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A memorial service for Saddam Hussein

12 unusual facts about Saddam Hussein

Image: Palestinians organize a memorial service to mark the 13th anniversary of the death of Saddam Hussein | Anas-Mohammed /

Saddam Hussein is one of the most notorious dictators in history, who ruled over the Middle Eastern country of Iraq for more than two decades. His brutal regime committed several war crimes and oversaw the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

His tyranny came to an end in 2003 after a US-led coalition toppled his regime and although Hussein managed to evade capture initially, he was eventually put on trial for war crimes. He was found guilty and executed in 2006.

Here are 12 unusual facts about Saddam Hussein.

1. He was born a peasant

Saddam was born in 1937 to a peasant family near Tikrit in northern Iraq. The area in which he grew up was one of the poorest in the country.

2. He dropped out of law school twice

In 1957, after three years of studying, Saddam dropped out of an Iraqi law school to join the revolutionary pan-Arab Ba’ath Party which was supported by his uncle. In 1962, Saddam attended Cairo Law School in Egypt. His hopes of becoming a lawyer never materialised and he dropped out just over a year later.

3. He fled on a donkey to Syria whilst wounded

After Saddam and the Ba'ath Party failed to assassinate the Iraqi Prime Minister Abd al-Karim Qasim in 1959, Saddam fled the country by riding on a donkey to Syria for 300 miles. During the failed plot, Hussein was shot in the thigh and had the bullet removed with a pen knife as he fled to Syria.

4. He married his first cousin

In an arranged marriage, Saddam married his first cousin Sajida Talfah in 1963. The arrangement was said to have been made when they were both children and they had three daughters and two sons.

5. He escaped from prison

A change in government led Saddam to return to Iraq in the early 1960s, although he was arrested in late 1964. He then spent the next two years in prison before escaping in 1966.

6. He earned a UNESCO award

In the years that preceded his presidency, Saddam served as the vice-chairman of the Ba'ath Party. He used his position to modernise the Iraqi economy and nationalise the country’s oil industry. As profits rose, Saddam used the funds to improve education in the country. With literacy levels skyrocketing in Iraq as a result of Saddam’s programmes, UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) gave him an award.

Saddam also introduced social services that were unprecedented among the Middle Eastern countries. The public health system built under Saddam’s watch was one of the most modern in the Middle East. His national infrastructure campaign saw thousands of miles of roads built whilst electricity was brought to nearly every Iraqi city.

7. He was given the key to the city of Detroit

Upon becoming president in 1979, Saddam received a congratulatory note from an American clergyman. Pastor Jacob Yasso from the Sacred Heart Chaldean Church in Detroit reached out to the new leader to send his congratulations. The majority of Christians in Iraq are Chaldeans so in return, Saddam donated $250,000 to Yasso’s church.

Yasso was then invited out to Baghdad the following year and had been allowed by the Mayor of Detroit, Coleman Young, to present Saddam with the key to the city of Detroit. After the visit, Yasso’s church received another $200,000 from the Iraqi dictator.

8. He was once aligned with the West

In 1980, Saddam sought to wrest the Shatt-al-Arab waterway from Iran. Armed and backed by the West, he declared war on Tehran. Although he was portrayed as ‘the defender of the Arab world’, he freely used chemical weapons, such as mustard gas and nerve agents, against civilians. Eight years later the battle ended in a stalemate, with an estimated one million declared dead.

9. He wrote a romance novel

Not exactly what you’d expect a murderous dictator to do in his spare time, but over his lifetime Saddam penned four novels and several poems. One of his novels, Zabiba and the King, turned out to be a best-seller. Published in 2000, the romance novel went on to sell a million copies. Did he actually write it though? The CIA believed it was written by ghostwriters with the dictator overseeing their work.

10. He offered $94 million to America’s poor

In early 2001, Saddam offered to donate $94 million to impoverished Americans on humanitarian grounds, stating that 30 million people in the US lived under the poverty line. Ironically at the time Iraq was under a U.N. humanitarian aid program due to the effects of economic sanctions placed on the country after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Whether that $94 million made it to America remains unknown.

11. He donated his own blood to write a Qur’an

On his 60th birthday, Saddam commissioned a copy of the Qur’an, the Islamic holy book, to be written in his own blood. The reason? To thank God for watching over him and keeping him safe through many ‘conspiracies and dangers’.

It took a team of calligraphers three years to produce the special edition which comprised over 6,000 verses and 336,000 words. Although estimates range from 50-57 pints, no one knows exactly how much of his blood Saddam actually gave.

12. He was found hiding with hot dogs, lemonade and chocolate bars

After the fall of Baghdad in 2003, Saddam went into hiding for eight months. He was target number one for American forces and they eventually caught up with him on 13th December.

Hiding in a hole at a farmhouse in northern Iraq, Hussein was found with a personal supply of hot dogs, lemonade, chocolate bars, a canister of coffee and some mouthwash. Following his arrest, pictures of the fugitive in his pants were widely published on the front pages of newspapers around the world.