The life and times of Saddam Hussein

Today's verdict marks the beginning of the final chapter in the controversial life story of the deposed dictator.

In an ironic twist, the tyrant has been forced to face trial for his crimes in front of the people he once ruled with an iron fist for more than 20 years.

The man who used fear and intimidation to cement his rule has spent the past three years as a prisoner himself, following his capture at the hands of the US Army in December 2003.

From the time he came to power in 1979, Saddam, lived and ruled by oppressing his people, building a reputation as one of the most reviled dictators of modern times,

His regime employed a ruthlessness that came with a burgeoning paranoia and an obsessive need for absolute control.

Because of it he became the world's most notorious and recognisable leader, his gun-toting, black-bereted moustachioed image visible everywhere.

Born on April 28, 1937, in the village of Al-Awja, near Tikrit, north of Baghdad, Saddam grew up in a peasant family.

His father died when he was a boy and his uncle Khayrallah took the young Saddam under his wing.

He reportedly could not read by the age of 10 but it was his uncle, an army officer and Arab nationalist, who encouraged his education.

But the young loner did not plan on earning respect through academic diligence. He was already learning other skills that would become more important in his later life.

As part of the al-Khatab clan, an extended family noted for its cunning and violence, he reportedly earned the respect of those around him in a way that would impress his clan - by shooting and trying to kill the teacher who beat him at school.

It was during these days that the young Saddam used to go fishing with dynamite, and reportedly all he wanted when he grew up was a "Jeep, a hunting rifle and a pair of binoculars".

Saddam joined the fledgling Arab Socialist Baath or Renaissance Party in 1957, and a year later he played a part in the attempted assassination of a supporter of Iraqi ruler Abdul-Karim Qassim.

By this time he had become a trusted member of the Baath party, and took his place at the top table when it swept to power in the 1960s.

After achieving power in 1979, he proved himself willing to go to any lengths to retain his position.

As the years went by, Saddam became increasingly distrustful.

He kept the soldiers of the 1st Battalion of the 1st Brigade Special Republican Guard around him, ready to take a bullet for their leader and more importantly, the Amn al-Khas, the Special Security Service.

In case all else failed, Saddam kept a pistol stuffed in his belt.

During his tenure as leader, Saddam developed a careful security regime, moving daily among his 24 palaces to avoid being attacked by enemies inside and outside his state.

He built up a complex system of underground bunkers, and used a number of lookalikes to confuse potential assassins.

Despite his tight security measures, Saddam still enjoyed an opulent lifestyle.

He had alcohol, fresh steaks and seafood flown in twice a week, and liked wine with meals.

But he was careful not to let anyone outside his most trusted circle of family and aides see him drinking, as alcohol is forbidden by Islam.

At 6ft 2ins he was tall for an Arab and had a tattoo of three small blue dots on his right hand, given to village children when they are young.

He also tended towards vanity, dyeing his hair black and avoiding using his reading glasses in public. Aides printed his speeches in huge letters, just a few lines per page.

One of his most enduring relationships was with his wife, Sajida, daughter of his mentor uncle, to whom he has been married for around 40 years.

She bore him two sons, Qusay and Uday, who were killed in a gun battle with US troops in July 2003, and three daughters.

As president, Saddam spent little time visiting his people, preferring to study reports from his secret police, or meet high officials.

Occasionally he would visit workers in factories but was so used to being told what he wanted to hear from frightened ministers that he only saw what he wanted to see.

In recent years the dictator wrote and published romantic fables, including Zabibah and The King And The Fortified Castle and, his latest book, Men And A City, sold well in Baghdad bookshops to war.

The coalition's war against the dictator dealt a fatal blow, not only to his regime, but also to his fragile vanity and the place in history he so coveted.

One of the iconic images from the conflict was the destruction of a giant statue of Saddam in Baghdad.

Aided by Allied troops, Iraqis brought down the towering effigy, dancing and cheering as it collapsed.

From that moment, the balance of power shifted, and Saddam's shadow was finally lifted from the country he had ruled for so long.

Here are key dates in the rise and fall of Saddam Hussein.

April 28, 1937: Saddam is born in the village of Uja near Tikrit, north of Baghdad.

1957: Saddam joins the underground Baath Socialist Party.

1958: He is arrested for killing his brother-in-law, a Communist, and spends six months in jail.

1959: He flees the country with a wounded leg after taking part in an ambush in Baghdad.

1963: He returns from Egypt.

1968: Baathists and army officers overthrow the regime. Saddam takes charge of internal security and authority passes to Revolutionary Command Council under Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, his cousin.

July 16, 1979: Saddam takes over as president from al-Bakr, and launches massive purge of Baath.

September 22, 1980: He sends forces into Iran, sparking a war which lasts for eight years.

March 28, 1988: He uses chemical weapons against Kurdish town of Halabja, killing an estimated 5,000 civilians.

August 2, 1990: Saddam invades Kuwait.

January 17, 1991: He is attacked by a US-led coalition and Kuwait is liberated in a month.

March, 1991: He crushes a Shiite revolt in south and a Kurd revolt in north.

April 17, 1991: Complying with a UN Resolution, he starts providing information on weapons of mass destruction, but is accused of cheating.

February 20, 1996: He orders the killing of two sons-in-law who defected to Jordan and had just returned to Baghdad after receiving guarantees of safety.

December 16, 1998: Weapons inspectors are withdrawn from Iraq. Hours later, four days of US-British air and missile strikes begin, following a lack of co-operation.

November 8, 2002: Saddam is threatened with "serious consequences" if he does not disarm in a UN Security Council resolution.

March 17, 2003: United States, Britain and Spain declare the time for diplomacy as over and President Bush gives Saddam 48 hours to leave Iraq.

March 20, 2003: American forces launch war with military strike on Dora Farms, a target south of Baghdad where Saddam and his sons are said to be.

April 7, 2003: A section of the Mansour district in Baghdad where Saddam and his sons were said to be meeting, is bombed.

April 9, 2003: Crowds greet US troops in Baghdad, go on looting rampages and topple 40-foot statue of Saddam.

July 22, 2003: Saddam's sons, Qusai and Odai are killed. American forces then raid the northern city of Mosul and later say they missed Saddam "by a matter of hours".

December 13, 2003: Saddam is captured in the town of Adwar, near Tikrit, hiding in a "spider hole".

June 30, 2004: Saddam is transferred to Iraqi legal custody.

July 1, 2004: Saddam and regime figures appear in court to hear criminal charges. Charges of war crimes and genocide are defiantly rejected. Saddam says: "This is all theatre, the real criminal is Bush".

December 17, 2004: Saddam sees an Iraqi lawyer for first time since capture.

June 13, 2005: He is shown in a video being questioned about the 1982 massacre in Dujail, where nearly 150 Shiite Muslims were killed after an assassination bid against the president.

October 19, 2005: A trial begins, with Saddam challenging the court's legitimacy.

October 20, 2005: Masked gunmen kidnap defence attorney Saadoun al-Janabi after he leaves his Baghdad office. His body is found the next day with bullet holes in the head.

November 8, 2005: Defence lawyer Adel al-Zubeidi is killed in a Baghdad ambush and a colleague, Thamir al-Khuzaie, is wounded. Al-Khuzaie flees the country.

November 28, 2005: The trial reconvenes after five-week recess, and Saddam calls Americans "occupiers and invaders". He and two other defendants complain about treatment by their US captors.

December 4, 2005: One of the five judges steps down after learning that a Saddam co-defendant may have been involved in his brother's execution.

December 5, 2005: Defence lawyers walk out when denied right to challenge court's legitimacy; chief judge then reverses ruling and allows former US Attorney, General Ramsey Clark, a member of Saddam's defence team, to speak.

December 7, 2005: Saddam refuses to attend, a day after shouting: "I will not come to an unjust court! Go to hell!"

December 21, 2005: Saddam claims Americans beat and tortured him and other defendants, and prays openly in court despite judge's order for trial to proceed.

January 15, 2006: Chief judge Rizgar Amin, a Kurd, resigns after complaints by Shiite politicians that he had failed to keep control of court proceedings.

January 23, 2006: Court officials name Raouf Abdul-Rahman, another Kurd, to replace Amin.

June 21, 2006: Defence lawyer Khamis al-Obeidi is abducted and slain.

July 7, 2006: Saddam and three others refuse food to protest lack of security for lawyers and conduct of the trial.

July 23, 2006: Saddam is taken to hospital on the 17th day of his hunger strike and fed through a tube.

July 27, 2006: The Dujail trial adjourns.

November 4, 2006: Iraq's prime minister Nouri Maliki says he hopes the former leader would be given "what he deserves".

November 5, 2006: Saddam is convicted of crimes against humanity by the court in Baghdad. He is sentenced to death by hanging. Baghdad's international airport is closed until further notice, part of an open-ended curfew in the capital and two neighbouring provinces designed to head-off a feared outbreak of violence.

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