Saddam Hussein had high levels of
torture and mass
Secret police, torture, murders, deportations, forced
disappearances, targeted assassinations
, chemical weapons
, and the destruction of
(more specifically, the
destruction of the food sources of rival groups) were some of the
methods Saddam Hussein used to maintain control. The total number
related to torture and murder
during this period are unknown, as are the reports of human rights violations
issued regular reports of widespread imprisonment
Documented human rights violations 1979-2003
Human rights organizations have documented government approved
, acts of torture, and
for decades since Saddam Hussein came to
power in 1979 until his fall in 2003.
- In 2002, a resolution sponsored by the European Union was adopted by the Commission
for Human Rights, which stated that there had been no improvement
in the human rights crisis in Iraq. The statement condemned
President Saddam Hussein's government for
its "systematic, widespread and extremely grave violations of human
rights and international
humanitarian law". The resolution demanded that Iraq
immediately put an end to its "summary and arbitrary executions...
the use of rape as a political tool and all enforced and
- Full political participation at the national level was
restricted only to members of the Arab Ba'ath Party, which constituted only 8% of the
population. Therefore, it was impossible for Iraqi citizens to change their government.
- Iraqi citizens were not allowed to assemble legally unless it
was to express support for the government. The Iraqi government
controlled the establishment of political parties, regulated their
internal affairs and monitored their activities.
- Police checkpoints on Iraq's roads and highways prevented ordinary citizens from traveling
abroad without government permission and expensive exit visa. Before traveling, an Iraqi citizen had
to post collateral. Iraqi women could not travel outside of the
country without the escort of a male relative.
- The activities of citizens living inside Iraq who received
money from relatives abroad were closely monitored.
- Al-Anfal Campaign: In 1988,
the Hussein regime began a campaign of extermination against the
Kurdish people living in Northern
Iraq. This is known as the Anfal
campaign. The campaign was mostly directed at Shiite kurds
(Faili Kurds) who sided with Iranians during the Iraq-Iran War. The
attacks resulted in the death of at least 50,000 (some reports
estimate as many as 100,000 people), many of them women and
children. A team of Human Rights
Watch investigators determined, after analyzing eighteen tons
of captured Iraqi documents, testing soil samples and carrying out
interviews with more than 350 witnesses,
that the attacks on the Kurdish people were characterized by gross
violations of human rights, including mass executions and
disappearances of many tens of thousands of noncombatants,
widespread use of chemical weapons including Sarin, mustard gas and
nerve agents that killed thousands, the
arbitrary imprisoning of tens of thousands of women, children, and
elderly people for months in conditions of extreme deprivation, forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of
villagers after the demolition of their
homes, and the wholesale destruction of nearly two thousand
villages along with their schools, mosques,
farms, and power stations.
April 1991, after Saddam lost control of Kuwait in the
Persian Gulf War, he cracked down
ruthlessly against several
uprisings in the Kurdish north and the Shia
south. His forces committed wholesale massacres and other gross human rights
violations against both groups similar to the violations mentioned
before. Estimates of deaths during that time range from 20,000 to
100,000 for Kurds, and 60,000 to 130,000 for Shi'ites.
- Also in April 2003, CNN revealed that it had
withheld information about Iraq torturing journalists and Iraqi citizens in the 1990s.
According to CNN's chief news executive, the channel had been
concerned for the safety not only of its own staff, but also of
Iraqi sources and informants, who could expect punishment for
speaking freely to reporters. Also
according to the executive, "other news organizations were in the
- After the 2003 Invasion of
Iraq, several mass graves were found
in Iraq containing several thousand bodies total, and more are
being uncovered to this day . While most of the dead in the graves
were believed to have died in the 1991 uprising against Saddam
Hussein, some of them appeared to have died due to executions or
died at times other than the 1991 rebellion.
- Also after the invasion, numerous torture centers were found in
security offices and police stations
throughout Iraq. The equipment found at these centers typically
included hooks for hanging people by the hands for beating, devices for electric shock, and other equipment often
found in nations with harsh security services and other
Collusion of foreign powers in Saddam-era human rights
rule Saddam Hussein was aided by foreign powers; the great bulk of
Iraq's conventional weapons (such as tanks and
artillery) were supplied by the Soviet Bloc, China, France, and
Egypt, all of whom helped
arm the Ba'athist government throughout the 1980s.
relations with Iraq seem to have been motivated mostly by the
potentially larger threat of an Iranian styled
Islamic Revolution, which might
have threatened foreign investment and disturbed the strategic
balance in the region.
It was hoped that an appropriate
amount of foreign aid would allow for an Iraqi victory over Iran in
the Iran–Iraq War
, but be
insufficient to allow for Iraqi expansion into Iran and other
countries in the region.Western relations with Iraq after the
Iran–Iraq War demonstrated a continued interest to support Iraq in
an effort to balance the power of Iran and other actors. As late as
, a week
before the invasion of Kuwait, the U.S. ambassador
to Baghdad, April Glaspie
, assured Saddam Hussein that the
U.S. "wanted better and deeper relations."
'Saddam's Dirty Dozen'
to officials of the United
States State Department, many human rights abuses in Saddam Hussein's Iraq
were largely carried out in person or by the orders of Saddam
Hussein and eleven other people.
The term "Saddam's Dirty
Dozen" was coined in October 2002 (from a novel by E.M. Nathanson
later adapted as a film directed by Robert Aldrich
) and used by US officials to
describe this group. Most members of the group held high positions
in the Iraqi government and membership went all the way from
Saddam's personal guard to Saddam's sons. The list was used by the
Bush Administration to help argue that the 2003 Iraq war
was against Saddam
Hussein and the Baath Party leadership, rather than against the
Iraqi people. The members are:
- Saddam Hussein (1937-2006), Iraqi
President, responsible for many torturings, killings and of
ordering the 1988 cleansing of Kurds in
- Qusay Hussein (1966 - 2003), son
of the president, head of the elite Republican Guard, believed to have
been chosen by Saddam as his successor.
- Uday Hussein (1964 - 2003), son of
the president, had a private torture chamber and of the rapes and
killings of many women. He was partially paralyzed after a 1996 attempt on his life, and
was leader of the paramilitary group
Fedayeen Saddam and of the Iraqi
- Taha Yassin Ramadan,
Vice-President. He oversaw the mass killings of a Shi'a revolt in 1991, and he was born in
- Tariq Aziz, Foreign Minister of Iraq,
backed up the executions by hanging of
political opponents after the revolution of 1968.
- Barzan Ibrahim
al-Tikriti, Hussein's half brother, leader of the Iraqi secret
Iraq's representative to the United
Nations in Geneva.
- Sabawi Ibrahim
al-Tikriti, Hussein's half brother, he was the leader of the
Mukhabarat during the 1991 Gulf
War. Director of Iraq's general security from 1991 to 1996. He
was involved in the 1991 suppression of Kurds.
- Watban Ibrahim
al-Tikriti, Hussein's half brother, former senior Interior
Minister who was also Saddam's presidential adviser. Shot in the
leg by Uday Hussein in 1995. He has ordered tortures, rapes,
murders and deportations.
- Ali Hassan al-Majid,
Chemical Ali, mastermind behind Saddam's lethal gassing of rebel Kurds in
1988. A first cousin of Saddam Hussein;
- Izzat Ibrahim ad-Douri,
military commander, vice-president of the Revolutionary Command
Council and deputy commander in chief of the armed forces
during various military campaigns.
- Aziz Saleh
Nuhmah, appointed governor of Kuwait from
November 1990 to February 1991, ordered looting of stores and rapes
of Kuwaiti women during his tenure. Also ordered the
destruction of Shi'a holy sites during the 1970s and 1980s as
governor of two Iraqi provinces.
- Mohammed Amza Zubeidi,
alias Saddam's shi'a thug, Prime Minister of Iraq from
1991 to 1993 - to have ordered many executions.
Number of Victims
According to The New York Times, "he [Saddam] murdered as many as a
million of his people, many with poison gas. He tortured, maimed
and imprisoned countless more. His unprovoked invasion of Iran is
estimated to have left another million people dead. His seizure of
Kuwait threw the Middle East into crisis. More insidious, arguably,
was the psychological damage he inflicted on his own land. Hussein
created a nation of informants — friends on friends, circles within
circles — making an entire population complicit in his rule".
Estimates for the number of dead in the Iran-Iraq war vary from
500,000 to 1.5 million. Others have estimated 800,000 deaths caused
by Saddam not counting the Iran-Iraq war.
estimated that "a minimum of 100,000 and a more likely
estimate of 227,000 excess deaths among young children from August
1991 through March 1998" from all causes including sanctions. Other
estimates have ranged as low as 170,000 children. UNICEF Executive
Director Carol Bellamy said that
if the substantial reduction in child mortality
throughout Iraq during the 1980s had continued through the 1990s,
there would have been half a million fewer deaths of children
under-five in the country as a whole during the eight year period
1991 to 1998.
As a partial explanation, she pointed to a March
statement of the Security Council Panel on Humanitarian Issues
which states: "Even if not all suffering in Iraq can be imputed to
external factors, especially sanctions, the Iraqi people would not
be undergoing such deprivations in the absence of the prolonged
measures imposed by the Security Council and the effects of
The US State Department has stated that Iraq was offered the Oil-for-Food Programme designed to alleviate the humanitarian condition of Iraq in 1991 but that Iraq refused to accept it for years. It stated:
In Northern Iraq, where the UN administers humanitarian
assistance, child mortality rates have fallen below pre-Gulf War
Rates rose in the period before oil-for-food, but with
the introduction of the program the trend reversed, and now those
Iraqi children are better off than before the war.
Child mortality figures have more than doubled in the
south and center of the country, where the Iraqi government—rather
than the UN—controls the program.
If a turn-around on child mortality can be made in the
north, which is under the same sanctions as the rest of the
country, there is no reason it cannot be done in the south and
The fact of the matter is, however, that the government
of Iraq does not share the international community's concern about
the welfare of its people.
Baghdad's refusal to cooperate with the oil-for-food
program and its deliberate misuse of resources are cynical efforts
to sacrifice the Iraqi people's welfare in order to bring an end to
UN sanctions without complying with its obligations."
This view is disputed buy author Anthony Arnove, who writes:
Sanctions are simply not the same in the north and
Differences in Iraqi mortality rates result from
several factors: the Kurdish north has been receiving humanitarian
assistance longer than other regions of Iraq; agriculture in the
north is better; evading sanctions is easier in the north because
its borders are far more porous; the north receives 22 percent more
per capita from the oil-for-food program than the south-central
region; and the north receives UN-controlled assistance in
currency, while the rest of the country receives only
The south also suffered much more direct
UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Denis Halliday, also said the
situation was more complicated, and made worse because the United
States and British Governments routinely blocked humanitarian
supplies to Iraq, including medicine. "[T]he US and UK governments'
blocking of $4bn of humanitarian supplies is by far the greatest
constraint on the implementation of the oil-for-food programme."
Halliday accused the U.S. of obstructing the Sanctions Committee
from inception, which he himself setup in 1996, and resigned from
his position in protest. His successor, Hans von Sponeck, also
questioned why the U.S. would choose to make matters difficult,
knowing innocent Iraqis were trapped between a dictator and a
"bankrup" policy. "For how long should the civilian population,
which is totally innocent on all this, be exposed to such
punishment for something they have never done?" Von Sponeck also
resigned, and authored a book, A Different Kind of War: The UN
Sanctions Regime in Iraq
, in which he accused U.S.
policymakers with political interference. Chlorine
was desperately needed to disinfect water
supplies, but was banned from manufacture in the country and its
import severely restricted due to the potential that it may be used
as part of a chemical weapon.
The UN Resolutions had the express goals of eliminating WMDs
and extended range ballistic missiles, prohibiting
any support for terrorism
, and forcing
Iraq to pay war reparations and all foreign debt. Some analysts,
architects of American war policy such as Douglas J. Feith
and foreign observers have argued
that the sanctions diminished Iraq militarily, in terms of WMDs
, and in its capacity for attacks against its
neighbors as its supply lines were cut. In a 2004 Foreign
journal article, the scholars George A. Lopez
credit sanctions with: "Compelling Iraq to accept
inspections and monitoring; winning concessions from Baghdad on
political issue such as the border dispute with Kuwait; preventing
the rebuilding of Iraqi defenses after the Persian Gulf War; and
blocking the import of vital materials and technologies for
producing weapons of mass
." Cortright and Lopez argue that "the much-maligned
UN-enforced sanctions regime actually ... helped destroy Saddam
Hussein's war machine and his capacity to produce weapons."
told his FBI interrogator
that Iraq's armaments "had been eliminated by the UN
Accepting a large estimate of casualties due to sanctions, Walter Russell Mead
argued on behalf of
such a war as a better alternative than continuing the sanctions
regime, since "Each year of containment is a new Gulf War."
U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney
, who called the sanctions "the most
intrusive system of arms control in history", cited the breakdown
of the sanctions as one cause or rationale for the Iraq war
- (requires login)
- Iraq surveys show 'humanitarian emergency'
UNICEF Newsline August 12,
- Arnove, Anthony. Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of
Sanctions and War, South End Press, April 2000.
- The most recent report of the UN secretary-general, in October
2001, says that the US and UK governments' blocking of $4bn of
humanitarian supplies is by far the greatest constraint on the
implementation of the oil-for-food programme. The report says that,
in contrast, the Iraqi government's distribution of humanitarian
supplies is fully satisfactory (as it was when we headed this
programme). The death of some 5-6,000 children a month is mostly
due to contaminated water, lack of medicines and malnutrition. The
US and UK governments' delayed clearance of equipment and materials
is responsible for this tragedy, not Baghdad." Hans von Sponeck and
Denis Halliday, The hostage nation, The Guardian.
November 29, 2001.
- UN sanctions rebel resigns, BBC News. 14 February,
- Amnesty International report on torture in Iraq
- INDICT -
campaign to prosecute human rights abusers from the Hussein
- Iraq's dirty dozen
- Women recall terror, yet yearn to return,
Washington Times March 7, 2003
- Human Rights Archive 1999-2001 The Iraq
- UN condemns Iraq on human rights, BBC April 2002
- PM admits graves claims "untrue" As of July 18,
55 of 270 suspected mass grave sites have been exhumed, revealing approximately 5,000 bodies (as
opposed to previously claimed figures of 400,000).
- Iraq 1984-1992, Human Rights Watch
- Reports on Human Rights Practices, U.S. Bureau of
Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
-  Human Rights Watch: Background on the Crisis
in Iraq (a contents page for the organization's various reports on
Iraq, mostly after Saddam's regime fell)