Dictators are colorful people, to put it mildly. It must be something about being constantly alone, maybe being a little paranoid all the time, or maybe they just get on a non-stop high from absolute power.
Hitler thought eating meat was abhorrent, but had no qualms about methamphetamine. Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier sent someone to collect the air around JFK's grave so he could control the dead president's soul. Muammar Qaddafi had a crush on Condoleezza Rice that rivals the one I have on Nicki Minaj.
It seems like every dictator has some bizarre personality quirks or aspirations that may seem out of character. And Saddam Hussein was no different.
He penned a best-selling romance novel.
The book, "Zabiba and the King," was originally published anonymously in 2000. In the decade between its publishing and the Gulf War, the Iraqi dictator encouraged Iraqi artists to tell stories that surrounded the idyllic life in Iraq and to "bring the feats of the 'Mother of All Battles' home to the people."
We're all hip to what "encouragement" from Saddam means, right?
The author stated his humble desire to remain anonymous, but Iraqi newspapers started to report that Hussein might be the author. The book became an immediate bestseller, then was turned into a musical spectacular.
The CIA believes the book was at least supervised by the dictator.
Hussein thought the U.S. gave him the green light to invade Kuwait.
President Bush 41's Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, told Hussein the U.S. did not want a trade war with Iraq. Saddam committed to peace, so long as the Kuwaitis agreed to meet OPEC production standards. Glaspie replied:
"We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait... The instruction we had during this period was that we should express no opinion on this issue and that the issue is not associated with America."
"I've made a huge mistake"
The Kuwaitis did not meet OPEC's standards so Iraqi tanks rolled across the border. The Iraqi leader was surprised when President Bush condemned the invasion.
He received a UNESCO award for raising Iraq's quality of life.
Hussein served as the Ba'ath Party vice-chairman from 1968 to 1979. In that time, he created a nationwide literacy program, setting up reading circles in Iraq's cities. Missing these classes was punishable by three years imprisonment.
He built roads, schools, and hospitals and carved out a public health system that was tops in the region. The UN's Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization honored his achievement in helping to eradicate illiteracy in his country.
(Iraqi News Agency)
Then, in 1979, he seized power. His actions in the coming years would make his development work look like a planned deception.
A Saddam-like character was featured in a Justice League comic.
In a 1999 comic book, the Justice League of America – Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Arrow, and others – watched as UN weapons inspectors were ejected from the rogue Middle East nation of Kirai. Meanwhile a well-meaning but naive new member of the League name Antaeus kills the dictator (who looks a lot like Saddam) of the country rather than do things the JLA way.
Antaeus shoots from the hip.
The country descends into a multi-faction civil war, ethnic conflict, regional powers exerting military influence, and a battlefield for the ongoing fight between Sunni and Shia Islam.
This was in 1999. If only President Bush read DC Comics.
He wiped out an entire civilization.
Saddam accused Iraq's Marsh Arabs of colluding with the Iranians during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. In order to kill them all easier, he drained the legendary marshes – once thought to be the biblical garden of eden. The 9,000-square kilometer area was slowly dwindling to 760 by the time of the 2003 American invasion.
(Photo by Salim Virji, used by permission)
The people inhabiting those wetlands were either killed or forced to flee Saddam's paranoid wrath. After the dictator's ouster, the Iraqis destroyed the dams preventing water from flowing back into the wetlands and its ancient inhabitants started to return.
In 2016, UNESCO named the wetlands a World Heritage Site.
Hussein pledged $94 million to help America's poor.
Well before September 11, 2001 changed the future of American foreign policy and the day before President George W. Bush took office, Saddam Hussein sought to send $94 million to the United States. The reason: "humanitarian aid for the "homeless and wretched Americans living in poverty."
He received the key to the city of Detroit.
The year he took power in Iraq, Hussein received a congratulatory note from a Reverend Jacob Yasso in Detroit. The dictator sent Yasso and his congregation of Chaldean Christians $250,000. Chaldeans are a sect of Christianity with roots in modern-day Iraq.
Yasso (right) presents the Key to Detroit to Saddam Hussein. (Iraqi State Media)
Yasso was invited to come to Baghdad and meet Saddam. While there, he presented the Iraqi dictator with the key to the city of Detroit, courtesy of then-Mayor Coleman Young. Hussein then gave the church another $200,000.
He hated Froot Loops.
U.S. Army Spc. Sean O'Shea, a Pennsylvania National Guardsman, was charged with being the personal jailer for Saddam while the toppled dictator was a prisoner of the Americans in Baghdad. O'Shea mopped the floors, served him meals, and was essentially a sort of valet for Saddam Hussein.
The old man gave him advice on everything from women to home remedies. One of the few times O'Shea ever "saw him look defeated" was when the jail ran out of Raisin Bran Crunch and had to serve the guy Froot Loops. The dictator hated them.
(Read more about Spc. O'Shea's life with Saddam over at GQ)
He offered to debate George W. Bush on live TV.
In an effort to prevent the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, the dictator offered to debate U.S. President George W. Bush on live TV. In a three-hour interview with CBS News, he offered a satellite link up to debate the U.S. President.
"I am ready to conduct a direct dialogue – a debate – with your president," CBS quoted Saddam as saying. "I will say what I want and he will say what he wants."
The White House said the offer wasn't a serious one but Hussein reiterated his stance.
"This is something proposed in earnest out of my respect for the people of the United States and the people of Iraq and the people of the world. I call for this because war is not a joke."
He commissioned a Qur'an written in his own blood.
Despite the fact that using blood to write a Qur'an is considered haram - forbidden - in every sect, branch, and offshoot of Islam, that never stopped Saddam Hussein. He commissioned one on his 60th birthday. Calligrapher Abbas Shakir Joudi wrote 6,000 verses and 336,000 words of the Qur'an using 50 pints of blood over the course of two years.
"Use a pen, Saddam."
If you're a blood expert who questions if it's possible to give that much blood over two years, you aren't alone. A blood donation expert once estimated it would have taken at least nine years to safely donate that much blood. That sort of thing never stopped Saddam Hussein either.
Young Saddam was raised by a single mother and wanted to be a lawyer.
The young Saddam was raised by his mother after his father, a shepherd, disappeared one day. The main male influence in his life was his uncle, who was a member of the Ba'ath Party. After his brother died of cancer, Hussein's mother was no longer able to take care of Saddam and he lived with his Arab nationalist uncle in Baghdad.
Beware Iraqi Presidents bearing swords.
After a failed assassination attempt on the sitting Iraqi president, Abd al-Karim Qasim, Saddam fled to Syria, then Egypt, where he studied law.
When Qasim was ousted for good in 1963, Saddam the educated lawyer returned to Iraq and the Ba'ath party.