Here are some important facts that while well-established, I often see missing from the debates about Iraq, Saddam, and war. I don't intend this to be pro- or anti-war, and I'll ask that people don't debate the morality of war in this thread. God knows we have enough threads for that. :) Debating these facts is certainly welcome, though.
- Saddam and the Ba'ath party are a secular bunch; not religious zealots. They come from a nationalistic tradition that is very different from the fundamentalist/Islamicist tradition also present in the Middle East, and represented by folks such as Ayatollah Khomeini and bin Laden. Osama regularly refers to Saddam as an "apostate" and "socialist." Iran has long supported his overthrow in an Islamic revolution. (cf SAIRI)
- Iraq consists of three major ethic/cultural groups: ~20% Kurds in the north, ~20% Sunni Moslems in the center, ~60% Shi'a Moslems in the south. Ba'ath is predominantly Sunni; the failed '91 rebellion was mainly in the Shi'ite south. (most Middle Eastern countries are Sunni, except Iran.)
- Much of northern Iraq has been a de facto independent Kurdish state since the first Gulf War. Actually, two, controlled by the KDP and PUK militias. Not in a vague sense: the border is (until recently at least) marked by Iraqi army positions on one side, and PUK/KDP army positions on the other.
- Saddam used chemical weapons not only against the Kurds ("his own people") but also against Iranian troops in the Iran-Iraq war. He did not attempt to use them against the US/coalition or Israel during the first Gulf War.