Ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, sentenced to death by hanging on Sunday, brutally crushed any internal challenge to his despotic rule in Iraq for 24 years.
Now he has been handed down the ultimate penalty in a court run by fellow Iraqis, with the Iraqi High Tribunal ruling that he committed crimes against humanity in ordering the massacre of 148 Shiite civilians after an attempt against his life in the early 1980s.
His ruthlessness and cruelty have been well documented by human rights groups. Under Saddam's leadership from 1979 to 2003, the Baath regime ordered army deserters' ears cut off, sentenced foreign currency traffickers to death and was alleged to have beheaded dozens of women for prostitution.
A former CIA psychologist once described Saddam as suffering from "malignant narcissism", exhibiting an extreme lack of empathy and the will to use violence, which he attributed to a troubled upbringing.
Born poor in a mud-hut village near Tikrit on April 28, 1937, Saddam was orphaned at a young age and raised by an uncle who idolised Adolf Hitler.
He overcame his impoverished roots and rose to Iraq's highest office, lived in the grandest of palaces, married three times and fathered six children.
In Arabic, his name means "the stubborn one" or "he who strikes".
His self-importance and cult of personality were legendary. On his 60th birthday he commissioned a copy of the Koran to be inscribed in his own blood.
Saddam also groomed two of his sons, Uday and Qusay, in his own image.
They became feared for their use of torture and rape rooms. They were killed during a firefight with US forces in the northern city of Mosul in July 2003.
Their father first made a name for himself by trying to murder Iraqi leader Abdul Karim Kassem in 1959.
Wounded in the leg, Saddam fled abroad but returned four years later and was jailed in 1964. Within two years he had escaped and resumed clandestine work for the Baath party.
In 1968 he took part in the coup that brought the party to power, marking another step in his affair with brute force.
As party deputy secretary general and vice president of the all-powerful Revolution Command Council (RCC), he was already considered the real power behind President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr.
Bakr lost his grip over the next decade as Saddam strengthened his own, and the president finally retired for health reasons.
Saddam seized the mantle on July 16, 1979, becoming state president, general secretary of the party and president of the RCC.
In the years that followed, the modern Arab state labelled the cradle of civilisation became an impoverished pariah, its fabulous oil wealth squandered.
Saddam guided Iraq through a 1980-1988 bloodbath with Iran and the rout of the 1991 Gulf war over Kuwait, emerging each time to claim Pyrrhic victories over the corpses of his people.
He defied attempts through the United Nations to ensure his disarmament, the organisation's crushing sanctions and four nights of US and British missile strikes in December 1998.
Saddam extended frequent purges of senior figures to family and friends. Those who failed to make it into exile were detained, murdered and buried in the mass graves that have been uncovered across the country.
Since he first appeared in court in July last year, images of Saddam as a gaunt and greying prisoner have been splashed across the world -- with some controversial photographs even showing him in just his underwear.
The now 69-year-old Arab nationalist, who once declared his determination to die at home and taunted enemies with outrageous bravado, was toppled days after the US-led invasion began in March 2003.
His massive statue in central Baghdad was pulled down on April 9, and nine months later Saddam was discovered, long-haired, bearded and bedraggled, in an underground crawlspace near Tikrit.
His ability to evade capture for so long was evidence of the profound influence he exerted over his people even after his ouster, as many ordinary Iraqis shrank from cooperating with the occupier for fear of Saddam's return.
But others saw him as a strong leader who rained inaccurate but psychologically damaging Scud rockets on Israel and at least briefly restored self-respect to the Arab nation.
But Saddam's reign ended in defeat, his ubiquitous gloating portraits torn down and destroyed after the occupation of his capital.
A lust for power matched by a ruthless streak had brought Saddam to the helm he determined never to leave, whatever the cost.
US soldiers who guarded him in prison told a US magazine last year that Saddam was an "oddly endearing crazy man" who still called himself the president and remained convinced the people still loved him.
Less than two years earlier, however, Iraqis called for his death when US civilian administrator Paul Bremer announced Saddam's capture to the world using the dramatic words "Ladies and gentlemen, we got him."
On Sunday Saddam finally learned what he must have known would be his inevitable due: death by hanging — the fate of a convicted criminal in Iraq — rather than his stated preference of the more honourable option of the firing squad, which is reserved for the Iraqi military.