A leading member of the Ba'ath Party he orchestrated the 1963 coup that overhthrew Iraq's military leader Muhammad Najib ar-Ruba'i. A few months later the Ba'athists were in turn deposed by another coup. In 1967 a third coup occurred and the Ba'athists returned to power, installing al-Bakr as Iraqi's fourth president.
Al-Bakr is best known for appointing Saddam Hussein as his Vice President. As the president got older, more and more authority was gradually delegated to Hussein, and by the mid 70's the vice president had established virtual de facto rule over the entire nation.