The Gulf War that took place between 1990 and 1991 qualifies to be one of the biggest wars in which American army was involved since Vietnam and became the turning point of the international politics taking place in the Middle East (Carlisle & Bowman 58). This war was the confirmation that the United States in conjunction with other major economic powers were not ready to let the oil found in the Persian Gulf to be controlled by one regional leader whether directly or not.
The Gulf war, especially the participation of Iraq, raises the theoretical questions why leaders decide to go to war and why they stick to their war fighting strategies. It raises the question of why Saddam Hussein, who was leading a country that was already rich in oil, would decide to invade Kuwait even though Iraq was just recovering from a long war it had with Iran.
According to Hamdi, (1999), Saddam Hussein’s enigmatic personality had a role to play in the decisions he made. However, it is insufficient to place the initiation of crisis and its effect on a single person because there are other factors that came in to play. As early as the 1970’s, from the time that Saddam dominated the Iraqi government, up to the late 1980’s, there were many chances that Iraq had to invade Kuwait (Carlisle & Bowman, 78). There were particular circumstances that drove Saddam Hussein to make his invasion in August 1990 (O’Shea 15). This paper looks at the Gulf War scenario from both perspectives.
History of Iraq and the Kuwait Invasion
Knowing about the history of Iraq, how Saddam Hussein came to power and how he ruled is essential in shedding light on the reasons for the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. Many of the Eastern Arab countries were formed on territories that belonged to the defunct Ottoman Empire which collapsed after World War I and this case applies to Iraq, too (Schaffer, 2004). In 1932, Iraq officially gained its independence although Britain was still dominant in the politics of the country for some time afterwards. There was a military coup in 1958 that led to the killing of several pro-British politics and overthrow of the Hashemite monarchy as Faysal’s grandson was ruling at the time. This is when British influence ended in Iraq. There were many military governments that ruled the country from 1958 to 1968 when another military coup was carried out and Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr, who was an army general, took power (Miller 151). He did not last long and by around mid-1970’s Saddam Hussein, who was then a civilian Ba’th party official and in charge of internal security affairs, was seen as the real power of that regime. Al Bakr finally resigned as president in 1979 because his health had been failing for quite some time and then Saddam succeeded him (Miller 12).
Saddam came to be president at a delicate period when the Middle East politics was facing an upheaval. This was the right time for Saddam Hussein, who was then an ambitious leader of a country rich in oil, to take a step towards regional leadership. He did this by invading Iran in September 1980. In 1980, there were attempted assassinations on Ba’thist officials, for which the Iraqi government blamed the Iranians (Allen, Berry & Polmar 29). This was the end of restraints and full war was declared between the two states that lasted for eight years and ended in August 1988.
Both sides lost a lot in terms of damages, revenue and lives in addition to hundreds of thousands of casualties. The late military successes achieved by Iraq gave Saddam Hussein’s regime victory but it was a hollow one because Iraq never gained any new territory. The war which had lasted for many years had led to economic disruptions which left Iraq in great debt. The country needed financial help to demobilize part of the army and also find work for the people returning home from the war. A total of $ 80 billion of which $40 was from the Gulf states and was not to be refunded (this later became an issue of controversy with some leaders saying it was meant to be paid back) and $40 was from various governments and private creditors (Allen, Berry & Polmar 47).
Reasons why Iraq invaded Kuwait
There were a lot of factors that came into play from the time the Iran-Iraq war ended leading to the Iraq invasion of Kuwait. Kuwait was among the Arab countries which had loaned Iraq money for fuelling the war and it wanted its money back. Saddam then said that the money was not a loan and that term was just used for formality and to hide the truth from Iran that the countries giving out the money were supporting Iraq (Friedman 211). Iraq used the money given to obtain high tech weapons which made the country to be feared because its army was among the largest and strongest in the world. This military force made the possibility of defeating Kuwait, which had a smaller army, seeming easy and so Saddam Hussein considered it (Mason 65).
Kuwait had become one of the richest countries worldwide due to the oil it produced and it occupied about 1/10 of the total world’s known petroleum reserves (Friedman 170). With regard to the amount of national income per person, Kuwait is still among the world’s wealthiest nations. Education (both primary and secondary), health services and social services have been free in the country Kuwait and there was no income tax. Iraq would to have 20% of the known oil reserves worldwide if it invaded Kuwait (Friedman 177). Therefore this state appeared to be very attractive to Saddam Hussein and he contemplated benefitting from all these.
Iraq claims to historically have rights over Kuwait. The two islands known as Warbah and Bubiya formed part of Mesopotamia that was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. During the World War 1, the Ottoman Empire suffered defeat and the land was divided by the British which led to the division of ancient boundaries which the Arab communities had recognized for ages. During this division, a larger part of Mesopotamia became Iraq while some parts of it became Kuwait. However, Iraq did not like the fact that the two islands were under Kuwaiti reign because they were important for creating shipping port (King 48).
According to the Iraqi government, Kuwait had stolen its oil for about 2.5 billion USD with the help of drills which it connected to Iraqi oil pipelines (King 130). This was allegedly carried out from the Rumaila oil fields. In addition to that, Iraq accused Kuwait of dropping the oil price making it drop from $20 to $13 for a barrel within a period of the first six months in 1990 (Khadduri, Majid & Ghareeb 300) Whenever the price of a barrel of oil drops by one dollar, Iraq losses one billion dollars. Saddam promised to make Kuwait stop the aggressive action because it was cutting Iraqi means of living and he did this by invading Kuwait.
It is not exactly clear the time when Saddam Hussein made the decision to invade Kuwait. However, sources claim that the preparation to this action began in mid-June 1990 when the plan was formulated. There were two plans presented. The first one involved occupying the border and the two islands mentioned earlier while the other plan was about complete occupation of the entire Kuwait. Saddam chose the latter plan on July 29, 1990 (Khadduri, Majid & Ghareeb 315).
Events of the Invasion of Kuwait by Iraq
On August 2, 1990, the Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait at about 2.a.m of the local time (Stevens 74). The defense forces of Kuwait could not match that of Iraq and so they were rapidly overwhelmed. The ones who survived escaped to Saudi Arabia. Among them were the emir of Kuwait together with his family and various government leaders. It only took the Iraq forces six hours to reach the capital which they captured and established a provincial government. Iraq annexed Kuwait which made them control 20% of the oil reserves worldwide and this included a significant coastline on the Persian Gulf (Friedman 62). The United Nations Security demanded Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait at once on the same day that the invasion took place.
A worldwide ban was placed on trade with Iraq on August 6, by the Security Council when Iraq did not comply. The US forces rushed to the Persian Gulf on August, 9 to try and stop the invasion. By this time, Saddam had an army of about 300,000 soldiers all being in Kuwait (Clyde 180). When it reached November 29, Iraq was given time up to January 15, 1991 by the U.N. Security Council to get out of Kuwait or force would be used on the aggressor (Clyde 194). During this period, Saddam considered Kuwait to be a province of Iraq, so he still refused to withdraw and about 700,000 allied soldiers were gathered in the Middle East waiting for the deadline given in order to enforce it (Long & Jerry 70). These were primarily Americans. On January 16, 1991, fighter aircrafts were launched from Saudi Arabia into the Persian Gulf which was led by the US under the “Operation Desert Storm” (Clyde 196). The six weeks that followed were characterized by a rigorous air war aimed at Iraq’s military and civil infrastructure. There was little resistance on the side of the Iraqi air defenses or air force. At this stage, the Iraqi ground forces could not match the US troops and the only way Saddam could retaliate was by launching SCUD missile attacks aimed at Saudi Arabia and Israel (Long & Jerry 55). He did this hoping to provoke Israel to join the war and therefore dissolve Arab support. However, Israel was requested to keep out of the war by the United States and it submitted (Dudley, William & Stacey 43)
February 24th saw the beginning of a great coalition with which Iraqi armed forces were overwhelmed due to the fact that Iraqi army was outdated and poorly supplied in comparison to its adversaries (Khadduri, Majid & Ghareeb 330). When the day ended, the Iraqi army was defeated, with 10,000 of its soldiers being capture and the US had established its airbase deep inside Iraq (Long & Jerry, 2004). Kuwait was liberated in less than four days after that and most of Iraq’s armed forces by then either surrendered, were destroyed or went back to Iraq. President of the United States of that time, George Bush, confirmed an end of the war and the Security Council on April, 3 passed Resolution 687 which formally specified the conditions for the end of the conflict (Clyde 100). This resolution stated that Bush’s declaration of cease-fire was to be made official; various sanctions were to be lifted although there would still be a ban on Iraqi oil sales. This was to go on until Iraq accepted to be supervised by the UN while destroying its weapons of mass destruction. The country agreed to this on April 6th and the Security Council ordered the process to take place on April 11th (Khadduri, Majid & Ghareeb 340). The decade that followed saw Saddam Hussein often violating the peace terms of the agreement, which led to more UN sanctions and allied air strikes.
Many soldiers were killed and wounded in the Persian Gulf War. The number of American soldiers killed was 148 while the wounded were 457 and the various allied nations had a total of about 100 deaths during Operation Desert Storm (Freedman & Robert 85). Although official figures of the Iraqi casualties are not available, there is a belief that the number of soldiers who died was more than 25,000 and the wounded were more than 75,000 (Freedman & Robert 61). This turned it to be among the most one sided conflicts throughout history. The Persian Gulf War led to problems such as inadequate food, medical supplies and water which caused the death of about 100,000 Iraqi civilians (Freedman & Robert 90). The UN sanctions put in place led to the death of at least a million Iraqi civilians in the following years.
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In conclusion, the Persian Gulf War was an indication that modern form of colonization and occupation could not be tolerated. Although the USA and other western powers were trying to prevent occupation of Kuwait, the war put a strain on the relationship between both sides. This facilitated the ouster of Saddam Hussein later on in the twenty-first century. Khadduri, Majid, & Ghareeb (2001) give the best insight to the war, its causes as well as the strained diplomatic relations that followed. The source steers very clear to making the conclusions about the events while focuses on giving a balanced view from all perspectives. This allows the reader to evaluate the situation independently and formulate his/her opinion. Additionally, the source discusses the history and premises of Iraqi and the US side and discusses the strained diplomatic relationship that followed.