The Gulf War 1991
The war in the Gulf began on the 2nd August 1990 when Iraq invaded and annexed Kuwait.
The Middle East is a region that has a long history of relations with Western powers, sometimes wanted, sometimes not, sometimes favourable, sometimes not. Relations amongst the Middle Eastern countries have also had a mixed history - leading to disagreements, treaties and conflict (not unlike European History), which have on some occasions drawn in Western countries.
The country of Iraq is in the Middle East and has a mixed history with the West, in particular the UK, which is responsible for its creation at the Cairo Conference in 1921. After control of the country was relinquished by the British in 1932, Iraq had a checkered history and leadership, changing from a sovereign state to a republic. During the height of the Cold War, Iraq had leaned towards socialism and the Soviet Union but retained some contacts with the West. From the outset, Iraq had border disputes with its neighbours Iran and Kuwait.
The Iranian revolution of 1979 removed the Shah of Iran who had been supported by western governments. The revolution created a Shia Islamist-led government and country. It went into a hostile relationship with the West and was isolated by its Arab neighbours who were predominantly led by secular Muslim governments and Royal families with Sunni Muslim religious majorities.
In September 1980, border disputes between Iran and Iraq resumed and Iraq responded by mounting a full-scale ground invasion of Iran. In particular, Iraq attacked the oil-rich Iranian border province of Khuzestan. Despite receiving support, in particular through arms from other Middle Eastern countries and Western countries, the war dragged on for years, ending with a ceasefire in 1988. The war took a toll on both countries in terms of casualties and on their economies.
Throughout the war, the leader of Iraq, Saddam Hussein took a tighter control on the country - removing opponents and creating an authoritarian state.
A key component in Iraq’s economy was its oil production. In 1989 and 1990 the price of oil fell. As the economy suffered still further, Saddam Hussein looked elsewhere to attribute blame. Iraq had borrowed large amounts of money from countries nearby, in particular Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. He appealed to them to drop the cost of their loans and when they refused, he began to raise the decade-old tensions that Iraq had with Kuwait. Kuwait, as well as being a neighbour of Iraq, is also part of the Gulf States, a region named became of its proximity to the Arabian Gulf.
The Invasion of Kuwait
On the morning of 2nd August 1990, Iraqi forces comprising 120,000 men invaded Kuwait and took control of that country in less than a week. The very limited Kuwaiti forces were both unprepared and surprised by the attack. The response from the United States and the United Nations was immediate.
The United States launched “Operation Desert Shield” to prevent any invasion of Kuwait’s neighbour, the oil-rich Saudi Arabia. The United Nations Security Council Resolutions 660 and 662 condemned Iraq’s invasion and annexation and called for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi forces. The Arab league also condemned the invasion and demanded a withdrawal.
Further UN resolutions were delivered, followed by an ultimatum with Security Council Resolution 678, on 29th November 1990. The final resolution provided a deadline for the withdrawal of Iraq’s troops for the 15th of January 1991 after which retaliation by a coalition force would be allowed.
Westerners based in Kuwait were picked up and detained by Iraqi forces including families and children. On 23 August 1990, President Saddam Hussein appeared on state television with these Western hostages - who were used as human shields, in the belief that their presence would prevent the Western forces from launching an attack. In one scene Hussein is sat with a young boy named Stuart Lockwood. Hussein then asked through the interpreter “Is Stuart getting his milk?”. He went on to say “We hope your presence as guests here will not be for too long. Your presence here, and in other places, is meant to prevent the scourge of war.”
Some Kuwaitis fled from their homes to neighbouring countries. Houses were ransacked by the Iraqi forces.
The Iraqi’s put forward a number of conditions for leaving Kuwait that had nothing to do with their own actions. These included the Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territories and the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. The offers were dismissed as not only unlikely but totally irrelevant to events in Kuwait - it was also felt that these were just stalling tactics by Iraq. The Russian Government tried to negotiate a withdrawal but again many felt that Hussein would only really withdraw and stop threatening other Gulf States, in particular Saudi Arabia if he was forced to pull out.