War fought between Iraq and allies of Kuwait, from January 16 to February 28, 1991, lasting 44 days altogether. The war had 3 main phases: 1) Iraq's occupation of Kuwait, 2) The diplomatic game and sanctions against Iraq, 3) The allied war against Iraq.
Third armored division (US) in field during the Gulf War.
US planes over Iraq in April 1991.
Destruction in Kuwait.
US troops with burning Kuwaiti oil wells in the back.
More than any previous war, this war was fought on two very different fronts: in addition to the war field itself, it was fought in the media.
The media war was initially staged by Iraq and Kuwait. While Kuwait hired the best media advisors to present its case, in order to secure the support of an international audience, both in terms of ordinary people and the politicians, Iraq relied on its own outmoded media personnel. Iraq's presentations of Saddam Hussein patting intimidated Iraqi infants will forever remain among the more comic moments in the history of international politics.
Kuwait's way of dealing with the truth has been much criticized since the war some of the most disturbing reportage has been proven to have been fabricated. Yet, Kuwait did win this media war, which was an initial part of the process leading to the real war.
The real war, fought in the two first months of 1991, also used the media. Especially through the US-based satellite newscaster CNN, a world-wide audience was allowed live coverage of the war.
On the battlefields themselves, this war was one of the most uneven battles ever fought. While the allied forces could count their losses in a few hundreds, Iraq lost around 60,000 troops. The Iraqi military was one of the strongest in the Middle East, and would have done well in a war against most European countries. But against the USA and their allies, high-technology proved to have reached a level in which conventional military forces, like Iraq's, were totally overpowered.
The war lasted fairly long (considering the unevenness in power), as many as 42 days (the Middle East has seen a handful of much shorter wars), but there is a link between the seeming patience of the allied forces and their small losses: During the first 5 weeks, they bombed every possible military and infrastructural target in Iraq, paving the way for a swift ground campaign near the end of February.
Towards the end of the war, the question regarding Saddam Hussein was one of the most contentious: Should he be overthrown or not. It is believed that in the final analysis only military priorities and problems with international rights that saved him.
But the usually extremely efficient foreign intelligence service of Israel, the Mossad, did try to kill him, but were never able to get within reach.
It is also believed that the USA was uncertain what would serve its and its allied interests best: a weak Saddam in charge of a weak Iraq, or a new regime with greater hazards than a former. An uncertain and unstable new regime could quickly divide the country into Shi'i, Sunni and Kurdish regions, leaving the Islamist and anti-US state of Iran relatively far stronger than ever in the region.
Background for the war
For Iraq there were a number of reasons for attacking Kuwait. First and foremost, Iraq had never really accepted the state of Kuwait, which it considered to be a natural part of the lands of the rivers, Euphrates and Tigris. Only officially, Iraq had accepted Kuwait.
There were tensions over the rights of underground oil resources along the border, with respect to which Iraq claimed that Kuwait was depleting resources that territorially were on Iraqi side of the border.
Iraq claimed during the time before August 2, 1990 that Kuwait was responsible for reducing the oil prices, which lead to economic difficulties for Iraq, which itself had no other substantial export product and which already was producing close to its capacity. Kuwait did not accept any of Iraq's claims for compensation for Iraq's economic losses. Iraq also claimed some of Kuwait's territory, and wanted to lease some of the main Kuwaiti island, in order to create better transport possibilities from Iraq.
It also makes good sense to believe that the attack on Kuwait was Saddam's way of trying to win some lands after the bitter Iran-Iraq War which resulted in nothing but human and economic losses for Iraq.
It is clear that Iraq expected to claim Kuwait as its territory, and that they initially never expected an allied force to fight back.
The reason why the U.S. and allied forces attacked Iraq for occupying Kuwait must also be explained, since for example Israel's occupation of Palestine has never resulted in any U.S. or allied military response.
The most important single argument for war against Iraq was that neighbouring oil producing countries feared that Saddam's Iraq could advance on them in the next round, if Iraq wasn't stopped in Kuwait.
The other main argument was far more emotional. Saddam and Iraq were presented as the evil dictatorship that had come to destroy a peaceful and militarily weak neighbour. This propaganda was much aided by the media campaigns, as explained above, and the war came to be defined as a war between good and evil.
Cost of the war
The allies of Kuwait included personnel from 32 countries, but the preponderant numbers were from the USA, Britain, France, Egypt and Syria. Saudi Arabia was contributing with more funds than personnel, as it feared that Iraq could threaten its territory. On the allied side, 700,000 soldiers participated, of which 540,000 were U.S. troops.
There has never been an official report on numbers of Iraqi troops, but it is estimated that around 500,000 were stationed in the region.
U.S. estimates on Iraqi losses were set at around 100,000 dead, while Iraqi figures put them at around 60,000. On the allied side, there were 376 dead.
The economic costs were set at US$82 billion. Divided among countries, this involved US$13 billion for Japan, US$22 for Kuwait, US$29 for Saudi Arabia and US$18 billion for the USA. Iraqi officials claimed that rebuilding the infrastructure of the country would cost about US$200 billion.
Consequences of the war
The war also resulted in heavy environmental catastrophes in the Persian Gulf, and the beginning of an internal independence fight in Iraq, as well as years of dwindling economic and humanitarian conditions inside Iraq.
The war almost toppled Saddam Hussein. During the war, Mossad agents tried to kill him, but without success. Following the ceasefire of February 28, 1991, popular uprisings against him were suppressed only with great difficulty.
The war came to leave Iraq divided into 3 or 4 zones. The area under Saddam's direct control was central Iraq between 36 and 38 degrees latitude. North of this, an autonomous Kurdish region emerged. This was divided into two rivalling areas, of which Masud Barzani's, along with Saddam's help, became the strongest. In the south, Baghdad exercised official control, but this was badly supervised, and lawless conditions would dominate in many areas.
For about 6- 8 years, Iraq was consistently presented as an evil power in the Western media, but beginning with the last years of the 1990's, this started to change. More focus was given to the fact that the international embargo on Iraq had brought substantial suffering to ordinary Iraqis and that Saddam's position had not become weaker, but rather stronger.
For Kuwait, the war came to represent less damage to the economy and environment than was at first expected. The 640 burning oil wells were extinguished more quickly than was anticipated. And the rebirth of the economy was aided by the reparations paid by Iraq in the amount of US$22 billion. The most important long-lasting change resulted from the expulsion of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian workers — many of them having aided the Iraqis.
After 2002, a new media campaign against Saddam came to be initiated, primarily, by the president of USA and the prime minister of Britain. Suspicions as to whether Iraq had illegal weapons was a main argument, but no real argument in terms of aggression against foreign countries or involvement in terrorist activities was ever presented. This campaign was concluded with the 2003 US/British-Iraq War leading to the fall of Saddam Hussein and his regime.
1. Before the invasion (mid-July-August 1, 1990)
1990 Mid-July: Iraq complains to the Arab League that the high oil production of Kuwait and United Arab Emirates had resulted in a heavy drop in oil prices (US$11-13/barrel instead of the reference price of US$18).
Late July: About 100,000 Iraqi troops move towards the Kuwaiti border.
July 31: Iraqi and Kuwaiti officials meet in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Iraq presented Kuwait with a short list of hard demands: Kuwait should write off US$12- 14 billion of loans; give up some lands along the border zone; lease the islands of Bubiyan and Warba to Iraq, in order to facilitate transshipment of Iraqi oil.
August 1: Negotiations breaks down.
2. Iraqi invasion and occupation, UN and US diplomacy
1990 August 2, 2 o'clock: Iraq invades Kuwait. Shaykh Jaber 2 and the royal family flee to Saudi Arabia the same day.
The same day, the UN Security Council passes Resolution 660 with 14 votes to none, condemning the invasion and demanding immediate withdrawal.
August 3: The Arab League condemns the Iraqi aggression with 14 votes to none, but with 5 abstentions and 1 walk-out.
August 6: The UN Security Council passes Resolution 61 with 13 votes to none, starting the economic sanctions and an embargo on Iraq.
US fighter aircrafts and troops leave for Saudi Arabia.
August 8: Iraq officially annexes Kuwait, as the country's 19th province.
August 12: Saddam Hussein offers a peace arrangement in which Iraq promises to withdraw from Kuwait if Israel withdraws from the occupied lands of Lebanon, Syria and Palestine all in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions.
October 2: Amnesty International publishes reports on widespread arrests, torture and summary executions by Iraqi forces against the Kuwaiti population.
November 8: USA starts increasing its presence in the Persian Gulf from the usual 200,000 to 400,000 troops.
November 19: Iraq sends 100,000 more troops to Kuwait.
November 29: UN Security Council sets a time limit for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait to January 15, 1991.
1991 January 9: Talks between foreign minister of Iraq, Tariq Aziz, and the foreign minister of USA lead to no results.
1991 January 15: The time limit for unconditional Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, set by the UN, runs out. Iraq is still fully stationed in Kuwait.
3a. Allied attack: Air campaign
January 16, 0.30 o'clock: Operation Desert Storm begins: Allied air attack on Iraqi positions in Kuwait, involving laser-guided bombing and firing of cruise missiles from US warships.
January 18: Iraq fires 12 Scud ground-to-ground missiles at Tel Aviv and Haifa in Israel.
January 22: 3 more Scud missiles are fired at Tel Aviv.
February 7: The allied forces begin a campaign for destroying the transportation infrastructure of Iraq.
Februar 15: Iraq says that it will agree with the resolutions of the UN Security Council if Israel withdraws from the occupied territories, and Iraq will have a say on who should govern Kuwait (Kuwait had then, and still has a mock democracy, ruled primarily by the emir). This is rejected by the Arab countries involved.
February 23: Iraq declares that it will withdraw from Kuwait without conditions, but according to a Russian peace plan. The USA had put forth more conditions than included in this plan.
Iraqi troops start setting Kuwaiti oil wells on fire, and would over the next days ignite 640 wells.
3b. Allied attack: Ground campaign
February 24: The Allied ground champaign begins, with troops moving along 2 axes.
February 25: Baghdad declares that it will withdraw according to UN Security Council resolution 660.
February 26: Iraqi troops leave Kuwait City, whereas US prevents all troops from returning to Iraq.
February 27: All Iraqi troops are out of Kuwait.
February 28, 7.40 o'clock: After Iraq ceases fighting, the allied forces end their fighting, and a ceasefire takes place.
4. After the war
March 3: Provisional truce is accepted by Iraqi representatives.
April 6: Permanent cease fire Iraq agrees to pay for damages in Kuwait, to destroy its chemical and biological weapons, as well as weapons of mass destruction. In the coming years, UN observers face great difficulty in monitoring Iraqi compliance with this agreement.
1996 August 5: The USA issues a report concluding that soldiers, principally from the U.S., fighting in the Gulf War, may have been exposed to chemical weapons. US troops had, after returning to USA, been complaining about inexplicable symptoms and ailments. Czech and French military had reported chemical finds during the first 2 weeks of the war, reports that the U.S. defense teams had questioned.
May 20: Iraq is allowed limited sales of oil, equalling 4 billion US$ per year, most of which will go to cover war indemnities. The revenues that are allocated to Iraq will be used for food and medicine. This program would come to be