In the summer of 1990, on August 2nd, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq attacked and ravaged the oil-rich nation of Kuwait. Dispelling the unsuspecting Kuwaiti forces with ease, Iraqi troops stormed in and took the capital of Kuwait City, and the newly annexed territory was imaginatively re-titled the ‘19th province of Iraq’. The Emir of Kuwait and the rest of the royal family escaped, while the acting Commander-in-Chief of the scattered Kuwaiti army was, symbolically, enough, crushed beneath an Iraqi tank. World media was quick to condemn the act of invasion, and to point out alleged human rights violations. As far as five billion-odd people (minus the Iraqis themselves, of course) could see, Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait fell right at the far end of the politico-moral spectrum. A view the United States of America endorsed strongly, and this resulted in the Gulf war. Otherwise known as Desert Storm, it involved aggressive action by a 34 nation coalition force (primarily consisting of U.S. troops), supported by the UN. Their objective: Sending the Iraqi forces right back where they came from. The good guys won. Iraq lost (and how). Take a bow, Uncle Sam.
Naturally, ladies and gentlemen, the award for Savior-of-the-World-as-we-know-it goes to the United States of America. Or does it?
From September of 1980 till August 1988, Iraq waged a long and bloody war against Iran because of a long history of border disputes and fears of Shia insurgency among Iraq’s long-suppressed Shia majority, influenced by the Iranian Revolution. In said war, Iraq invested practically every dinar it had, which led to it borrowing heavily from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. When the war ended, Iraq had a debt worth $14 billion to Kuwait. Arguing that the war against Iran had prevented the rise of Iranian influence in the region and had been waged with the common good in mind, Iraq tried to have its debt pardoned. Kuwait flat-out refused, and the ensuing diplomatic talks between the two nations proved inconclusive and led to escalating tensions in the region. Both Iraq and Kuwait are members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which governs the oil production quotas of its member countries. Iraq attempted to pay off its debts by raising the price of its oil on the world market, but was unable to do so as the Kuwaitis increased their already-not-inconsiderable oil production, exceeding their quota. There’s nothing like a good eco-political scene with a starving nation for a backdrop to set the scene for war. Pretty straightforward stuff as far as the motive goes, one might say. The local bully (read Iraq) came a-pickin’, and the cavalry (read coalition force) rode to the rescue.
Here’s a little known fact, though. Saddam Hussein was made an honorary citizen of Detroit a decade before his little expedition into Kuwait. Detroit, USA. Concerned by the rise of Iranian influence in the late ‘70s, Washington planted its weight solidly behind Iraq. Covertly at first, and then more openly by providing economic aid, military intelligence, non-US origin weaponry and Special Operations training, the United States made it clear who their favorite Middle-Eastern poster boy was. But the war ended, and Saddam could no longer afford to feed his people. And so, once again, the army prepared to march towards the borders of Kuwait. At this time, the US had made it very clear indeed that they had no interest whatsoever in what Iraqi forces did for a hobby in their spare time. *On the 25th of July, 1990, The United States ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, upon observing the massing of Iraqi soldiers at the border prior to the invasion, had this to say: That the US, “inspired by the friendship and not by confrontation, does not have an opinion” on the strife between Iraq and Kuwait, and that “we have no opinion on Arab-Arab conflicts”. It is obvious how this seeming unconcern would have allowed Hussein to think that there was going to be no American interference in his future endeavor. Citing the unpopularity of the Kuwaiti Emir as his motivation and the reunification of Iraq with its long-lost province of Kuwait as his alibi, Saddam Hussein launched an offensive that saw his target overrun in a few short hours.
Prior to the invasion of Kuwait, the Americans were supporting Kuwait and are believed to have been instrumental in Kuwait’s decision to enforce the Iraqi debt. The Kuwaiti royal family’s appeal to the international community for aid saw the United Nations Security Council pass 12 resolutions, all of which were ignored by the Iraqis.
A coalition force formed in the wake of Hussein’s refusal to vacate his newly occupied territories was primarily comprised of troops from the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and France. Quite apart from righteous indignation, vested oil interests in Kuwait were the impetus behind their quick and decisive action. Indeed, Saddam Hussein was to call Desert Storm the ‘Mother of all Battles’. Oddly enough, despite the picture that was painted, it wasn’t much of a fight. The casualty ratio: Approximately 30000 to 190. The US itself lost 190 soldiers, with 35 to friendly fire. Now, that’s a statistic for the history books.
From defending Iraq’s use of mustard gas and other chemical weapons against Iran at the United Nations, to condemning the invasion of Kuwait such a short while after, the United States government managed to have its cake and eat it too. And a sweet deal they got out of it, too. Two potentially threatening powers neutralized in the short span of a decade, and a successful military campaign to boot.
They say history repeats itself. One wonders just how often it already has.
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hdy/338173953/]