The Iraq Invasion of Kuwait, also known as the Iraq-Kuwait War, was a major conflict between the Republic of Iraq and the State of Kuwait, which resulted in the seven-month long Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, which subsequently led to direct military intervention by United States-led forces in the Gulf War.
In 1990, Iraq accused Kuwait of stealing Iraqi oil through slant drilling, however some Iraqi sources indicated Saddam Hussein’s decision to attack Kuwait was made only a few months before the actual invasion suggesting that the regime was under feelings of severe time pressure. Some feel there were several reasons for the Iraq move, including Iraq's inability to pay more than $80 billion that had been borrowed to finance the war with Iran and also Kuwaiti overproduction of oil which kept oil revenues down for Iraq. The invasion started on August 2, 1990, and within two days of intense combat, most of the Kuwaiti Armed Forces were either overrun by the Iraqi Republican Guard or escaped to neighboring Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. The state of Kuwait was annexed, and Saddam announced in a few days that it was the 19th province of Iraq.
Causes of the Iraq Invade Kuwait
Kuwait was a close ally of Iraq during the Iraq-Iran war and functioned as the country’s major port once Basra was shut down by the fighting. However, after the war ended, the friendly relations between the two neighbouring Arab countries turned sour due to several economic and diplomatic reasons that finally culminated in an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
Dispute over the financial debt
Kuwait had heavily funded the 8-year-long Iraqi war against Iran. By the time the war ended, Iraq was not in a financial position to repay the $14 billion it borrowed from Kuwait to finance its war. Iraq argued that the war had prevented the rise of Iranian influence in the Arab World. However, Kuwait's reluctance to pardon the debt created strains in the relationship between the two Arab countries. During late 1989, several official meetings were held between the Kuwaiti and Iraqi leaders but they were unable to break the deadlock between the two.
Economic warfare and slant drilling
According to George Piro, the FBI interrogator who questioned Saddam Hussein after his capture (in 2003), Iraq tried repaying its debts by raising the prices of oil through OPEC's oil production cuts. However, Kuwait, a member of the OPEC, prevented a global increase in petroleum prices by increasing its own petroleum production, thus lowering the price and preventing recovery of the war-crippled Iraqi economy. This was seen by many in Iraq as an act of aggression, further distancing the countries. The collapse in oil prices had a catastrophic impact on the Iraqi economy. According to former Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, "every US$1 drop in the price of a barrel of oil caused a US$1 billion drop in Iraq's annual revenues triggering an acute financial crisis in Baghdad." It was estimated that Iraq lost US$14 billion a year due to Kuwait's oil price strategy.
The Iraqi Government described it as a form of 'economic warfare,' which it claimed was aggravated by Kuwait's alleged slant-drilling across the border into Iraq's Rumaila field. The dispute over Rumaila field started in 1960 when an Arab League declaration marked the Iraq-Kuwait border 2 miles north of the southern-most tip of the Rumaila field. During the Iran–Iraq War, Iraqi oil drilling operations in Rumaila declined while Kuwait's operations increased. In 1989, Iraq accused Kuwait of using "advanced drilling techniques" to exploit oil from its share of the Rumaila field. Iraq estimated that US$2.4 billion worth of Iraqi oil was stolen by Kuwait and demanded compensation. Kuwait dismissed the accusations as a false Iraqi ploy to justify military action against it. Several foreign firms working in the Rumaila field also dismissed Iraq's slant-drilling claims as a "smokescreen to disguise Iraq's more ambitious intentions".
On July 25, 1990, only a few days before the Iraqi invasion, OPEC officials said that Kuwait and United Arab Emirates had agreed to a proposal to limit daily oil output to 1.5 million barrels, thus potentially settling differences over oil policy between Kuwait and Iraq. At the time of the settlement, more than 100,000 Iraqi troops were deployed along Iraq-Kuwait border and American officials expressed little indication of decline in tensions despite the OPEC settlement.
Post Iran–Iraq War and dispute over Rumaila oilfield, the diplomatic relations between Iraq and Kuwait deteriorated dramatically triggering several heated exchanges between Iraqi and Kuwaiti diplomats during various regional and Gulf Cooperation Council summits.
Iraqi hegemonic claims
Though Kuwait's large oil reserves were widely considered to be the main reason behind the Iraqi invasion, the Iraqi government justified its invasion by claiming that Kuwait was a natural part of Iraq carved off due to British imperialism. After signing the Anglo-Ottoman Convention of 1913, the United Kingdom split Kuwait from the Ottoman territories into a separate sheikhdom. The Iraqi government also argued that the Kuwaiti Emir was a highly unpopular figure among the Kuwaiti populace. By overthrowing the Emir, Iraq claimed that it granted Kuwaitis greater economic and political freedom.
Kuwait had been part of the Ottoman province of Basra, and although its ruling dynasty, the al-Sabah family, had concluded a protectorate agreement in 1899 that assigned responsibility for its foreign affairs to Britain, it did not make any attempt to secede from the Ottoman Empire. For this reason, its borders with the rest of Basra province were never clearly defined or mutually agreed. Furthermore, Iraq alleged that the British High Commissioner "drew lines that deliberately constricted Iraq's access to the ocean so that any future Iraqi government would be in no position to threaten Britain's domination of the Persian Gulf".
Alleged international conspiracySaddam Hussein’s decision to invade Kuwait partly came as a reaction towards the alleged international conspiracy against Iraq, which, in Saddam's view, was meant to weaken and destabilize the Ba'athist regime. Subtle shifts in the American policy together with the British and American efforts to block the export of dual-use technology to Iraq, a consequence of its nuclear program, were seen by Saddam as part of a concerted effort to build a case against Iraq. In this conspiracy theory, Kuwait was considered an accomplice of the foreign powers. In a memorandum dating from July 1990, the former Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz accused Kuwait and the UAE of production beyond their OPEC quotas and claimed that the overproduction was synchronized with the efforts of foreign powers to denigrate Iraq. Kellner argues that the fact that Kuwait refused to negotiate with a dangerous Iraq and risked being invaded by it sustains the theory according to which Kuwait had received tacit support from the U.S. even before the war started. At the same time the Iraqi military intelligence was receiving warnings about Israeli plans to attack Iraqi nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Saddam was convinced of the existence of a conspiracy and even described it to Wafiq al-Samara’i, deputy director of Iraqi military intelligence as follows:
“America is coordinating with Saudi Arabia and the UAE and Kuwait in a conspiracy against us. They are trying to reduce the price of oil to affect our military industries and our scientific research, to force us to reduce the size of our armed forces....You must expect from another direction an Israeli military air strike, or more than one, to destroy some of our important targets as part of this conspiracy”
Following the invasion, Saddam’s unwillingness to accept a negotiated solution to the Kuwait crisis once again sustains the hypothesis that the fear of Iraq's domestic and economic destabilization was the most important factor that contributed to his invasion decision.
On July 25, 1990, the U.S. Ambassador in Iraq, April Glaspie, asked the Iraqi high command to explain the military preparations in progress, including the massing of Iraqi troops near the border.
The American ambassador declared to her Iraqi interlocutor that Washington, “inspired by the friendship and not by confrontation, does not have an opinion” on the disagreement between Kuwait and Iraq, stating "we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts."
She also let Saddam Hussein know that the U.S. did not intend "to start an economic war against Iraq". These statements may have caused Saddam to believe he had received a diplomatic green light from the United States to invade Kuwait.
According to Prof. Richard E. Rubenstein, Glaspie was later asked by British journalists why she had said that, her response was "we didn't think he would go that far" meaning take the whole county. Although no follow-up question was asked, one might assume that what the US government thought was that Saddam Hussein would take only the oil field.
The Invasion of KuwaitOn August 2, 1990 at 2:00 am, local time, Iraq launched an invasion of Kuwait with four elite Iraqi Republican Guard divisions (1st Hammurabi Armoured Division, 2nd al-Medinah al-Munawera Armoured Division, 3rd Tawalkalna ala-Allah Mechanized Infantry Division and 6th Nebuchadnezzar Motorized Infantry Division) and Iraqi Army special forces units equivalent to a full division. The main thrust was conducted by the commandos deployed by helicopters and boats to attack Kuwait City(see The Battle of Dasman Palace), while the other divisions seized the airports and two airbases.
In support of these units, the Iraqi Army deployed a squadron of Mil Mi-25 helicopter gunships, several units of Mi-8 and Mi-17 transport helicopters, as well as a squadron of Bell 412 helicopters. The foremost mission of the helicopter units was to transport and support Iraqi commandos into Kuwait City, and subsequently to support the advance of ground troops. The Iraqi Air Force (IrAF) had at least two squadrons of Sukhoi Su-22, one of Su-25, one of Mirage F1 and two of MiG-23 fighter-bombers. The main task of the IrAF was to establish air superiority through limited counter-air strikes against two main air bases of Kuwaiti Air Force, whose planes consisted mainly of Mirage F1's and Douglas (T)A-4KU Skyhawks.
In spite of months of Iraqi sabre-rattling, Kuwait did not have its forces on alert and was caught unaware. The first indication of the Iraqi ground advance was from a radar-equipped aerostat that detected an Iraqi armour column moving south. Kuwaiti air, ground, and naval forces resisted, but were vastly outnumbered. In central Kuwait, the 35th Armoured Brigade deployed approximately a battalion of Chieftain tanks, BMPs, and an Artillery piece against the Iraqis and fought delaying actions near Al Jahra (see The Battle of the Bridges), west of Kuwait City. In the south, the 15th Armoured Brigade moved immediately to evacuate its forces to Saudi Arabia. Of the small Kuwaiti Navy, two missile boats were able to evade capture or destruction.
Kuwait Air Force aircraft were scrambled, but approximately 20% were lost or captured. An air battle with the Iraqi helicopter airborne forces was fought over Kuwait City, inflicting heavy losses on the Iraqi elite troops, and a few combat sorties were flown against Iraqi ground forces. The remaining 80% were then evacuated to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, some aircraft even taking off from the highways adjacent to the bases as the runways were overrun. While these aircraft were not used in support of the subsequent Gulf War, the "Free Kuwait Air Force" assisted Saudi Arabia in patrolling the southern border with Yemen, which was considered a threat by the Saudis because of Yemen-Iraq ties.
Iraqi troops attacked Dasman Palace, the Royal Residence, resulting in the Battle of Dasman Palace. The Kuwaiti Emiri Guard, supported by local police and M84 tanks managed to repel an Airborne assault by Iraqi Special Forces, but the Palace fell after a landing by Iraqi Marines (Dasman Palace is located on the coast). The Kuwaiti National Guard, as well as additional Emiri Guards arrived, but the palace remained occupied, and Republican Guard tanks rolled into Kuwait City after several hours of heavy fighting.
The Emir of Kuwait, Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah had already fled into the Saudi desert. His younger half brother, Sheikh Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, was shot and killed by invading Iraqi forces as he attempted to defend Dasman Palace after which his body was placed in front of a tank and run over according to an Iraqi soldier who was present and deserted after the assault.
By the end of the first day of the invasion, only pockets of resistance were left in the country. By August 3, the last military units were desperately fighting delaying actions in choke points, and other defensible positions throughout the country until out of ammunition or overrun by Iraqi forces. Ali al-Salim air base of the Kuwaiti Air Force was the only base still unoccupied on August 3, and Kuwaiti Aircraft flew resupply missions from Saudi Arabia throughout the day in an effort to mount a defense, however by nightfall, Ali al-Salim air base was overrun by Iraqi forces. From then on it was only a matter of time until all units of the Kuwaiti Military were forced to retreat or be overrun.
The last few Kuwaiti Chieftain tanks of the 35th Mechanized Brigade have fought until the afternoon of 4 August; left without ammunition and fuel, they were then forced to pull back into Saudi Arabia as well. This effectively ended the military resistance to the Iraqi invasion.
Aftermath: Iraq Invasion of KuwaitAfter the decisive Iraqi victory, Saddam Hussein installed Alaa Hussein Ali as the Prime Minister and Ali Hassan al-Majid as the de facto governor of Kuwait. The exiled Kuwaiti royal family and other former government officials began an international campaign to persuade other countries to pressure Iraq to vacate Kuwait. The UN Security Council passed 12 resolutions demanding immediate withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, but to no avail.
Following the events of the Iraq-Kuwait war, about half of the Kuwaiti population, including more than 400,000 Kuwaits and several thousand foreign nationals, fled the country. More than 150,000 Indian nationals living in Kuwait were air-lifted by the Indian government within a span of a week. However, the Iraqi invasion was welcomed by the Palestinian Liberation Organization and some of the 400,000 Palestinians living in Kuwait. Alaa Hussein Ali was placed as head of a puppet government in Kuwait, prior to its brief annexation into Iraq.
During the 7 month-long Iraqi occupation, the forces of Saddam Hussein allegedly looted Kuwait's vast wealth and there were also reports of violations of human rights. According to some independent organizations, about 600 Kuwaiti nationals were taken to Iraq and haven't yet been accounted for. A 2005 study revealed that the Iraqi occupation had a long-term adverse impact on the health of the Kuwaiti populace.
International condemnation and Gulf WarAfter Iraqi forces invaded and annexed Kuwait and Saddam Hussein, deposed the Amir of Kuwait, Jaber Al-Sabah, he installed Ali Hassan al-Majid as the new governor of Kuwait.
The Iraqi invasion and occupation of Kuwait was unanimously condemned by all major world powers. Even countries traditionally considered to be close Iraqi allies, such as France and India, called for immediate withdrawal of all Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Several countries, such as the USSR and China, placed arms embargo on Iraq. NATO members were particularly critical of the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait and by late 1990, the United States had issued an ultimatum to Iraq to withdraw its forces from Kuwait by January 15, 1991 or face war.
On August 3, 1990, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 660 condemning the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and demanded Iraq to unconditionally withdraw all forces deployed in Kuwait.
After series of failed negotiations between major world powers and Iraq, the United States-led coalition launched a massive military assault on Iraqi forces stationed in Kuwait in mid January 1991. By January 16, the Allied planes were targeting several Iraqi military sites and the Iraqi Air Force was said to be "decimated". Hostilities continued until late February and on February 25, Kuwait was officially liberated from Iraq. On March 15, 1991, the Emir of Kuwait returned to the country after spending more than 8 months in exile. During the Iraqi occupation, about 1,000 Kuwaiti civilians were killed and more than 300,000 residents fled the country.
In December 2002, Saddam Hussein apologized for the invasion shortly before being deposed in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Two years later, the Palestinian leadership also apologized for its wartime support of Saddam.