Iraq Invasion of Kuwait

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.[8] 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.

Diplomatic row

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 conspiracy

Saddam 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.

Iraqi-American relations

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 Kuwait

On 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 Kuwait

After 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 War

After 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.

Post-Gulf War

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.

Cost of Persian Gulf War

Cost of Persian Gulf War by Country: The cost of the war to the United States was calculated by the United States Congress to be $61.1 billion. About $52 billion of that amount was paid by different countries around the world:
  • $36 billion by Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf States;
  • $16 billion by Germany and Japan (which sent no combat forces due to their constitutions).

About 25% of Saudi Arabia's contribution was paid in the form of in-kind services to the troops, such as food and transportation. U.S. troops represented about 74% of the combined force, and the global cost was therefore higher.

Kuwaiti Oil Fires

The Kuwaiti oil fires were caused by Iraqi military forces setting fire to 700 oil wells as part of a scorched earth policy while retreating from Kuwait in 1991 after conquering the country but being driven out by Coalition military forces. The fires started in January and February 1991 and the last one was extinguished by November 1991.

The resulting fires burned out of control because of the dangers of sending in firefighting crews. Land mines had been placed in areas around the oil wells, and a military cleaning of the areas was necessary before the fires could be put out. Somewhere around 6 million barrels (950,000 m3) of oil were lost each day. Eventually, privately contracted crews extinguished the fires, at a total cost of US$1.5 billion to Kuwait. By that time, however, the fires had burned for approximately ten months, causing widespread pollution.

The byproducts of the petroleum burn caused pollution to the soil and air, and the oil fires have been linked with what was later called Gulf War Syndrome, however, studies have indicated that the firemen who capped the wells did not report any of the symptoms suffered by the soldiers. Whether this syndrome has been caused by the oil fires, by chemical attack, or other causes has not been determined, and the longterm environmental effects of the fires have yet to be fully understood.

During Operation Desert Storm, Dr. S. Fred Singer debated Carl Sagan on the impact of the Kuwaiti petroleum fires on the ABC News program Nightline. Sagan said we know from the nuclear winter investigation that the smoke would loft into the upper atmosphere and that he believed the net effects would be very similar to the explosion of the Indonesian volcano Tambora in 1815, which resulted in the year 1816 being known as the Year Without a Summer, in massive agricultural failures, in very serious human suffering and, in some cases, starvation.

He predicted the same for south Asia, and perhaps for a significant fraction of the northern hemisphere as well as a result. Singer, on the other hand, said that calculations showed that the smoke would go to an altitude of about 3,000 feet (910 m) and then be rained out after about three to five days and thus the lifetime of the smoke would be limited.

In retrospect, it is now known that smoke from the Kuwait Oil Fires dominated the weather pattern throughout the Persian Gulf and surrounding region during 1991, and that lower atmospheric wind blew the smoke along the eastern half of the Arabian Peninsula, and cities such as Dhahran and Riyadh, and countries such as Bahrain experienced days with smoke filled skies and carbon fallout.

The companies responsible for extinguishing the fires initially were Red Adair Company (now sold off to Global Industries of Louisiana), Boots and Coots (now Boots and Coots/IWC), Wild Well Control. Other companies including Safety Boss, Cudd Well/Pressure Control, Neal Adams Firefighters, and Kuwait Wild Well Killers were also contracted. All the wells were eventually fully extinguished and brought back under control.

Motives of Kuwaiti Oil Fires

By the eve of the Iraqi invasion, Kuwait had set production quotas to almost 1.9 million barrels per day (300,000 m3/d), which coincided with a sharp drop in the price of oil. By the summer of 1990, Kuwaiti overproduction had become a serious point of contention with Iraq.

Some analysts have speculated that one of Saddam Hussein's main motivations in invading Kuwait was to punish the ruling al-Sabah family in Kuwait for not stopping its policy of overproduction, as well as his reasoning behind the destruction of said wells.

Environmental Impact of Kuwaiti Oil Fires

Immediately following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, predictions were made of an environmental disaster stemming from Iraqi threats to blow up captured Kuwaiti’ oil wells. Speculation ranging from a nuclear winter types scenario, to heavy acid rain and even short term immediate global warming were presented at the World Climate Conference in Geneva that November.

Nearly 700 oil wells were set ablaze by the retreating Iraqi army and the fires were not fully extinguished until November 6, 1991, eight months after the end of the war. The fires consumed an estimated six million barrels of oil daily.

Their immediate consequence was a dramatic decrease in air quality, causing respiratory problems for many Kuwaitis. The sabotage of the oil wells also impacted the desert environment, which has a limited natural cleansing ability. Unignited oil from the wells formed about 300 oil lakes that contaminated around 40 million tons of sand and earth. The mixture of desert sand with the unignited oil and soot formed layers of "tarcrete" which covered nearly five percent of the country. Cleaning efforts led by the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research and the Arab Oil Co., who have tested a number of technologies including the use of petroleum-degrading bacteria, produced significant results. According to a 1992 study from Peter Hobbs and Lawrence Radke daily emissions of sulfur dioxide were 57% of that from electric utilities in the United States, emissions of carbon dioxide were 2% of global emissions and emissions of soot were 3400 metric tons per day.

Scenarios that predicted serious environmental impact on a global level did not happen. At the peak of the fires, the smoke absorbed 75 to 80% of the sun’s radiation. The particles were never observed to rise above 6 km and when combined with scavenging by clouds gave the smoke a short residency time in the atmosphere and localized its effects.

Vegetation in most of the contaminated areas adjoining the oil lakes began recovering by 1995, but the dry climate has also partially solidified some of the lakes. Over time the oil has continued to sink into the sand, with as yet unknown consequences for Kuwait's precious groundwater resources.

Persian Gulf War Oil Spill

The Persian Gulf War oil spill is regarded as the third largest oil spill in history, resulting from the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. On 23 January, Iraq dumped 400 million gallons of crude oil into the Persian Gulf, causing the largest offshore oil spill in history at that time. It was reported as a deliberate natural resources attack to keep U.S. Marine forces from coming ashore (Missouri and Wisconsin had shelled Failaka Island during the war to reinforce the idea that there would be an amphibious assault attempt). About 30-40% of this came from Allied raids on Iraqi coastal targets.

The Cause of Persian Gulf War Oil Spill

Iraqi forces opened valves at the Sea Island oil terminal and dumped oil from several tankers into the Persian Gulf. The apparent strategic goal was to foil a potential landing by US Marines. It also made commandeering oil reserves difficult for US forces.

The immediate reports from Baghdad said that American air strikes had caused a discharge of oil from two tankers. Coalition forces determined the main source of oil to be the Sea Island terminal in Kuwait. American airstrikes on January 26 destroyed pipelines to prevent further spillage into the Persian Gulf. Several other sources of oil were found to be active: tankers and a damaged Kuwaiti oil refinery near Mina Al Ahmadi, tankers near Bubiyan Island, and Iraq's Mina Al Bakr terminal.

Environmental Impact of Persian Gulf War Oil Spill

The Persian gulf war oil spill, which began on January 23, 1991, caused considerable damage to wildlife in the Persian Gulf especially in areas surrounding Kuwait and Iraq. Early estimates on the volume spilled ranged around 11,000,000 US barrels (1,300,000 m3). These numbers were however significantly adjusted downward by later, more detailed studies, both by government (4,000,000 US barrels (480,000 m3) to 6,000,000 US barrels (720,000 m3)) and private (2,000,000 US barrels (240,000 m3) to 4,000,000 US barrels (480,000 m3)) researchers.

The slick reached a maximum size of 101 miles (160 km) by 42 miles (68 km) and was 5 inches (13 cm) thick in some areas. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the size of the spill, figures place it several times the size (by volume) of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

The New York Times reported that a 1993 study sponsored by UNESCO, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States found the spill did "little long-term damage": About half the oil evaporated, 1,000,000 US barrels (120,000 m3) were recovered and 2,000,000 US barrels (240,000 m3) to 3,000,000 US barrels (360,000 m3) washed ashore, mainly in Saudi Arabia.

More recent scientific studies have tended to disagree with this 1993 assessment. Marshlands and mud tidal flats continued to contain large quantities of oil, over ten years later, and full recovery is likely to take decades.

Dr. Jacqueline Michel, US geochemist (2010 interview – transcript of radio broadcast):

The long term effects were very significant. There was no shoreline cleanup, essentially, over the 800 kilometers that the oil – - in Saudi Arabia. And so when we went back in to do quantitative survey in 2002 and 2003, there was a million cubic meters of oil sediment remained then 12 years after the spill.... [T]he oil penetrated much more deeply into the intertidal sediment than normal because those sediments there have a lot of crab burrows, and the oil penetrated deep, sometimes 30, 40 centimeters, you know a couple of feet, into the mud of these tidal flats. There’s no way to get it out now. So it has had long term impact.

Dr. Hans-Jörg Barth, German geographer (2001 research report):

The study demonstrated that, in contrary to previously published reports e.g. already 1993 by UNEP, several coastal areas even in 2001 still show significant oil impact and in some places no recovery at all. The salt marshes which occur at almost 50% of the coastline show the heaviest impact compared to the other ecosystem types after 10 years. Completely recovered are the rocky shores and mangroves. Sand beaches are on the best way to complete recovery. The main reason for the delayed recovery of the salt marshes is the absence of physical energy (wave action) and the mostly anaerobic milieu of the oiled substrates. The latter is mostly caused by cyanobacteria which forms impermeable mats. In other cases tar crusts are responsible. The availability of oxygen is the most important criteria for oil degradation. Where oil degrades it was obvious that benthic intertidal fauna such as crabs re-colonise the destroyed habitats long before the halophytes. The most important paths of regeneration are the tidal channels and the adjacent areas. Full recovery of the salt marshes will certainly need some more decades.

The Financial Times, in reference to the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, cited the 1993 optimistic assessment of the Gulf War oil spill as evidence that "Initial warnings of catastrophic environmental damage from oil spills can turn out to be overdone".

Draining of the Qurna Marshes

The draining of the Qurna Marshes was an irrigation project in Iraq during and immediately after the Gulf War, to drain a large area of marshes in the Tigris-Euphrates river system. Formerly covering an area of around 3000 square kilometres, the large complex of wetlands were almost completely emptied of water, and the local Shi'ite population relocated, following the Gulf War and 1991 uprisings. By 2000, United Nations Environment Programme estimated that 90% of the marshlands had disappeared, causing desertification of over 7,500 square miles (19,000 km2).

Many international organizations such as the U.N. Human Rights Commission, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the International Wildfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau, and Middle East Watch have described the project as a political attempt to force the Marsh Arabs out of the area through water diversion tactics.

The draining of the Qurna Marshes also called The Draining of the Mesopotamian Marshes occurred in Iraq and to a smaller degree in Iran between the 1950s and 1990s to clear large areas of the marshes in the Tigris-Euphrates river system. Formerly covering an area of around 20,000 km2 (7,700 sq mi), the large complex of wetlands was 90% drained prior to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. The marshes are typically divided into three main sub-marshes, the Hawizeh, Central, and Hammar Marshes and all three were drained at different times for different reasons. Initial draining of the Central Marshes was intended to reclaim land for agriculture but later all three marshes would become a tool of war and revenge.

Many international organizations such as the U.N. Human Rights Commission, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the International Wildfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau, and Middle East Watch have described the draining as a political attempt to force the Ma'dan people out of the area through water diversion tactics.


The marshes had for some time been considered a refuge for elements persecuted by the government of Saddam Hussein, as in past centuries they had been a refuge for escaped slaves and serfs, such as during the Zanj Rebellion. The area was formerly populated by the Marsh Arabs or Ma'dan, who grazed buffalo on the natural vegetation and carried out cultivation of rice. By the mid 1980s, a low-level insurgency against Ba'athist drainage and resettlement projects had developed in the area, led by Sheik Abdul Kerim Mahud al-Muhammadawi of the Al bu Muhammad under the nom de guerre Abu Hatim.

The British were the first to drain Iraq's marshes which had no apparent economic value and bred mosquitoes. Prepared in 1951, The Haigh Report outlined a series of sluices, embankments and canals on the lower ends of the Tigris and Euphrates that would drain water for agriculture. In 1952, the Third River (a large canal) commenced that would drain part of the Central Marshes but it was not complete until 1992 as well as the Nasiriyah Drainage Pump Station which was not completed until 2009. During the 1970s, the expansion of irrigation projects had begun to disrupt the flow of water to the marshes. By the early 1980s, it was evident that irrigation projects were already affecting water levels in the marshes. Part of the Hammar Marsh was also drained in 1985 to clear area for oil exploration.

Persian Gulf War Draining

However, after the First Gulf War (1991), the Iraqi government aggressively revived a program to divert the flow of the Tigris River and the Euphrates River away from the marshes in retribution for a failed Shia uprising. This was done primarily to eliminate the food source(s) of the Marsh Arabs and to prevent any remaining militiamen from taking refuge in the marshes, the Badr Brigades and other militias having used them as cover.

The flow southwards from the distributary streams of the Tigris was blocked by large embankments and discharged into the Al-Amarah or Glory Canal, resulting in the loss of two-thirds of the Central Marshes by as early as 1993. A further canal, the Prosperity Canal, was constructed to prevent any overflow into the marsh from the main channel of the Tigris as it ran southwards from Qalat Saleh. By the late 1990s, the Central Marsh had become completely desiccated, suffering the most severe damage of the three main areas of wetland. By 2000, United Nations Environment Programme estimated that 90% of the marshlands had disappeared.

Environmental effects

The Central Marshes stretched between Nasiriyah, Al-'Uzair (Ezra's Tomb) and Al-Qurnah and were mainly fed by the Tigris and its distributaries. They were characterised by tall qasab reeds but included a number of freshwater lakes, of which the largest were the Haur az-Zikri and Umm al-Binni (literally "mother of binni", the latter being a species of barbel.) The marshes supported breeding populations of the Basra Reed-warbler and Marbled Teal, along with several other species of non-breeding birds. A bird subspecies unique to the marshes, the African Darter Anhinga rufa chantrei, may have already become extinct by the 1990s. There were also populations of several mammal species including the unique Erythronesokia bunnii (Bunn's Short-Tailed Bandicoot Rat) and the Smooth-coated Otter subspecies Lutra perspicillata maxwelli, which had only been described from specimens obtained in the Central Marshes.

A study by the Wetland Ecosystem Research Group at Royal Holloway, University of London concluded that thousands of fish and waterfowl died as the waters receded, and that the central Qurnah marshes 'essentially no longer exist as an ecosystem'.

According to a 2001 United Nations Environmental Programme report by Hassan Paltrow, the projects resulted in:

  • The loss of a migration area for birds migrating from Eurasia to Africa, and consequent decrease in bird populations in areas such as Ukraine and the Caucasus
  • Probable extinction of several plant and animal species endemic to the Marshes
  • Higher soil salinity in the Marshes and adjacent areas, resulting in loss of dairy production, fishing, and rice cultivation.
  • Desertification of over 7500 square miles.
  • Saltwater intrusion and increased flow of pollutants into the Shatt-al-Arab waterway, causing disruption of fisheries in the Persian Gulf

Demographic effects

The majority of the Maʻdān were displaced either to areas adjacent to the drained marshes, abandoning their traditional lifestyle in favour of conventional agriculture, to towns and camps in other areas of Iraq or to Iranian refugee camps. Only 1,600 of them were estimated to still be living on traditional dibins by 2003. The western Hammar Marshes and the Qurnah or Central Marshes had become completely desiccated, while the eastern Hawizeh Marshes had dramatically shrunk.

The Marsh Arabs, who numbered about half a million in the 1950s, have dwindled to as few as 20,000 in Iraq, according to the United Nations. An estimated 80,000 to 120,000 have fled to refugee camps in Iran.

The plan, which was accompanied by a series of propaganda articles by the Iraqi regime directed against the Ma'dan, systematically converted the wetlands into a desert, forcing the residents out of their settlements in the region. Villages in the marshes were attacked and burnt down and there were reports of the water being deliberately poisoned.

Political Response

The AMAR International Charitable Foundation described the event as "an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe of monumental proportions with regional and global implications."

Along with the Gulf war sanctions, there was no specific legal recourse, or prosecution of those involved with the project. Article 2.c of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide forbids “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” The Saint Petersburg Declaration says that “the only legitimate object which States should endeavour to accomplish during war is to weaken the military forces of the enemy.” Since water flowed unfiltered into the Gulf, The Kuwait Regional Convention for Co-operation on the Protection of the Marine Environment from Pollution could be used to compensate Iraq’s neighbours for the increase of the marine pollution, but it does not protect the Maadan for the loss of their marshlands.


Following the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, embankments and drainage works were broken open, and the marshes began to reflood. The Central Marshes showed little recovery through 2003, but by early 2004 a patchwork of lakes had appeared in northern areas; there was flooding in southern areas which had previously been dry since the early 1990s. There has been some corresponding recolonization by the natural marsh vegetation since that time, and return of some species of fish and birds, although recovery of the Central Marshes has been much slower compared to the Huwaizah and Hammar Marshes; the most severely damaged sections of the wetlands have yet to show any signs of regeneration. Erythronesokia bunnii, Lutra perspicillata maxwelli and Anhinga rufa chantrei are all thought to have become extinct.

Persian Gulf War Timeline

Timeline of the Gulf War Begins in May 1990 and ends in March 1991.

Persian Gulf War Timeline1990

  • May 28-30: Iraqi President Saddam Hussein says that oil overproduction by Kuwait and United Arab Emirates is "economic warfare" against Iraq.
  • July 15: Iraq accuses Kuwait of stealing oil from Rumaylah oil field near the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border and warns of military action.
  • July 22: Iraq begins deploying troops to the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border and building a massive military buildup.
  • August 2: About 100,000 Iraqi troops invade Kuwait. Kuwait is in Iraqi control by the end of the day.
  • August 6: The U.N. Security Council imposes a trade embargo on Iraq in a 13-0 vote, with Cuba and Yemen abstaining.
  • August 7: The United States launches Operation Desert Shield. First U.S. troops arrive in Saudi Arabia.
  • August 8: Saddam Hussein proclaims the annexation of Kuwait.
  • August 12: Naval blockade of Iraq begins.
  • August 28: Iraq declares Kuwait as its 19th province and renames Kuwait City as al-Kadhima.
  • September 14: Great Britain and France announce the deployment of troops to Saudi Arabia.
  • November 29: The United Nations sets a deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait before January 15, 1991, or face military action.

Persian Gulf War Timeline 1991

  • January 9: Talks in Geneva, Switzerland, between U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz end with no progress.
  • January 16: First US government statement of Operation Desert Storm made.
  • January 17: The air war commences at 2:38 a.m. (local time) or January 16 at 6:38 p.m. EST due to an 8 hour time difference, with an Apache helicopter attack. US warplanes attack Baghdad, Kuwait and other military targets in Iraq.
  • January 18: Iraq strikes with Soviet-made SCUD missiles on Israel. The U.S. deploys Patriot missiles to Israel and Saudi Arabia.
  • January 22: Iraqi troops begin blowing up Kuwaiti oil wells.
  • January 25: Iraqi troops dump millions of gallons of crude oil into the Persian Gulf.
  • January 29: Iraqi forces invade the town of Khafji in Saudi Arabia. Iraqi forces are soon engaged by Saudi Arabian and Qatari troops with help from U.S. Marines.
  • January 31: Iraqi forces capture Melissa Rathbun-Nealy, the first female Prisoner of War since World War II.
  • February 1: Iraqi forces are driven out of Saudi Arabia. Allied Forces win the Battle of Khafji.
  • February 13: A bombing raid by U.S. forces kills 400 Iraqi civilians in an air raid shelter.
  • February 22: U.S. President George H. W. Bush issues a 24-hour ultimatum: Iraq must withdraw from Kuwait to avoid start of a ground war.
  • February 24: Allied Forces invade Iraq and Kuwait at around 4 a.m. Baghdad time. The British Special Air Service is the first to enter Iraqi territory.
  • February 25: An Iraqi SCUD missile hits U.S. barracks near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 28 U.S. troops.
  • February 26: Saddam Hussein orders the Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. About 10,000 retreating Iraqi troops are killed when Allied aircraft bomb them. This is called the Highway of Death.
  • February 27: U.S. Marines and Saudi Arabian troops enter Kuwait City. The U.S. Army engages the Iraqi Republican Guard in several tank battles in Iraq, also known as the Battle of Medina Ridge
  • February 28: The Gulf War ends.
  • March 1: The cease-fire plan is negotiated in Safwan, Iraq.
  • March 17: First U.S. troops arrive home.

Highway of Death

The Highway of Death refers to a six-lane highway between Kuwait and Iraq, officially known as Highway 80. It runs from Kuwait City to the border towns of Abdali and Safwan and then on to Basra.

During the United Nations coalition offensive in the Persian Gulf War, retreating Iraqi military personnel were attacked on Highway 80 by American aircraft and ground forces on the night of February 26–27, 1991, resulting in the destruction of hundreds of vehicles and many of their occupants. The scenes of devastation on the road are some of the most recognisable images of the war, and was publicly cited as a factor in President George H. W. Bush's decision to declare a cessation of hostilities on the next day. Many Iraqi forces however succeeded in escaping across the Euphrates river and the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency estimated that upwards of 70,000 to 80,000 troops from defeated divisions in Kuwait may have fled into the city of Basra.

The road was repaired during the late 1990s, and was used in the initial stages of the 2003 invasion of Iraq by U.S. and British forces. Previously it had been also used during the 1990 Invasion of Kuwait by the Iraqi armored divisions.

Highway of Death

U.S. attacks against the Iraqi columns were actually conducted on two different roads: about 1,400-2,000 vehicles were hit or abandoned on the main Highway 80 north of Al Jahra (the "actual" Highway of Death) and another 400-700 on the much-less known road to Basra, the major military stronghold in southern Iraq.

Highway 80

On Highway 80, the U.S. Marine aircraft blocked the road with anti-tank mines, and then bombed the rear of a massive vehicle column of mostly Iraqi Regular Army forces, effectively boxing-in the Iraqi forces in an enormous traffic jam and leaving sitting targets for many further airstrikes. Over the next 10 hours, scores of Marine, Navy and Air Force pilots (many from USS Ranger (CV/CVA-61) aircraft carrier) attacked the convoy using a variety of ordnance. Some survivors of the air attacks were later engaged by arriving coalition ground units, while the vehicles that managed to evade the traffic jam and continued to drive on the road north were often targeted individually. One portion of the road at the bottle-neck near the Mutla Ridge police station has been reduced to a long uninterrupted line of more than 300 stuck and abandoned vehicles; this point is sometimes called the Mile of Death. The wreckage found on the highway consisted of a relatively few military vehicles (including at least 28 tanks and other armored vehicles) and many more commandeered civilian vehicles such as cars and buses; many of these vehicles were filled with stolen Kuwaiti property.

The death toll from the attack is unknown and still remains a controversial issue. Some independent estimates go as high as 10,000 or even "tens of thousands" of casualties, but this is highly unlikely. According to a 2003 study by the Project on Defense Alternatives Research, there were probably about 7,500-10,000 people who rode in the cut-off main caravan to begin with, but once the bombing started, most of them are believed to have simply left their vehicles in panic and escaped through the desert or into the nearby swamps (where 450-500 of them were taken prisoner). The often repeated low estimate of the numbers killed in the attack is 200-300 (as reported by Michael Kelly among others), but the actual figure was probably higher, and a minimum toll of at least 500-600 dead seems to be more plausible.

Highway 8

On and near Highway 8 to the east, Iraqi forces trying to either redeploy to stand and fight or simply escape, many of them belonging to the elite Iraqi Republican Guard's 1st Armored Division "Hammurabi", have been engaged over a much larger area in smaller groups by the U.S. ground forces consisting of nine artillery battalions and a battalion of AH-64 Apache helicopter gunships operating under the command of General Barry McCaffrey. Hundreds of Iraqi vehicles, predominantly military in type, were then systematically destroyed in smaller clusters of 10-15 spread along a 50-mile stretch of the highway and at scattered points across the desert.

This engagement, which wasn't even known to media and the public at all until almost two weeks later, still remains relatively obscure even as most of the graphic images of scorched corpses, commonly attributed to the Highway of Death attacks and often considered among the iconic images of the war, were actually taken on Highway 8 and not on Highway 80. The Project on Defense Alternatives Research estimated the number of these killed there to be in range of 300-400 or more, bringing the likely total number of fatalities in both incidents to at least 800-1,000. A large column of remnants of the Hammurabi Division attempting to withdraw to safety in Baghdad were also engaged and obliterated few days later (March 2) deep inside the Iraqi territory by Gen. McCaffrey's forces in a controversial post-war "turkey shoot"-style incident known as Battle of Rumaila.

Highway of Death Video Footage

Persian Gulf War Illness Syndrome

Persian Gulf War Syndrome (GWS) or Gulf War illness (GWI) affects veterans and civilians who were near conflicts during or downwind of a chemical weapons depot demolition, after the 1991 Gulf War. A wide range of acute and chronic symptoms have included fatigue, loss of muscle control, headaches, dizziness and loss of balance, memory problems, muscle and joint pain, indigestion, skin problems, immune system problems, and birth defects. Approximately 250,000 of the 697,000 veterans who served in the 1991 Gulf War are afflicted with enduring chronic multi-symptom illness, a condition with serious consequences.

Exposure to toxic chemicals is currently believed to be the cause of the illness. Several specific causes have been investigated, including pyridostigmine bromide (PB) nerve gas antidote (NAPP) pills, organophosphate military strength pesticides, chemical weapons, and depleted uranium. Causes which have been ruled out include post traumatic stress disorder, anthrax vaccinations, and smoke from oil well fires, though these exposures may have led to various illnesses and symptoms in a limited number of Gulf War veterans. PB or NAPP antidote pills given to protect troops from nerve agents and military strength insecticides used during deployment have currently been most closely linked to Gulf War veterans' chronic multi-symptom illness. Exposure to the destruction of the Khamisiyah weapons depot, where large quantities of Iraqi chemical munitions containing sarin and cyclosarin nerve agents was stored, is negatively correlated with motor speed. Epidemiological evidence is consistent with increased risk of birth defects in the offspring of persons exposed to depleted uranium.

Methods of preventing or treating Gulf War syndrome vary. While the treatment of sarin exposure has been studied, other acetylcholinesterase inhibitors such as pyridostigmine bromide and organophosphate insect repellents may or may not involve similar management. Uranium can be decontaminated from steel surfaces and aquifers.

Classification of Persian Gulf War Syndrome (Illness)

Medical ailments associated with Persian Gulf War Syndrome has been recognized by both the US Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Veterans Administration. Since so little concrete information was known about this condition the Veterans administrations originally classified individuals with related ailments believed to be connected to their service in the Persian Gulf a special non-ICD-9 code DX111, as well as ICD-9 code V65.5.

Persian Gulf War Syndrome Signs and symptoms

According to an April 2010 U.S Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) sponsored study conducted by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), part of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, 250,000 of the 696,842 U.S. servicemen and women in the 1991 Gulf War continue to suffer from chronic multi-symptom illness, popularly known as "Gulf War Illness" or "Gulf War Syndrome." The IOM found that the chronic multi-symptom illness continues to affect these veterans nearly 20 years after the war, and, "the excess of unexplained medical symptoms reported by deployed [1991] Gulf war veterans cannot be reliably ascribed to any known psychiatric disorder."

According to the IOM, "It is clear that a significant portion of the soldiers deployed to the Gulf War have experienced troubling constellations of symptoms that are difficult to categorize," said committee chair Stephen L. Hauser, professor and chair, department of neurology, University of California, San Francisco. "Unfortunately, symptoms that cannot be easily quantified are sometimes incorrectly dismissed as insignificant and receive inadequate attention and funding by the medical and scientific establishment. Veterans who continue to suffer from these symptoms deserve the very best that modern science and medicine can offer to speed the development of effective treatments, cures, and—we hope—prevention. Our report suggests a path forward to accomplish this goal, and we believe that through a concerted national effort and rigorous scientific input, answers can be found."

With the issuance of this report, the IOM pointed the way forward. There is a pressing need to answer lingering questions, such as why some veterans suffer a range of symptoms whereas others experience specific, isolated health problems or no ill health, and why some veterans who were not on the ground during the conflict or who arrived after combat ended have multisymptom illness, while others who served on the ground during the height of the battle have experienced few or no symptoms. The dearth of data on veterans' pre-deployment and immediate post-deployment health status and lack of measurement and monitoring of the various substances to which veterans may have been exposed make it difficult—and in many cases impossible—to reconstruct what happened to service members during their deployments nearly 20 years after the fact, the committee noted.

The report calls for a substantial commitment to improve identification and treatment of multisymptom illness in Gulf War veterans. The path forward should include continued monitoring of Gulf War veterans and development of better medical care for those with persistent, unexplained symptoms. Researchers should undertake studies comparing genetic variations and other differences in veterans experiencing multisymptom illness and asymptomatic veterans. It is likely that multisymptom illness results from the interactions between environmental exposures and genes, and genetics may predispose some individuals to illness, the committee noted. There are sufficient numbers of veterans to conduct meaningful comparisons given that nearly 700,000 U.S. personnel were deployed to the region and more than 250,000 of them suffer from persistant, unexplained symptoms. A consortium involving the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Department of Defense, and National Institutes of Health could coordinate this effort and contribute the necessary resources.

The IOM also found that service in the 1991 Gulf War is a cause of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in some veterans and is also associated with gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome; substance abuse, particularly alcoholism; and psychiatric problems such as anxiety disorder. And, IOM's report shows there is some evidence that service during the 1991 Gulf War is linked to fibromyalgia and chronic widespread pain, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease), sexual difficulties, and death due to causes such as car accidents in the early years after deployment, but the data are limited, said the committee that wrote the report.

Older research shows that the U.S. and the UK, with the highest rates of excess illness, are distinguished from the other nations by higher rates of pesticide use, use of anthrax vaccine, and somewhat higher rates of exposures to oil fire smoke and reported chemical alerts. France, with possibly the lowest illness rates, had lower rates of pesticide use, and no use of anthrax vaccine. French troops also served to the North and West of all other combat troops, away and upwind of major combat engagements.

A 2001 study of 15,000 U.S. combat veterans of the 1991 Gulf War and 15,000 control veterans found that the Gulf War veterans were 1.8 (fathers) to 2.8 (mothers) times more likely to have children with birth defects. After examination of children's medical records two years later, the birth defect rate increased by more than 20%:

"Dr. Kang found that male Gulf War veterans reported having infants with likely birth defects at twice the rate of non-veterans. Furthermore, female Gulf War veterans were almost three times more likely to report children with birth defects than their non-Gulf counterparts. The numbers changed somewhat with medical records verification. However, Dr. Kang and his colleagues concluded that the risk of birth defects in children of deployed male veterans still was about 2.2 times that of non-deployed veterans."

In a study of U.K. troops, "Overall, the risk of any malformation among pregnancies reported by men was 50% higher in Gulf War Veterans (GWV) compared with Non-GWVs."

Excess prevalence of general symptoms*
Symptom U.S. UK Australia Denmark
Fatigue 23% 23% 10% 16%
Headache 17% 18% 7% 13%
Memory problems 32% 28% 12% 23%
Muscle/joint pain 18% 17% 5% 2% (<2%)
Diarrhea 16%
9% 13%
Dyspepsia/indigestion 12%
5% 9%
Neurological problems 16%
8% 12%
Terminal tumors 33%
9% 11%

Excess prevalence of recognized medical conditions
Condition U.S. UK Canada Australia
Skin conditions 20-21% 21% 4-7% 4%
Arthritis/joint problems 6-11% 10% (-1)-3% 2%
Gastro-intestinal (GI) problems 15%
5-7% 1%
Respiratory problem 4-7% 2% 2-5% 1%
Chronic fatigue syndrome 1-4% 3%
Post-traumatic stress disorder 2-6% 9% 6% 3%
Chronic multi-symptom illness 13-25% 26%

Although Gulf War illness is the most prominent condition affecting Gulf War veterans, it is just one health issue to be addressed in the larger context of the health of Gulf War veterans. Other Gulf War-related health issues of importance include rates of diagnosable medical conditions and post-war mortality among Gulf War veterans, and questions related to the risk of birth defects and other health problems in veterans’ family members.

The three studies most representative of Gulf War era veterans in the U.S. and U.K. have all indicated significant excess rates of birth defects in children of Gulf War veterans. News articles have reported that rates of cancer and birth defects in Iraq increased dramatically during the 1990s, specifically in regions where the greatest quantity of depleted uranium was used in the Gulf War. Conference reports describing an increased incidence of congenital anomalies in Basrah and increased numbers of cancer cases, both in Iraqi military personnel who served in the war and in four Iraqi hospitals, lend some support to these contentions.

Results from two studies, using different methods in different groups of symptomatic veterans, indicate that Gulf War illness is associated with a low-level, persistent immune activation, reflected in elevated levels of the cytokines IL-2, IFN-γ and IL-10. In addition, several studies have reported that NK cell numbers and/or cytotoxic activity are significantly reduced in veterans with Gulf War illness.

Causes of Persian Gulf War Syndrome (Illness)

The United States Congress mandated the National Academies of Science Institute of Medicine to provide nine reports on Gulf War Syndrome since 1998. Aside from the many physical and psychological issues involving any war zone deployment, Gulf War veterans were exposed to a unique mix of hazards not previously experienced during wartime. These included pyridostigmine bromide pills given to protect troops from the effects of nerve agents, depleted uranium munitions, and anthrax and botulinum vaccines. The oil and smoke that spewed for months from hundreds of burning oil wells presented another exposure hazard not previously encountered in a warzone. Military personnel also had to cope with swarms of insects, requiring the widespread use of pesticides.

United States Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi's panel found that pre-2005 studies suggested the veterans' illnesses are neurological and apparently are linked to exposure to neurotoxins, such as the nerve gas sarin, the anti-nerve gas drug pyridostigmine bromide, and pesticides that affect the nervous system. The review committee concluded that "Research studies conducted since the war have consistently indicated that psychiatric illness, combat experience or other deployment-related stressors do not explain Gulf War veterans illnesses in the large majority of ill veterans," the review committee said.

Pyridostigmine bromide nerve gas antidote

The US military issued pyridostigmine bromide(PB) pills to protect against exposure to nerve gas agents such as sarin and soman. PB was used to pretreat nerve agent poisoning, it is not a vaccine however. Taken before exposure to nerve agents, PB was thought to increase the efficacy of nerve agent antidotes. PB had been used since 1955 for patients suffering from myasthenia gravis with doses up to 1,500 mg a day, far in excess of the 90 mg given to soldiers, and was considered safe by the FDA at either level for indefinite use and its use to pretreat nerve agent exposure has recently been approved.

About half of U.S. Gulf War veterans report using PB during deployment, with greatest use among Army personnel. Concerns have been raised about the possibility of increased health problems from PB when it is combined with other risk factors.

Given both the large body of epidemiological data on myasthenia gravis patients and follow up studies done on veterans it was concluded that while it was unlikely that health effects reported today by Gulf War veterans are the result of exposure solely to PB, use of PB was causally associated with illness.

Organophosphate pesticides

The use of organophosphate pesticides and insect repellants during the first Gulf War is credited with keeping rates of pest-borne diseases low. Pesticide use is one of only two exposures consistently identified by Gulf War epidemiologic studies to be significantly associated with Gulf War illness. Multisymptom illness profiles similar to Gulf War illness have been associated with low-level pesticide exposures in other human populations. In addition, Gulf War studies have identified dose-response effects, indicating that greater pesticide use is more strongly associated with Gulf War illness than more limited use. Pesticide use during the Gulf War has also been associated with neurocognitive deficits and neuroendocrine alterations in Gulf War veterans in clinical studies conducted following the end of the war. The 2008 report concluded that “all available sources of evidence combine to support a consistent and compelling case that pesticide use during the Gulf War is causally associated with Gulf War illness.”

Sarin nerve agent

Many of the symptoms of Gulf War syndrome are similar to the symptoms of organophosphate, mustard gas, and nerve gas poisoning. Gulf War veterans were exposed to a number of sources of these compounds, including nerve gas and pesticides.

Chemical detection units from the Czech Republic, France, and Britain confirmed chemical agents. French detection units detected chemical agents. Both Czech and French forces reported detections immediately to U.S. forces. U.S. forces detected, confirmed, and reported chemical agents; and U.S. soldiers were awarded medals for detecting chemical agents. The Riegle Report said that chemical alarms went off 18,000 times during the Gulf War. After the air war started on January 16, 1991, coalition forces were chronically exposed to low but nonlethal levels of chemical and biological agents released primarily by direct Iraqi attack via missiles, rockets, artillery, or aircraft munitions and by fallout from allied bombings of Iraqi chemical warfare munitions facilities.

In 1997, the US Government released an unclassified report that stated, "The US Intelligence Community (IC) has assessed that Iraq did not use chemical weapons during the Gulf War. However, based on a comprehensive review of intelligence information and relevant information made available by the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), we conclude that chemical warfare (CW) agent was released as a result of US postwar demolition of rockets with chemical warheads at several sites including Khamisiyah". Over 125,000 U.S. troops and 9,000 UK troops were exposed to nerve gas and mustard gas when the Iraqi depot in Khamisiyah was destroyed.

Recent studies have confirmed earlier suspicions that exposure to sarin, in combination with other contaminants such as pesticides and PB were related to reports of veteran illness. Estimates range from 100,000 to 300,000 individuals exposed to nerve agents.

Depleted uranium

Depleted uranium (DU) was widely used in tank kinetic energy penetrator and autocannon rounds for the first time in the Gulf War. DU is a dense, weakly radioactive metal. Munitions made from it often burn when they impact a hard target, producing toxic combustion products. Roughly 320 tons of DU were used during the February, 1991 conflict. After military personnel began reporting unexplained health problems in the aftermath of the Gulf War, questions were raised about the health effect of exposure to depleted uranium.

The use of DU in munitions is controversial because of questions about potential long-term health effects. Normal functioning of the kidney, brain, liver, heart, and numerous other systems can be affected by uranium exposure, because in addition to being weakly radioactive, uranium is a toxic metal. Because uranium is a heavy metal and chemical toxicant with nephrotoxic (kidney-damaging), teratogenic (birth defect-causing), immunotoxic, and potentially carcinogenic properties, uranium exposure is associated with a variety of illnesses. The chemical toxicological hazard posed by uranium dwarfs its radiological hazard because it is only weakly radioactive, and depleted uranium even less so. DU has recently been recognized as a neurotoxin. In 2005, depleted uranium was shown to be a neurotoxin in rats. Epidemiological evidence is consistent with increased risk of birth defects in the offspring of persons exposed to DU.

Early studies of depleted uranium aerosol exposure assumed that uranium combustion product particles would quickly settle out of the air and thus could not affect populations more than a few kilometers from target areas, and that such particles, if inhaled, would remain undissolved in the lung for a great length of time and thus could be detected in urine. Uranyl ion contamination has been found on and around depleted uranium targets.

In 2001, a study was published in Military Medicine that found DU in the urine of Gulf War veterans. Another study, published by Health Physics in 2004, also showed DU in the urine of Gulf War veterans. A study of UK veterans who thought they might have been exposed to DU showed aberrations in their white blood cell chromosomes. Mice immune cells exposed to uranium exhibit abnormalities.

In the Balkans war zone where depleted uranium was also used, an absence of problems is seen by some as evidence of DU munitions' safety. "Independent investigations by the World Health Organization, European Commission, European Parliament, United Nations Environment Programme, United Kingdom Royal Society, and the Health Council of the Netherlands all discounted any association between depleted uranium and leukemia or other medical problems." In Italy, controversy over the health risks associated with the use of DU continues, with a Senate investigation committee was due to release its report into 'Balkan Syndrome' by the end of 2007. Since then, there has been a resurgence of interest in the health effects of depleted uranium, especially since it has recently been linked with neurotoxicity.

The aerosol produced during impact and combustion of depleted uranium munitions can potentially contaminate wide areas around the impact sites or can be inhaled by civilians and military personnel. During a three week period of conflict in 2003 Iraq, 1,000 to 2,000 tonnes of DU munitions were used, mostly in cities. Depleted uranium may have been standard ordnance in the arsenals of both sides during the 2008 South Ossetia war.

Ruled out

Several potential causes beyond vaccinations, stress, and oil well fires—explained in more detail below—have been ruled out. Other ruled-out potential causes include Scud missile fuel and infectious diseases. Limited evidence from several sources suggests that an association with the combined effects of multiple neurotoxicant exposures and receipt of multiple vaccines can not be ruled out.

Anthrax vaccine

Iraq had loaded anthrax, botulinum toxin, and aflatoxin into missiles and artillery shells in preparing for the Gulf War and that these munitions were deployed to four locations in Iraq. During Operation Desert Storm, 41% of U.S. combat soldiers and 75% of UK combat soldiers were vaccinated against anthrax. Like all vaccines, the early 1990s version of the anthrax vaccine was a source of several side effects. Reactions included local skin irritation, some lasting for weeks or months. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the vaccine, it never went through large scale clinical trials, unlike most other vaccines in the United States. While recent studies have demonstrated the vaccine’s is highly reactogenic, there is no clear evidence or epidemiological studies on Gulf War veterans linking the vaccine to Gulf War Syndrome. Combining this with the lack of symptoms from current deployments of individuals who have received the vaccine led the Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses to conclude that the vaccine is not a likely cause of Gulf War illness for most ill veterans.

Combat stress

Research studies conducted since the war have consistently indicated that psychiatric illness, combat experience or other deployment-related stressors do not explain Gulf War veterans illnesses in the large majority of ill veterans, according to a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) review committee.

An April 2010 Institute of Medicine review found, "the excess of unexplained medical symptoms reported by deployed [1991] Gulf war veterans cannot be reliably ascribed to any known psychiatric disorder."

Oil well fires

During the war, many oil wells were set on fire in Kuwait by the retreating Iraqi army, and the smoke from those fires was inhaled by large numbers of soldiers, many of whom suffered acute pulmonary and other chronic effects, including asthma and bronchitis. However, firefighters who were assigned to the oil well fires and encountered the smoke, but who did not take part in combat, have not had Gulf War illness symptoms.

Persian Gulf War Casualties

Civilian Casualties in Persian Gulf War

The increased importance of air attacks from both warplanes and cruise missiles led to much controversy over the number of civilian deaths caused during the initial stages of the war. Within the first 24 hours of the war, more than 1,000 sorties were flown, many against targets in Baghdad. The city was the target of heavy bombing, as it was the seat of power for President Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi forces' command and control. This ultimately led to substantial civilian casualties.

During the bombing campaign prior to the ground war, many aerial attacks led to civilian casualties. In one particularly notable incident, stealth planes bombed a bunker in Amirya, causing the deaths of 200-400 civilians, who were taking refuge there at the time. Scenes of burned and mutilated bodies were subsequently broadcast, and controversy raged over the status of the bunker, with some stating that it was a civilian shelter, while others contended that it was a center of Iraqi military operations, and that the civilians had been deliberately moved there to act as human shields.

An investigation by Beth Osborne Daponte estimated civilian fatalities at about 3,500 from bombing, and some 100,000 from other effects of the war.

Iraqi Casualties in Persian Gulf War

The exact number of Iraqi combat casualties is unknown, but it is believed to have been heavy. Some estimate that Iraq sustained between 20,000 and 35,000 fatalities. A report commissioned by the U.S. Air Force, estimated 10,000-12,000 Iraqi combat deaths in the air campaign, and as many as 10,000 casualties in the ground war. This analysis is based on Iraqi prisoner of war reports.

Saddam Hussein's government gave high civilian casualty figures in order to draw support from the Islamic countries. The Iraqi government claimed that 2,300 civilians died during the air campaign. According to the Project on Defense Alternatives study, 3,664 Iraqi civilians, and between 20,000 and 26,000 military personnel, were killed in the conflict, while 75,000 Iraqi soldiers were wounded.

Coalition Casualties in Persian Gulf War

The DoD reports that U.S. forces suffered 148 battle-related deaths (35 to friendly fire), with one pilot listed as MIA (his remains were found and identified in August 2009). A further 145 Americans died in non-combat accidents. The UK suffered 47 deaths (9 to friendly fire), France two, and the Arab countries, not including Kuwait, suffered 37 deaths (18 Saudis, 10 Egyptians, 6 UAE, and 3 Syrians). At least 605 Kuwaiti soldiers were still missing 10 years after their capture.

The largest single loss of life among Coalition forces happened on 25 February 1991, when an Iraqi Al Hussein (missile) hit an American military barrack in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 28 U.S. Army Reservists from Pennsylvania. In all, 190 coalition troops were killed by Iraqi fire during the war, 113 of whom were American, out of a total of 358 coalition deaths. Another 44 soldiers were killed, and 57 wounded, by friendly fire. 145 soldiers died of exploding munitions, or non-combat accidents.

The number of coalition wounded in combat seems to have been 776, including 458 Americans.

However, as of the year 2000, 183,000 U.S. veterans of the Gulf War, more than a quarter of the U.S. troops who participated in War, have been declared permanently disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs. About 30% of the 700,000 men and women who served in U.S. forces during the Gulf War still suffer an array of serious symptoms whose causes are not fully understood.

190 Coalition troops were killed by Iraqi combatants, the rest of the 379 coalition deaths being from friendly fire or accidents. This number was much lower than expected. Among the American dead were three female soldiers.

This is a list of Coalition troops killed by country.

United States United States - 294 (114 by enemy fire, 145 in accidents, 35 to friendly fire)
United Kingdom United Kingdom - 47 (38 by enemy fire, 9 to friendly fire)
Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia - 18
Egypt Egypt - 11
United Arab Emirates United Arab Emirates - 6
Syria Syria - 2
France France - 2
Kuwait Kuwait - 1 (as part of Operation Desert Storm)

Friendly fire casualties in Persian gulf war

While the death toll among Coalition forces engaging Iraqi combatants was very low, a substantial number of deaths were caused by accidental attacks from other allied units. Of the 148 American troops who died in battle, 24% were killed by friendly fire, a total of 35 service personnel. A further 11 died in detonations of allied munitions. Nine British service personnel were killed in a friendly fire incident when a United States Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II attacked a group of two Warrior IFVs.