It has now been thirty years since Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait. On August 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait and secured Iraq access to abundant oil supplies while threatening Western allies such as Saudi Arabia. After only seven months of international condemnation and UN-resolutions a US-led coalition ceased the Iraqi occupation during the Gulf War. Nonetheless, Hussein’s aggressive actions initiated a chain of events that would transform the Middle East forever.
The Inaccuracy of Calling Pre-Gulf-War Saddam Hussein an American ‘Ally’
Some have continued to claim that Hussein used to be an American ally before his demise. The truth is that the US did support Hussein’s war against Iran from 1980 to 1988. However, solely because Iraq was considered a bulwark against the Islamic Republic. To call Hussein a former ally is not only false but inflammatory. Kissinger described America’s loyalty during the war best when he said: “it is a pity they both cannot lose.”
Why Did Iraq Invade Kuwait?
After the war with its neighbor, the Iraqi state was heavily indebted and was at odds with its Arab neighbours. With the capture of Kuwait, Iraq, which owns twelve percent of the world’s oil reserves, acquired another eight percent. Hussein may have expected the West to accept his troops marching into Kuwait, led to believe the latter by then US ambassador in Baghdad April Glaspie. She had reportedly stated in a conversation with the Iraqi head of state shortly before the intervention in August 1990 that America had “no opinion” on the dispute between Iraq and other Arab nations.
Saddam was wrong. While his troops were able to occupy Kuwait within just three days and to annex the emirate as 19th Province of Iraq, the success was short-lived and carried severe consequences. Immediately after the fall of Kuwait, President H.W. Bush and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher deployed American and British troops to the Gulf to protect their allies in the region, principally Saudi Arabia.
The Gulf War Coalition
In the months that followed, Bush assembled the most significant international coalition since World War II. The coalition began bombing Iraq in January 1991 and drove Iraqi troops out of Kuwait in February – as part of UN Resolution 678. Saddam had referred to the war as the “mother of all battles” – but his army was quickly humiliated and trounced.
While Bush called on the Iraqis to rise against Saddam, he decided against a campaign to overthrow the dictator. The president did believe in having the necessary UN mandate to invade Baghdad. Saddam, however, took bloody revenge on the Kurds in the north and on the Shiites in the south of Iraq, which led the US to start no-fly zones over both parts of the country.
Operation Desert Storm was America’s First Major Middle Eastern Deployment
Operation Desert Storm was the first massive deployment of American warplanes and ground forces in the Middle East. Until then, US engagement in the region had been limited to clandestine operations and minor interventions. Post Gulf War, a permanent US military presence was established. To this day, thousands of American soldiers, as well as strong air and naval forces, are stationed in the region for protection for allies, deterrence and counter-terrorism.
The 2003 Iraq War
In the medium term, the war for Kuwait led to a new war under the presidency of George W. Bush in 2003, in which Saddam was eventually captured and brought to justice. Bush had won the initial war, and the surge delivered initial stability. However, the withdrawal of troops under President Barack Obama was counterproductive. Without a strong US presence, the country quickly found itself in chaos again, coinciding with internal political upheavals, terrorism planned and conducted by Iran on Iraqi soil as well as corruption and mismanagement.
Iraqi Mistrust of the USA
A great sense of distrust against the US has also come to prevail in the region. After the Gulf War of 1991, Iraqi Shiites, in particular, felt abandoned by the USA as President Bush had encouraged them to rise against Saddam. However, during the bloody suppression of the Shiites and the poison gas attacks by Saddam, George H.W. Bush was not inclined to deploy troops into a civil war nor to fracture its international coalition. The White House went so far as to publicly state that it would not intervene militarily, effectively providing Hussein with a green light.
At the same time, the 1990 war strengthened radical Islamist forces in the region. Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden protested vehemently against the stationing of American soldiers in Saudi Arabia, the land of the holy Islamic cities of Mecca and Medina. Bin Laden even offered the Saudi royal family to defend the country with his fighters against Iraq, but Riyadh preferred American protection. After 1990, bin Laden, therefore, made the United States’ withdrawal from the region his most important goal.
The results are, sadly, well documented.