What Caused The 1991 Gulf War Politics Essay

23 Mar 2015

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On two August 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait: the entire world was astonished and what was feared in the previous months came true. In the following days the United Nations (UN) Security Council promulgated resolutions 660 and 661. The former condemned the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait demanding an immediate withdrawal of Iraqi's forces to the same position as they were on the first of August. Furthermore it called upon an immediate start of negotiations aimed to resolve the situation peacefully . [2] The latter, considering that Iraq did not comply with the terms dictated by resolution 660, prohibited all trades with Iraq or Kuwait and froze their funds. In the following months the UN Council set further resolutions in order to convince Iraq to withdraw, unfortunately without any result. On sixteenth of January 1991, after the expiration of the ultimatum given to Saddam Hussein to withdraw peacefully and unconditionally from Kuwait in accordance with UN Resolution 678, the Gulf War started under the name of 'Operation Desert Storm'. But was the above mentioned refusal to comply with UN's resolutions the only cause of War? Would his acceptance to comply with them have prevented the 1991 Gulf War? Or were there more reasons just waiting for the 'politically correct' spark in order to start the war, such as the control of a vital strategic area like the Arabic one, or the overall fear that Iraq could become a new superpower having now almost 20% of world's oil wells? If so, was it then an 'oil deal'? Maybe it was just a big western countries' misjudgement not understanding the danger of supporting a growing arming process like the one taken by Iraq, thus destabilizing the overall security over the Arabic peninsula. It is undisputable that it was a big Saddam's miscalculation to think that the world would not have reacted to such an aggression in defence of Kuwait. [3] 

In order to better understand the causes of the 1991 Gulf War, this essay will examine the following areas: the Iraqi social, political and economic situation, Saddam's nature and religious belief, the new world order after the Berlin Wall demolition and the political failure of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) Superpower, and the Diplomatic relations between several foreign governments and Iraq.

This analysis will draw to the conclusion that the causes of the 1991 Gulf War were the result of a combination of reasons and circumstances, like the Iraqi severe economic situation, Saddam's nature, the west's misjudgement about the danger of supporting Iraqi's growing arming process, and Saddam's miscalculations throughout his regime.

Iraqi's social, political and economic situation.

From the middle of the twenty century to the invasion of Kuwait, Iraq had been involved in an unforgiving political situation. Its government had been marked by harsh rivalries, plots and attempts of leadership's assassinations. Within this context though, the idea of bringing back Kuwait to its mother land Iraq was not something that came up just in 1990 and not even the first attempt to invade it. The Iraqi regime always firmly believed that Kuwait was part of the Iraqi soil, and the root of the Iraqi's claim goes back to the Ottoman Empire era, when Kuwait was a district governed from Basra and long before the creation of the Iraqi borders drawn by the British Empire in1913. It was about strengthening the legitimacy of the Sunni Arab ruling minority over the Shi`a majority and the Kurdish minority, a way to 'fuse and integrate' people's Iraqi patriotic sense. [4] 

The first fear about an Iraq attempt to 'regain' Kuwait showed up at the beginning of the sixties, soon after the declaration of the fully independence of Kuwait. Iraq, in June 1961, refused to recognise this independence, thus starting a series of political tensions between the two countries and giving to Kuwait a strong feeling that a likely imminent invasion was 'in the air'. The escalation of hostilities at that time was limited thanks to the pre-emptive 'show of force' put in place by the British forces that in July 1961 deployed to Kuwait. [5] In 1973, by seizing two Kuwait borders posts, once again Iraq attempted to reinforce its belief that Kuwait was an Iraqi stolen 'piece of land'.

However, due to the International pressure Iraqi forces withdrew without achieving, once again, the conclusion of the endlessly border dispute. [6] 

The Iraq-Kuwait dispute was not only a territorial or border issue, but also a vital need for the Iraqi economy, since it meant the access to the Persian Gulf. With the new borders established by the British Empire, Iraq now had only a small 'tongue' of land touching the sea while Kuwait was given the control of the northwest part of the Gulf. In fact, by owning the two Islands of Warbah and Bubyan, Kuwait owned also the control of the 'gate' to the only Iraqi port on the Gulf, the Umm Qasr one. [7] Saddam well understood the strategic importance of an outlet to the Persian Gulf and that it was vital for the overall Iraqi economy. In this sense, the Iraq-Kuwait dispute about the access to the Gulf was not the only one. The same type of territorial issue aroused in the eighties with Iran about the Shatt al-Arab navigation rights and control of the waterways, and this was to be one of the main reasons that would have brought Iraq to wage war to Iran. By the end of the Iraq-Iran war, in consideration of the fact that the Basra harbour was blocked by wreckages and 'war leftovers', the urgency of a sea outlet came back again but this time as a 'last ditch': Saddam Hussein realized he was now landlocked and that this situation was exacerbating the already existent economic crisis.

The mammoth debt grown by the end of the Iraq-Iran war, became unsustainable: the resources accumulated over the previous decade were wasted, going from a $35 billion in foreign exchange reserve to $80 billion in foreign debt, with an estimate of $230 billion cost for reconstruction. [8] The revenues from the Iraqi's oil wells were not even more sufficient to run the country's basic needs: by mid-1990s Iraq had only enough cash reserves to survive for three months. [9] The severe regime's restrictions prevented Iraq from raising any economic private system into the country, and only at the end of the eighties Saddam Hussein, conscious of the gravity of the Iraqi's debt and economy, opened up to private entrepreneurs some economic opportunities, still without an overall success since those activities were given to the regime's associates. Based on the aforesaid motives, it is apparent that the overall backgrounds were not a breeding ground for a growing and healthy economy and/or a national political stability.

Furthermore, Saddam Hussein realized that he had no chance to demobilize the massive army that was created in the last eight years of war and no benefit or prize to give to the Iraqi people at the end of the war. Saddam was now desperate to find a way to maintain his popularity and political strength. At the same time, three main concerns were disturbing him: first Kuwait was claiming its funds back insistently, second Saddam's belief was, stronger than ever before, that a US plot was being set with Kuwait and few other Arab countries against Iraq, third Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were not compliant with the Barrel Per Day (BPD) production agreed by the Organisation of Petroleum exporting Countries (OPEC), thus worsening the Iraqi's oil revenues. The situation was yet more exacerbated based on the fact that, in Saddam's view, Kuwait was allegedly stealing Iraqi's oil along the Iraq-Kuwait border, in the area of Rumaila oilfield. [10] 

The above mentioned reasons might have underpinned Saddam's confidence that invading Kuwait was not only the right thing to do, but also the solution to all his problems. In addition, it has to be considered that in Saddam's mind, Iraq was the country that would have led the Arab people, under the pan-Arab Union, to be the new Super Power against the US hegemony following the Berlin Wall demolition and the failure of the Soviet Empire. [11] 

Saddam's nature and belief

The concept of a strong and modern pan-Arab state had always been in Saddam's belief: he envisaged himself to be the leader that would have brought the Arabs to the glory of the past. Born on 28 April 1937 at al-Ouja, near Takrit, Saddam grew up in a penurious society, surrounded by corruption and violence. His childhood was characterized by ill-treatment and loneliness due to his family situation: his best 'friend' was a steel bar which he was used to carry always with himself to defend from other boys. [12] In this social frame Saddam developed an obsession for history and a harsh behavior; he was a ruthless tyrant 'who came to see himself as the reincarnation of the great Arab heroes.' [13] This missionary role was deeply rooted in Saddam's mind and clearly stated during a speech in which he stated that '…You see that some of the foreigners say sometimes that Saddam Hussein is imaginary in his thinking towards the Iraqis. He imagines them to the bigger than their actual size. Yes, correct, that's true. But not imaginary; I am interactive with Iraqi's history to an extent that the details interlock with every one of my cells. Regarding Iraqi's history, I have a detailed comprehension and understanding of it. And I know the Arabic history, the significance of the missionary role in it. Hence, it is not imaginary'. [14] 

When he came to power as President of the Republic of Iraq his past was already marked by a path of blood: such characteristic was to be the bulk of his policy too. He was the kind of man that would never trust anybody but himself. Unlike the traditional Arab way of ruling by consensus, he opted for the shared guilt one, whereby, even though he was the one making the final decision, the responsibility of it would have been shared by others. [15] 

Saddam's human nature is key player on the overall road to war: his incessant perceived threat and conspiracy from the Zionists and the evil capitalist countries brought him to great frustration, thus explaining his behavior against innocents. John Baylis, in his book 'Strategy in the Contemporary World', in explaining the human behavior, sustains that 'aggression is the result of frustration. When individuals find themselves thwarted in the achievement of their desires, goals, and objectives, they experience frustration which causes pent-up resentment that needs to find an outlet-and this frequently takes the form of aggressive behavior which, in turn, has a cathartic effect of releasing tension and making those who engage in it feel better…Usually aggression is leveled at those who cause the frustration, but sometimes it is vented against innocents who become scapegoats.' [16] This could explain Saddam's behavior against his people, the Zionists, the Kurds, Kuwait and everything else that was in his way and not in line with his ego.

As said before Saddam's foremost enemies were Zionists, Persians (Iranians), and the western capitalists. The war between the Iraqis and the 'Persians', was the way to rebuild the 'Great Arabic Nation', in which Iraq was the one taking the burden: once united, Saddam could have led the pan-Arabic superpower to the final battle against the Zionists thus achieving the pinnacle of his glorification. The Iraq-Iran War, in this matter, can be seen as a precursor to the 1991 Gulf War, since it set up the grounds in Saddam's mind that he was the elected hero to lead the Arabic people to glory. Based on the fact that Iraq was taking the utmost burden of the 'Great Battle' against the non-Arabs (the Iranians), Saddam believed that all Arab nations should have supported him in fighting the 'holy war', either physically or economically.

It is worth noting that in contrast with what would have happened in 1991 after the invasion of Kuwait, back in 1980 when Iraq waged war to Iran, the hostilities were not condemned by either the UN Security Council or the US. It looked like the 'western world' thought that the attack was morally and politically justified, hence giving Saddam an apparent 'green light' for the conflict. [17] During the eight years of war against Iran, Iraq built a gigantic 'military machine', acquiring high military technology from a broad range of countries. Some of them, like Egypt, provided also manpower to work on the oilfield and on the agricultural sector, thus giving Iraq the possibility to grow his strong army. [18] The financial support came from many Arab states that accepted to support Iraq with economic loans, thus financing, partially, the costs of the Iraq-Iran war. In Saddam's mind all of this was not an issue, since these financial helps would have paired the unbalanced burden that Iraq was sustaining in the fight against the Arab enemies. Based on the insistent claim back of the loans given by the Arab states, especially from Kuwait, his assumptions very soon came to be incorrect, and his belief to be wrong. This situation, coupled with the overall economic crisis and personal frustration, brought him to believe that the Arab states were walking out on Iraq, 'letting it bleeding itself in what should have been a collective defense effort'. [19] 

Why was Kuwait so persistent asking back its credits? Why was it violating the OPEC oil production quotas' agreements? Why was Kuwait allegedly stealing the Iraqi oil from the Iraqi's Rumaila oil fields? It was just before the invasion of Kuwait that Saddam became to believe, based on the aforementioned questions, that a conspiracy against Iraq was being plotted by the west capitalist countries (US lead) in conjunction with Kuwait and the UAE. Why was the US showing a different behavior all of a sudden? Following the twilight of the Soviet Empire the US, in his mind, was slowing turning into a foe attempting to disrupt the pan-Arab down.

The Berlin Wall demolition and the political failure of the USSR: Saddam's new fear.

At the end of the eighties the world's political scenario was marked significantly by the demolition of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Empire: the world's bipolar system all of a sudden turned into a US hegemony. This supremacy, on the whole, would have given to the US the capability, in Saddam's view, to threaten Iraq by destabilising the Arab world. By supporting Israel and by interfering on the overall governance and economic sphere of the Middle East, the US were undermining the 'pan-Arab's dawn'. In light of all of this, the role of the Arabs, according to Saddam, was vital in contrasting the 'infidel capitalists' and setting back a new Cold War era: on one side the US and on the other one the pan-Arab.

On the stream of these thoughts, Saddam knew that time was critical and that action needed to be taken as soon as possible, particularly now that he was at the pinnacle of his power, the unrivalled leader in the Arabic region [20] , the one who would have led the Arabs to the glorious fame of the past.

Furthermore, who could possibly wage war to Iraq in order to defend Kuwait, a small rich state that was stealing his oil, that was violating the OPEC oil production quotas, and that was, in Saddam's view, unjustly claiming back loans given to Iraq in support of the Arabs holy war against the Iranians?

On this last belief, following the 'twilight' of the USSR, Saddam did not take in consideration the need for the UN and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to enforce their role as guarantors of freedom, sovereignty and all the rights established in the UN charter, a miscalculation that would have come back to him soon after the invasion of Kuwait.

Diplomatic relations among Iraq, the west world and the Arab states: a big western countries' misjudgement and Saddam's biggest miscalculations.

The eighties played a fundamental role setting the grounds for the 1991 Gulf War. Following the change of the Iranian leadership, the Iran hostage crisis in 1979-1981, and the threat posed by the Soviet Union, US changed its strategic policy regarding the Middle East. The relations between the US and Iraq grew rapidly to a friendship. Saddam Hussein well understood the strategic importance of it, thus offering an office to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and by condemning the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. [21] Iraq was, in this new vest, seen as the Arab state capable of stabilizing the Middle East, and as a consequence the one protecting the interests of the western world.

The relations were such that in 1982 Iraq was taken out from the list of States Sponsor of terrorism, revoking the restrictions imposed by the previous status. As a result, during the eight years of war, Iraq was supported through economic and military assistance from the US and a broad variety of western and Arabic countries. Saddam saw his military inventory growing to a colossal one: he was given high tech dual-kits, money, agricultural credits, chemicals and weapons. [22] Furthermore, the aforementioned support was dyed-in-the-wool in 1989, when President Bush signed National Security Directive (NSD) 26: 'Access to Persian Gulf and the security of key friendly states in the area are vital to U.S. national security…Normal relations between the United States and Iraq would serve our long-term interests and promote stability in both the Gulf and the Middle East'. [23] 

Moreover, a perception of being untouchable was firmly in Saddam's mind, since no action was taken to stop him from invading a big country like Iran, or from dropping several chemical weapons on both military and civilian targets: instead it was chosen to look in some other directions. Eight years of war, a decade of support that brought Iraq to its military highpoint and at the same time to its economic and social collapse. Maybe a decade of western diplomatic failure, of incapacity to understand and foresee the danger of supporting a growing arming process like the one taken by Iraq, a nation led by a man that, based on his persona, had no chance left but the one he chose in order to crown his dream: to invade Kuwait, a state that was torn off from its mother land by the British Empire.

Furthermore, in several occasions and meetings with the US Ambassador April Glaspie, Saddam was, once again, given the perception of having a go-ahead to his plan. Allegedly, in Saddam's view, she let him understood that the Iraq-Kuwait dispute was an Arabic one, and as such to be solved by the Arab people. [24] This was one of the biggest Saddam's miscalculations, since the US clearly stated on NSD 26 that 'Access to Persian Gulf and the security of key friendly states in the area are vital to U.S. national security. The United States remains committed to defend its vital interests in the region, if necessary and appropriate through the use of U.S. military force, against the Soviet Union or any other regional power with interests inimical to our own.' [25] This vision was later confirmed by Ambassador Glaspie, when, in response to the question "Why had the Washington government's policy before August 2, 1990, failed to deter Saddam from ordering an invasion of Kuwait?" she answered "because we foolishly did not realize he was stupid, that he did not believed our cleared and repeated warnings that we would support our vital interest". [26] 

By invading Kuwait Saddam was now a threat to both the US and the Arabs: the latter ones alarmed to be the next potential 'booty of war'. At the same time he, later on, found out that even France, Russia, Turkey and Iran would have soon walked out on Iraq, hence giving him even more frustration. [27] 

At the end of the day…

In conclusion, the origin of the 1991 Gulf War was not a 'crusade' aimed to free Kuwait in the name of the UN Charter. And if so then why did the world not react in the same way and for the same reasons when Iraq invaded Iran in 1980? Instead it was the result of a combination of reasons and circumstances stated before, like the Iraqi severe economic situation, Saddam's nature, the west's misjudgement not understanding the danger of supporting a growing arming process like the one taken by Iraq, and Saddam's miscalculation believing that the US and the western countries would not have intervened against the Kuwait invasion, or better in defence of a vital strategic area for the US National Security and for the entire world, an 'oil deal'.

Maybe the answer lays in Hew Strachan's words: '…Without perceived self-interest, the Western powers are reluctant to use military force'. [28] 



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