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Essay: Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait

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  • Subject area(s): International relations
  • Reading time: 5 minutes
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  • Published: 15 September 2013*
  • File format: Text
  • Words: 1,426 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 6 (approx)

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As leaders of the United States of America, responsible for balance and peace in our world today, you must act in response to Iraq’s recent invasion of Kuwait. While this conflict may seem a world away on paper, in reality, Iraq, Kuwait, and the Middle Eastern region as a whole are of growing importance because of their oil production, due to numerous oil fields having been discovered. Not only is the world oil market on the line, there are also many important alliances, both through UN and as an individual country, that must be sustained. To obtain full understanding of this invasion, it is crucial to analyze previous conflicts and understand what lead up to Iraq’s invasion.

Prior to World War I, Kuwait was a British territory, and present-day Iraq was part of the Ottoman Empire. Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire by primarily British and French forces, the former Ottoman provinces of Baghdad and Basra were combined to form Iraq, a British-owned League of Nations mandate. Shortly after gaining its independence in 1932, Iraq unsuccessfully attempted to “restore” Kuwait to its rule. Nearly three decades later, following Kuwaiti independence, Iraq re-asserted its claim to Kuwait by appointing the shaikh (leader) of Kuwait as governor of Basra, a bordering Iraqi state.
However, this resulted in the dispatchment of British troops stationed nearby to eliminate Iraqi influence over Kuwait. By 1963, two years later, Iraq once again began attending Arab League and OPEC meetings- two organizations that it had originally boycotted for seating Kuwait, and in October of the year, Iraq officially recognized Kuwaiti independence. While this was monumental for the relationship between the two countries, Iraq soon found itself in war with Iran a decade later. Iraq demanded to be able to lease two of Kuwait’s islands along the Persian Gulf during its war with Iran, so it would have direct access to water. Kuwait rejected this request, but, however, did offer much financial aid to Iraq throughout the war, even becoming itself an Iraqi port once Basra was shut down by the fighting. Following a ceasefire in 1988, there were two noticeable things about Iraq and Kuwait that undoubtedly were factors in the former country’s eventual invasion of the latter. First, Iraq was insistent on gaining a more secure outlet to the Persian Gulf, having recognized this importance in the midst of the Iran-Iraq War. Second, Kuwait was hit with a large set of economic grievances, including wartime debt and weak oil prices following overproduction, which seemingly made it much easier for Iraq to conquer Kuwait. However, there was more than simple economics that was in play when Saddam Hussein ordered an invasion.

When Saddam Hussein seized power in 1968, he was looking to expand Iraq’s role in the Arab world. Iraq had the intention to overthrow the new Islamic republic in Tehran and establish itself as the predominant power in the Persian Gulf when it invaded Iran in 1980. Eight years later, after a resolution to the Iraq-Iran War had been tailored for Iraqi needs, Hussein pushed for Iraqi predominance. He aided Mauritania against Senegal, assisted in unifying North Yemen and South Yemen, and provided arms to the Islamist junta in Sudan and Christian rebellion in Lebanon.

One of the most important Iraqi alliances during Hussein’s reign has been with Jordan and the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization). The latter had been unstable at Tunis since the Israeli raid in 1985 and the assassination of of its top military strategists, Abu Jihad. As a result, it moved parts of its administrative and military operations to Baghdad, decreasing reliance on Egypt and questioning the relationship between itself and Syria. Palestine was attracted to Iraq’s perspective toward the Arab world. Iraq argued that as long as Arab countries remained economically and militarily weak, they wouldn’t be able to remove Israel from the occupied territories. Iraq thus proposed a pan-Arab military force and material build-up, redirecting investments to the Arab world rather than abroad, and that wealthy Arab countries would aid poorer countries.

All this was the message of Saddam Hussein’s speech on April 8, 1990, during which he also stated that in case of an Israeli nuclear attack, Iraq would respond with chemical weapons, and that “if aggression is committed against an Arab and that Arab seeks our assistance from afar, we won’t fail to come to his assistance.” Hussein seemingly reached the peak of his popularity in the late of the next month, when, during an emergency Arab conference in Baghdad, he called for a united Arab front. However, it soon became clear that not all Arab states were on board with Hussein’s leadership. Kuwait, for example, resumed direct flights to and signed agreements with Iran, Iraq’s primary rival, had no joint projects with Iraq, and had yet to allow any flight to Iraq even cross over its airspace, rendering Basra’s international airport useless. Iraq worried that Gulf states were partnering with Iran as a means of avoiding Iraq’s sphere of influence.

There were many countries involved in the struggle for Arab balance, preventing or supporting Hussein’s claim to the Arab throne. Baghdad and Damascus not only represented the rival sections of the Ba’ath Party, which was founded in 1947, but also supported opposite causes: Syria sided with Iran during its war with Iraq, Iraq stopped any resolution of the Lebanese civil war that gave Syria power in the country, and the two countries aided opposite sides of the PLO peace negotiations. Mubarak, president of Egypt since 1981, has also distanced his country from Iraq, both politically and tangibly. Once his country was readmitted into the Arab League, he won support for returning the league’s headquarters back to Cairo, from Baghdad, and restored relations with Syria, among other nations not allied with Iraq.

When the Iraqi-Kuwaiti crisis began last month, the divisions between countries were already present. Egypt, along with Syria and Saudi Arabia, were creating a counterweight to Iraq’s predominance, which was embraced by Jordan, PLO, and Yemen. Turkey severely restricted the flow of the Euphrates River into Iraq with its newly built dam, the Ataturk Dam, an action that, combined with Turkey’s presence in NATO and support of Israel, Hussein assumed was part of an international conspiracy against his country.

Iraq had accumulated around $40 billion in foreign debt by 1989, mainly during the Iraq-Iran war and the years that followed, so its government announced a debt repayment schedule by means of increasing the $18 per barrel price OPEC had just set. However, prices plummeted in early 1990 due to overproduction and led to a OPEC meeting in which the Iraqi oil minister called on other to follow their previously established production quotas. This was followed up by the vice president visiting Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait in late June. UAE delayed agreeing to the quotas until later last month, and Kuwait held off until it was accused by Iraq of  “aggression [that] is not less effective than military aggression” in a harsh letter sent to the Arab League. Despite last minute attempts to accommodate Iraq’s demands, Hussein continued attacking Gulf nations who “thrust their dagger in [Iraq’s] back” and linking their actions, specifically those of Kuwait and UAE, to international conspiracy, concluding that they had been led by the United States.
On the 23rd of July, merely a week ago, the CIA discovered the movement of 30,000 Iraqi troops to the Iraq-Kuwait border, and our naval fleet stationed in the Persian Gulf was alerted. In response, Mubarak initiated negotiations held at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, between the countries, to prevent any attack or foreign intervention. However, Hussein broke off the negotiations after only 2 hours. Later, on the 25th, Hussein met with the our ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, and attacked our policy with the Arab nations, stating that we had encouraged Kuwait and the UAE to disregard Iraq’s policies. Despite Hussein’s harsh, critical tone, the ambassador did not see any indications of imminent war from him. Nevertheless, eight days later, yesterday, Iraq invaded Kuwait.
All this information will be very crucial when deciding what course of action to take in light of this invasion. Keep in mind the past and current alliances between Arab countries, and make sure that all action US conducts from here on out is in line with our general military policies. In addition, make sure that current military, political, and economic situations are dealt with, as they all play a key role in this crucial area and the entire world.

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