FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Gulf War, 30 Years and Counting

General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. and President George Bush visit US troops in Saudi Arabia on Thanksgiving Day, 1990 – Public Domain

Beijing.

The consequences are still reverberating three decades on, obviously in Iraq and the Middle East but also further afield, after Saddam Hussein became the first Arab leader to invade another Arab nation.  On Thursday, August 2, 1990, at about 2am, 100,000 Iraqi troops and 700 tanks smashed through Kuwaiti border posts. Saddam then announced that the emir of Kuwait had been deposed and the emirate was now Iraq’s nineteenth province.

This was his second invasion of a neighbor. In September 1980 he invaded Iran believing that the rule of the ayatollahs, and their Shia branch of Islam, posed a clear and present danger to Iraq’s Sunni-dominated government.

Much of the Iranian army and air force was dependent on US spare parts and these had dried up after the fall of the Shah in 1979. Saddam believed it would be a piece of cake as much of Iran’s heavy weaponry and air power would be unusable. Initially his forces were successful, driving deep into Iran. But the Iranians fought back, launched human wave attacks against Iraqi artillery and trench warfare, reminiscent of WWI, ensued. Stalemate. The war finally ended in 1988 under a United Nations-brokered ceasefire with neither victorious, both exhausted. Kuwait had initially lent the Iraqi leader US$14 billion to help finance the conflict. Saddam believed that this debt should be written off. Kuwait refused and demanded prompt payment.

When the guns of August were unleashed in 1990 it took the UN, still catching its breath since the recent end of the Cold War, four months to take action. Eventually, on November 29, 1990, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 678 authorizing the use of military force. It charged that Iraq was refusing to comply with international demands and was in flagrant contempt of the Security Council. It declared that unless Iraq withdrew by January 15, 1991, member states were authorized “to use all necessary means” to force compliance. There were 12 votes in favor, two against (Cuba and Yemen), and one abstention (China).

Iraq’s closest ally in the Gulf had, ironically, been Kuwait. The country was the top financier of the Iraqi invasion of Iran in 1980.  Saddam considered that Kuwait owed Iraq a huge debt of gratitude.

In examining the run-up to the war, the importance of one agreement is often overlooked. In 1975 Iran and Iraq signed the Algiers Accord. This agreement of convenience suited both Saddam, who was increasingly in power but not in office until 1979, the year the Shah was overthrown. It demarcated their disputed borders and allowed Saddam to crush the Kurds in the north of Iraq who had been getting help from Iran. But it also de facto established the Shah as the Gulf’s policeman. This was a role that Saddam cherished but was not yet ready for. When the Shah was overthrown, Saddam, with the blessing of Washington, became the policeman.

Saddam felt he had saved the Gulf sheikhdoms and was worthy of greater respect. Above all, he wanted more money. But the price of oil was falling. Kuwait had raised its oil production from the Opec quota of 1.5 million barrels a day to 1.9 million just weeks before the invasion. This further lowered the oil price from US$18 (then $30.40) to US$14. A US$1-a-barrel fall cost Saddam US$1 billion a year. He felt a sense of grievance and that he was being short-changed and losing face.

Saddam also accused Kuwait of stealing its oil by boring at a slant northwards along their frontier. Kuwait haughtily dismissed these claims. Saddam was not convinced and accused the emirate of blatantly stealing the resources of the nation whose armies saved it from Iran’s revolution. Saddam was the policeman. Now he wanted to be the law. Images of invasion, human hostages, Desert Shield, Desert Storm, anti-aircraft flak, Scud and Cruise missiles, wailing sirens, and billowing dark smoke from burning oil wells flooded our TV screens.

It was these images being viewed on TV in a fretful post-Tiananmen China that led to a radical overhaul of the nation’s military. TV news showing Cruise missiles hitting their designated targets with pinpoint accuracy both impressed and alarmed the Beijing leadership. Their military ideology and planning underwent a dramatic change. The airpower and new technology deployed by the US in the campaign to liberate Kuwait spurred China’s reevaluation of the People’s Liberation Army’s modus operandi. It launched China on a path to upgrade its armed forces, militarize the South China Sea, establish the so-called String of Pearls up to the Horn of Africa and set up missile bases along its east coast giving it command of sea approaches.

It may well be that the most understated legacy of events 30 years ago is not to be found in the shifting sands of the Gulf.

More articles by:

Tom Clifford, now in China, worked in Qatar with Gulf Times from 1989-1992 and covered the Gulf War for Irish and Canadian newspapers as well as for other media organizations.

Weekend Edition
August 14, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Christopher Brauchli
I Read the News Today, Oh Boy…
Tony McKenna
The Truth About Prince Philip
Louis Proyect
MarxMail 2.0
Sidney Miralao
Get Military Recruiters Out of Our High Schools
Jon Hochschartner
Okra of Time
August 13, 2020
David Correia, Justin Bendell, and Ernesto Longa
Nine Mile Ride: Why Police Reform Always Results in More Police Violence, Not Less
Vijay Prashad
Why a Growing Force in Brazil Is Charging That President Jair Bolsonaro Has Committed Crimes Against Humanity
Brett Wilkins
Teaching Torture: The Death and Legacy of Dan Mitrione
Joseph Scalia III
Yellowstone Imperiled by Compromise
Binoy Kampmark
Don’t Stigmatise the Nuke! Opponents of the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty
Margot Rathke
The Stimulus Deal Should Include Free College
CounterPunch News Service
Critic of Wildlife Department Removed Day Before Scheduled Meetings on Revisions to Wolf-killing Protocols
Thomas Knapp
America Doesn’t Have Real Presidential Debates, But It Should
George Ochenski
Time to Face – and Plan for – Our Very Different Future
Ted Rall
Joe Biden’s Vice Presidential Pick is … ZZZZZ
Purusottam Thakur
‘If We Don’t Work, Who’ll Produce the Harvest?’
Robert Dreyfuss
October Surprise: Will War with Iran Be Trump’s Election Eve Shocker?
Gary Leupp
The RCP, Fascism, and Chairman Bob’s Endorsement of Biden for President
James Haught
The Pandemic Disproves God
Robert Koehler
Election Theft and the Reluctant Democracy
August 12, 2020
Melvin Goodman
Trump’s War On Arms Control and Disarmament
P. Sainath
“We Didn’t Bleed Him Enough”: When Normal is the Problem
Riva Enteen
Kamala Harris? Really? Desperate Times, Desperate Measures
Kenneth Surin
The Decrepit UK Political System
Robert Hunziker
Freakish Arctic Fires Alarmingly Intensify
Ramzy Baroud
The Likud Conspiracy: Israel in the Throes of a Major Political Crisis
Sam Pizzigati
Within Health Care USA, Risk and Reward Have Never Been More Out of Kilter
John Perry
The US Contracts Out Its Regime Change Operation in Nicaragua
Binoy Kampmark
Selective Maritime Rules: The United States, Diego Garcia and International Law
Manuel García, Jr.
The Improbability of CO2 Removal From the Atmosphere
Khury Petersen-Smith
The Road to Portland: The Two Decades of ‘Homeland Security’
Raouf Halaby
Teaching Palestinian Children to Love Beethoven, Bizet, and Mozart is a Threat to a Depraved Israeli Society
Jeff Mackler
Which Way for Today’s Mass Radicalization? Capitalism’s Impending Catastrophe…or a Socialist Future
Tom Engelhardt
It Could Have Been Different
Stephen Cooper
Santa Davis and the “Stalag 17” Riddim
August 11, 2020
Richard D. Wolff
Why Capitalism is in Constant Conflict With Democracy
Paul Street
Defund Fascism, Blue and Orange
Richard C. Gross
Americans Scorned
Andrew Levine
Trump and Biden, Two Ignoble Minds Here O’erthrown
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Nationalism Has Led to the Increased Repression of Minorities
Sonali Kolhatkar
Trump’s Presidency is a Death Cult
Colin Todhunter
Pushing GMO Crops into India: Experts Debunk High-Level Claims of Bt Cotton Success
Valerie Croft
How Indigenous Peoples are Using Ancestral Organizing Practices to Fight Mining Corporations and Covid-19
David Rovics
Tear Gas Ted Has a Tantrum in Portland
Dean Baker
There is No Evidence That Generous Unemployment Benefits are Making It Difficult to Find Workers
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail