Given the event’s lasting impact, it’s a shame the 24th anniversary passed with hardly a mention. Back on August 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein sent his forces storming into Kuwait. The sudden attack stunned the world, smashed rapprochement with the United States and cruelly crushed a neighboring state.
Although there had been Iraqi troop movements along the border, almost everyone thought they were another of Saddam’s pressure tactics to wring more support out of the Kuwaiti government. As the invading Iraqi troops moved in, the United Nations quickly reacted. On August 3, the UN Security Council called for Iraq to leave Kuwait. On August 8, a defiant Iraq announced the annexation of Kuwait as its 19th province. Fearing further Iraqi military advances, U.S Air Force jets began to arrive in Saudi Arabia.
There were 300,000 Iraqi troops occupying Kuwait. The U.S. began cobbling together a coalition force that would eventually be composed of 750,000 troops from 34 countries, 540,000 were American. In November, the UN Security Council authorized “all necessary means” to expel Iraq from Kuwait and set January 15, 1991 as the deadline. On January 17, Coalition forces began launching air and missile strikes on targets in Iraq and Kuwait.
On February 24 (8 pm EST on February 23 in Washington), Coalition ground forces attacked the badly battered Iraqi troops. The offensive military operations halted on February 27 after Iraqi forces had been evicted from Kuwait. The country was in shambles, the departing Iraqis set fire to over 200 oil wells. During the conflict, over 10,000 Iraqis were killed. The Coalition lost 300 killed in action. During the campaign, a large volume of military maps and charts were moved from America to the Middle East, enough to fill 130 18-wheel trucks.
On the day Iraq invaded Kuwait, Washington’s infuriated foreign policy people recognized they had been double-crossed by Saddam Hussein. During the early 1980s, his emissaries to Washington began emphasizing Iraq’s less strident foreign policy and focus on economic development. In its newfound desire to promote regional stability, Iraq wanted an end to the war with Iran. It also expressed a willingness to support whatever agreement the Israelis and Palestinians worked out between themselves.
Although events proved them wrong, policymakers in Washington thought the strains of war had forced Saddam Hussein to alter his policies. The emphasis on economic development, desire to promote regional stability and closer cooperation with the United States were seen as signs that the Iraqi leadership had adjusted to reality. To emphasize the policy shift, Iraq offered to restore full diplomatic relations with the U.S. In November 1984, ambassadors were exchanged for the first time in 17 years.
A cease fire in August 1988, brought the eight-year Iraq-Iran war to a close. The conflict inflicted approximately one million casualties and cost the combatants in excess of $200 billion. With the war at an end, Iraq’s future looked rosy. The country’s oil production was heading toward three million barrels per day. Iraq possessed the land, water and population needed to support economic growth. With crude oil reserves second only in size to Saudi Arabia and ample supplies of natural gas, Iraq had the resources to fund economic expansion.
In 1988, Dr. Abdul-Amir Al-Anbari, Iraq’s Ambassador to the United States, outlined his government’s view in a forward he wrote for the directory of the United States-Iraq Business Forum: “Now, more than ever, when Iraq and the Arab Gulf region enjoy peace and stability following Iraq’s success in bringing the 8-year Iran-Iraq armed conflict to a peaceful end, the Forum can play a leading role in the reconstruction efforts in Iraq and in serving the interests of its member companies.”
The ambassador’s comments continued: “Now that the Iran-Iraq war is hopefully behind us, Iraq is determined to mobilize and allocate all its resources and wealth to reconstruct and expand its economy and lay the foundations for the prosperity and happiness of all our people.” The forum had been organized in 1985 as a nonprofit dedicated to the promotion of commercial relations between the two countries. Sensing a shift in Iraqi attitude, its membership quickly climbed to over 50 banks and corporations.
Signs began to emerge indicating that the mercurial president/dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, was shifting his priorities again. As a consequence of the war with Iran, Iraq owed approximately $28 billion to non-Arab creditor nations and was facing a short-term debt service problem. Much to the dismay of the banking community, Iraq turned obstinate in its financial dealings. It kept much of its financial data secret while rebuffing offers to reschedule the debt over a more manageable time period. Intelligence reports on Iraq’s military development, chemical and biological weapons programs also indicated Iraq’s softer policy was in real trouble.
What would have been the outcome if Saddam Hussein had allowed his government to continue in the direction of defusing regional tensions and promoting economic cooperation? Iraq would not have suffered through years of internal deterioration as Saddam Hussein continually challenged UN demands and sanctions after hostilities ceased in 1991. Most importantly, the U.S. led invasion of 2003 would not have taken place.