The Gulf War History Essay Example

Despite the awareness of the interdependence of states and nations and the need to use political methods to overcome the contradictions, the number and severity of armed conflicts has not decreased. However, it would be wrong to deny completely the beginning of the formation of new security structures. Certain historical shift has already occurred in this regard, although the mechanisms of regulating international relations have not yet been properly developed. That is the reason why Iraq’s aggression against Kuwait in August 1990 was not only possible, but also posed a threat to the economic and political interests of many countries in the West and East. The aggression escalated due to the Gulf War, which was carried out in a challenging environment and highlighted the sustained commitment of a number of political leaders to solving the problems of international relations by means of force. The war in the Persian Gulf lasted just 43 days, but the study and evaluation of its military, political, economic, environmental and social impacts took many years. This paper will try to make a contribution in the study of the Gulf War, identifying the background, the course, and the advantages and disadvantages of the war.

The Background of the Gulf War

The fact that the Iraq-Kuwaiti armed conflict has its own history, rooted in the period of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the formation of the newly independent states out of its fragments, gives grounds to call this conflict “historic.” However, Kuwait and Iraq actually have no disputes of the historical nature that could be caused by a claim to a particular territory. Furthermore, these states have no historical hostility caused by the conflicts of interest in the historical period (Smith, 2005). In any case, there are no parallels between the conflicts of the historical period and the Iran-Iraq conflict over the disputed territory on the left bank of the Shatt al-Arab, now owned by Iran. Moreover, references to the historic nature of the conflict, which allow the Iraqi political scientists to justify their position in the conflict, prove precisely the opposite viewpoint that implies that this conflict is a system of purely military and political activities without the historical background.

In order to find confirmation to this point of view, it is necessary to give a clear definition of the Iraq-Kuwait conflict at different stages of its dynamic development. One can hardly dispute the fact that the claims of Iraq in Kuwait have been formed under the influence of the two most important political considerations: extremely favorable strategic position of Kuwait in the Gulf and its extremely favorable and large oil reserves. If it were not for these two factors, it is unlikely that the ruling circles in Iraq would put forward a claim on a piece of the desert like they did in the 1930s and in times of the Baathist government (Smith, 2005). Hence, one can come to a conclusion that the conflict was imaginary rather than real from the very beginning. It was necessary for Iraq as the means of consolidating the nation and as a system of actions and promotional activities aimed at implementing political and economic considerations of nationalist character.

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Iraq’s military policy in the late 1980s had the same objectives as in the previous decades: to ensure its leadership in the Arab world and weaken the position of Iran and Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf (Smith, 2005). One of the areas of Iraq’s military policy was expanding of the boundaries of the country at the expense of the neighboring states. The Iraqi leadership has decided to achieve these goals by force. The annexation of Kuwait would have allowed Iraq to reduce its foreign debt of 22 billion USD and become one of the world’s leading exporters of oil (Smith, 2005). The possession of Kuwait, its ports and islands would have markedly improved the geo-strategic position of Iraq and provided air corridors for aviation and unhindered access for the Iraqi Navy warships and merchant ships to the strategically important Persian Gulf. The Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990 (Lowry, 2008).

The Course of the Gulf War

The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait began at 2 A.M. on August 2, 1990 (Lowry, 2008). Two hours after the beginning, the Iraqi air force began to attack not only military targets, but also a large number of civilian targets including the Kuwait international airport. After capturing the capital of the country, Iraqis primarily cut off all the communication lines with the outside world. This was made because the official Baghdad feared that the truth about the resistance exerted by the Kuwaiti population would become public (Lowry, 2008). Nevertheless, the news about the brutality of the war quickly spread throughout the small country, and thousands of Kuwaitis tried to save their families and fled to Saudi Arabia. Since the shortest path was laid through the desert, the latter became a tomb for thousands of families because of the heat and dehydration (Finlan, 2014). Meanwhile, the empty houses of Kuwaitis began to fill with settlers from Basra and other areas of Iraq. The majority of these settlers were the most disadvantaged and excluded people in their own country, and therefore it is no wonder that their main activity in Kuwait was stealing and looting of local shops with the full connivance of the attacking forces (Lowry, 2008).

Despite the sudden attack, the shock and the exhibition of force and violence, Iraqis, to their great surprise, could not recruit a sufficient number of collaborators among Kuwaitis, which could support the version that Iraq sent troops to Kuwait “to assist people who rebelled against the regime” (Finlan, 2014). Unsuccessful attempts to recruit Kuwaitis under the banners of Iraq were predictable by the Iraqi leadership. The point is that a month before the invasion of Kuwait, Saddam Hussein has attempted to win over the Kuwaiti opposition representatives on the issue of boycott of the National Assembly of Kuwait, but these attempts were unsuccessful. Before the Kuwait invasion, these unsuccessful attempts forced Saddam Hussein to take the plunge and initiate the formation of the puppet interim government of Kuwait led by a former accountant Ala Hussein Ali, who according to some sources, was recruited by the Iraqi intelligence during his study in the University of Baghdad.

The interim government has been transformed into the Kuwaiti Republic, but the latter lasted only 30 hours, since the members of the puppet government appealed to Saddam Hussein, requesting the inclusion of Kuwait as a part of Iraq. August 8, 1990 Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council adopted a resolution on inclusion of Kuwait to Iraq as the 19th province (Finlan, 2014). “Returning Kuwait to the homeland’s bosom” was an attempt to legitimate the accession of Kuwait from the official Baghdad. However, this attempt did not change the world public opinion. On August 9, 1990 the UN Security Council adopted a resolution number 662, condemning the Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the annexation of Kuwait and Saddam Hussein’s statement that Iraqi troops from Kuwait will not be withdrawn under any circumstances (Murdico, 2004). However, it was not enough to stop the Iraqi leader. Saddam Hussein officially announced his decision to make Kuwait the 19th province of Iraq on August 28, 1990 (Lowry, 2008).

The world community strongly criticized the act of aggression. The refusal of Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait led to the fact that UN Security Council imposed economic sanctions against the aggressor and allowed the use of force against it. The intentions of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein remained unclear. A number of Western analysts speculate that he can now try to invade Saudi Arabia, which has a clearly insufficient army to repel such an invasion (Evans, 2003). Control of two countries with huge oil reserves would allow Iraq to have a significant impact on the global oil market. In the view of these considerations, the United States offered to Saudi Arabia to place their military units on its territory. After some hesitation, King Fahd gave his consent. The American troops began arriving to Saudi Arabia. The operation to ensure the security of the country was called the “Desert Shield” (Evans, 2003).

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On November 29, 1990, after the failure of numerous attempts to persuade Iraq to accept a peaceful resolution of the crisis, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution № 678 (Murdico, 2004). The resolution provided six weeks to Iraq to end its attack of Kuwait. If this did not happen, the UN Member States cooperating with the Government of Kuwait were authorized to “to use all necessary means to uphold and implement resolution 660 (1990) and all subsequent relevant resolutions and to restore international peace and security in the area” (Security Council, 1990). This meant that the UN has provided the right to conduct a military operation to liberate Kuwait for the already established coalition of the Multinational Force.

On January 17, 1991 MNF troops began a military operation to liberate Kuwait named “Desert Storm”, which was successfully completed on February 24, 1991 (Evans, 2003). The period from January 17 to February 24, 1991 was the contactless phase of massive air strikes, which involved up to 1000 aircrafts (Evans, 2003). Iraq responded by the shelling of Israeli territory that was not involved in the war with the ballistic missiles “Scud” and “eco-terrorism” campaigns that was the discharge of oil into the Persian Gulf (Finlan, 2014).

During February 24 to February 28, 1991, there was the ground operation “Desert Sabre”, which led to the status quo restoration and the Kuwait liberation (Evans, 2003). The commander of the transnational forces, General Schwarzkopf caused the major blow not in the direction of Kuwaiti where he was expected by the Iraqi command, but to the western desert area along the Saudi-Iraqi border. The capital of Kuwait was liberated in two days. The coalition forces came to Basra from the west, almost surrounding the Iraqi forces that retreated from Kuwait. Morning of February 28, Saddam Hussein announced a ceasefire and acceptance by Iraq of all the United Nations requirements. Norman Schwarzkopf and Khaled bin Sultan signed the ceasefire agreement with the representatives of the Iraqi side on March 3, 1991. Independence and sovereignty of Kuwait were restored.

The Positive Aspects of the Gulf War

The defeat of Iraq and the sharp decline in its military capabilities led to the fact that it had lost its status of being one of the regional “centers of power”, able to resist Israel and claim leadership in the Persian Gulf. The threat posed by Iraq to its Arab neighbors has decreased, but Iraq was still a serious counterweight to strengthening of the Iranian positions in the Persian Gulf. This fact met the interests of member countries of the GCC and the United States.

Iraq in its military policy imposed special importance to the preservation of the combat capability of the armed forces. Iraqi leaders have managed to organize restoration of the plants for the production of ammunition and military equipment, and repair damaged artillery, armored vehicles and aircraft. However, the defeat in the 1991 war, strict international sanctions and strikes on military and economic targets led to a marked reduction in the Iraqi military capabilities. While the Iraq armed forces totaled to more than 800 thousand people in the beginning of the “Desert Storm” operation, the Iraq forces totaled to 424 thousand people in 2000. If the Iraq military spending was 8.6 billion USD in 1990 or 21% of GDP, then it was only 1.6 billion USD or just 9% of GDP (Mofid, 1990).

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Another positive aspect is that the U.S. role in the military-political relations in the Persian Gulf had steadily increased in the period under review. After the loss of its main ally in the area – Iran, the United States have relied on the amplification of the direct military presence and involvement in their plans of Saudi Arabia and other Arab monarchies.

The Gulf War has contributed to achieving the objectives of the United States to recover the lost ground in the Gulf region, namely:

  • decrease of negative consequences of the Islamic Revolution in Iran for the United States and the West;
  • depletion of the military and economic potential of the belligerents;
  • aversion of the world’s attention from the situation in the Middle East;
  • exclusion of Iran and Iraq from the Middle East settlement process;
  • the increasing role of Saudi Arabia (the most reliable ally of the United States) in the region (Yetiv, 2011).

The Negative Aspects of the Gulf War

Assessing the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the new balance of forces in the Persian Gulf, it could be argued that the United States have strengthened its position in this area of the world, but have failed to fulfill the whole set of the military and political objectives. For example, Iran continued to pursue the independent policy. Iran maintained the close links with the Iraqi Shiite community and acquired the opportunity to influence the development of the situation in Iraq, which plunged into several counter-terrorism wars without a rigid and centralized leadership of Saddam Hussein. These wars are held between Sunnis and Shiites, Arabs and Kurds, and between the Iraqis and the attacking forces (Finlan, 2014).

Iraq is no longer the imaginary but the real center of the terrorist threat. At the same time, the hotbed of tension in and around Iraq began to exert a growing destabilizing effect on the military-political situation in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East in general, directly affecting the other acute regional issues.

However, the main disadvantage of the Gulf War is the ecological catastrophe. Every war in the human history is an environmental disaster, but the Gulf War is the most dramatic region in this regard (Brauch, Liotta, Marquina, Rogers, & Selim, 2003). The actions of the warring parties in this conflict were characterized by particularly neglect to the environment. The bombing campaign in the combat zone had sharply worsened the ecological situation in the region, as well as in the substantial part of the entire Arabian Peninsula. The consequences of the hostilities were reflected not only in the combat zone. The most negative impact was caused to the flora and fauna of a number of continents (Brauch et al., 2003).

The actions of the warring parties violated not only the principles of peaceful coexistence between states, but also the fundamental international instruments in the field of environmental protection, such as the Declaration on Environment and Development, as well as more than 15 international acts. The bombing of cities caused fires in refineries, chemical plants, warehouse of fuel and raw materials, and oil and gas wells that have had a detrimental effect on the ozone layer of the earth, causing climate change. This, in turn, could lead to irreversible changes in living organisms, which would inevitably affect the people in the form of growth of the number of cancer diseases (Brauer, 2009). Also, it should be considered the fuel for combat aircraft, which contains highly toxic substances such as polystyrene, polyurethane, metal nitrates, fluoride, etc. Clouds formed by combustion products moved over Africa as well as the entire Asia, posing a threat of large-scale ecological catastrophe (Brauch et al., 2003).

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Iraq had announced the list of so-called black spots (high-risk chemical facilities), the accident which can cause a special environmental damage to the regions and outside countries. However, there was the systematic bombardment of the Iraq chemical plants, even despite the fact that their manufacture was particularly hazardous to the environment. Fires in them cause emissions of the combustion products to the atmosphere (Brauer, 2009). These products are primarily POPs – dioxins and furans of high carcinogenic and mutagenic properties. All these compounds are included in pesticides, paints, plastics and wood impregnation. Systematic large-scale fires have formed almost constant sources of pollution in the combat zone, which then spread across the Northern Hemisphere (Brauch et al., 2003).

There are enough examples of the bombs and missiles falling in the “black spots.” The large factory of chemicals in the vicinity of Baghdad was destroyed along with the propellant warehouse. Anti-Iraq air forces bombed the petrochemical plant in Iraq and the large complex for the production of chlorides with a large storage of nuclear waste in the vicinity of Baghdad. Moreover, the air strikes did not always reach the target because the pilots sometimes missed the mark. It is enough to recall the protests in the neighboring countries about the fact that the American cruise missiles mistakenly attacked their territories. Almost all of Iraq’s neighbors said that a serious environmental damage was caused by the oil pollution of the Persian Gulf (Brauer, 2009). Today, one can say with confidence that the environmental consequences of the “Desert Storm” will be harmful to mankind due to the increase in the number of long-lasting cancer and carcinogenic and mutational effects on the environment.


The sharp aggravation of the interstate conflicts and political situation in the Persian Gulf in the final quarter of the 20th century is the result of the positive and largely negative interaction of the internal and external factors. The main factor is a significant increase of oil prices compared with previous decades, the level of which is largely dependent on the political positions of the Gulf States. However, such changes in pricing caused great concern and opposition from the West. The increase of the oil revenues of local countries, in turn, has spurred the growth of ambitions of the ruling elites and the arms race.

On the other hand, there is observed a strengthening of the political, military and ideological Western interference in the internal affairs of the region. This is done in order to maintain control over the trade in the strategic raw material of global importance – oil, as well as for the sake of retaining the political situation in the Gulf as part of satisfying the interests of the Western powers. The Gulf War allowed joining the open large-scale cooperation with the West for Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. It also provided the right to become the incontestable guarantors of the immutability of the status quo in the region, the guarantors of the inviolability of the power of ruling monarchy, and free export of oil from the Gulf to the world markets for the benefit of the United States and the NATO.