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The Gulf War

By John Brown, published 04/05/02

The Gulf War is one of the events of U.S. history that I lived through, though I was very young at the time. The Gulf War was a conflict which occurred in the very volatile Middle East, between the nations of Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, and eventually most of the United Nations.

The harbinger to the conflict began during the early 1980s, in which Iraq was involved in a bloody war with it's neighbor Iran. Iraq and Iran had long been rivals, dating back to early feuds between the Arabs of Iraq and the Persians of Iran. The conflict took a new dimension after the Islamic Revolution of 1979, when the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in Iran. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein saw Khomeini as a threat to him, because Hussein wanted to the dominant force in the Gulf area. Khomeini was vigorously anti-west and anti-United States. This led to some unlikely alliances being forged.

During the Iran/Iraq war, both Kuwait and the United States supported Iraq. The U.S., under President Jimmy Carter's administration, backed Hussein because at the time Iran was holding several American diplomats hostage who had been at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. The U.S. believed if Saddam won the war, then the hostages could be freed. So thus, a shaky and bizarre alliance was forged between the U.S. and Saddam Hussein.

Iraq technically won the war, but gained nothing from in. In fact, the war was basically a stalemate. Iraq's economy was destroyed and thousands of soldiers were killed. After the cease-fire, allegations came out that the U.S. had been selling weapons to Iran in an effort to free the hostages. This, of course, upset Hussein, and was the beginning of Hussein's notorious hatred of America and all things west.

Saddam Hussein is a brutal dictator, and he was not without some opposition within Iraq, most notably from the Shiite Muslim groups in the south and the Kurds of the north. Hussein did not hesitate to slaughter anyone who opposed him, in fact he used biological weapons against these rebels, and against Iran. No one knows for sure how many of his own people were killed, but estimates place it at between 25,000 to 100,000.

Following such a horrendous war against Iran, Hussein then needed a successful war to improve his popularity. To the south he saw such an opportunity. Kuwait was a small, but prosperous country with many oil fields. In 1990 Hussein accused Kuwait of overproduction of oil, and also of stealing oil from Iraq. At first most people did not think this dispute would lead to war. In fact on July 25th of that year, April Glaspie, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq told Hussein that the dispute was an Arab matter and did not affect the United States. Iraq had long considered Kuwait to be an Iraqi providence. Saddam did not think the U.S. would become involved. He was mistaken.

The U.S. had not been involved in a war since the Vietnam War (1963-1972). This had been a very unpopular war which had killed thousands of American service men and women, and had been very unsuccessful, in the sense that the U.S. did not accomplish the goals it had set out to accomplish. The Americans were still weary of entering a war, and because of this Hussein thought that the U.S. would not get involved. At first, the American people were opposed to entering the war. U.S. President George H. W. Bush would have a difficult time convincing Americans and other nations to become involved. But he was able to do this.

On August 2, 1990, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait. Many Kuwaitis fought hard to defend their country, but they were simply out numbered by the Iraqis. The United Nations immediately called on Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. Hussein refuses, and economic sanctions are placed on Iraq, in addition to freezing all Iraqi and Kuwaiti foreign assets. U.S. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney visited Saudi Arabia and the U.S. troops are first deployed to the region immediately thereafter. The U.N. condemns Hussein, and declares his annexation of Kuwait invalid.

The reasons for U.S. involvement in this war were simple: to protect oil reserves and to liberate Kuwait. President Bush had to convince America and the world that it was the right thing to do. He had an uphill battle: gallop polls indicated that most Americans did not feel the U.S. should get involved in mid 1990. Scenes of the suffering Kuwaitis and the idea of oil dependent America losing valuable oil sources, along with some outstanding speeches by President Bush were able to convince most Americans and most of the rest of the world that military action against Iraq was the right thing to do.

With most of the allies convinces, the U.S. gave Hussein until January 15, 1991, to pull out of Kuwait. Not surprisingly, Hussein refused. So, on January 16, Allied forces began a devastating bombing of Iraq and its forces in Kuwait.

The following nations were involved militarily in the war: Kuwait, United States, Saudi Arabia, Great Britain, France, The Netherlands, Egypt, Syria, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Canada, Belgium, and Italy. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Honduras, Niger, Romania, and South Korea also supported the U.S. led war, and provided intelligence or other means to the U.N. No nation helped Iraq militarily, but Jordan and Yemen gave moral support to Iraq.

The most surprising of these nations was Jordan. Long considered the closest ally in the Arab World to the U.S., Jordan's King Hussein condemned the American bombardment on February 6, and offered moral support to Iraq. Jordan believed that the U.S. was fighting the war to help Israel, a U.S. ally in the region and long time foe of the Arab states.

In the Israel-Arab conflict, Hussein saw an opportunity to gain support. He retaliated to the war by launching SCUD missiles into Israel. Hussein believed that if he could provoke Israel into retaliating, that most of the other Arab states would come to Iraq's aid, thus strengthening Iraq in the war. Israel suffered some casualties, and came very close to retaliating, but the U.S. was able to convince it not to.

On February 22, Bush demands that all Iraqi troops withdraw from Kuwait. When they refuse, the U.S. Marines, the U.S. Army, and many Arab forces move into Kuwait and Iraq. Many in Iraq did not support the war, and the surrendered easily, because no one would want to die for a tyrant like Hussein. On February 26, after only four days of ground combat, Kuwaiti forces declare they are in control of Kuwait City. The next day President Bush orders a cease fire. On March 3, Iraqi leaders formally accepted the cease fire terms.

In all, 148 Allied soldiers were killed, and at least 100,000 Iraqis. The results were also felt in many nations. For the United States, it was much like the Spanish-American War of 1898. They both provided an easy and just victory following a long, harsh, and unpopular war (Civil War, 1861-1865, Vietnam War, 1963-1972). It also liberated Kuwait, and strengthen U.S. ties to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

For Iraq it was a second devastating war. Given Hussein's horrible efforts in his two wars, most outside Iraq believed he would be overthrown by his own people. This led to the decision not to march into Baghdad, and overthrow him. This decision has been criticized ever since. Surprisingly, Saddam's government has been in strong power, despite Kurdish and Shiite rebellions. Hussein did have to accept "no-fly zones" set up over Northern and Southern Iraq implemented to protect the Kurds, Shiites, and Kuwait. The sanctions placed on Iraq remain to this day, creating economic hardship on the Iraqi people. While Hussein and his government continue to live lavish lifestyles, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children have died of starvation. It's clear the Hussein has no concern for most of his people.

For the rest of the region, Syria was finally able to defeat the last resistance in it's de facto control of Lebanon. Many believe that Syrian President Assad was given a free hand to deal with the Civil War, in exchange for joining the war against Iraq. When Yemen announced it's sympathy for Iraq, Saudi Arabia retaliated by expelling almost a million Yemeni guest workers, causing horrible economic hardship in Yemen and producing more conflict in the long standing Saudi Arabia-Yemen Border Conflict. Jordan has since distanced itself from Iraq, and has resumed positive exchanges with the U.S. The 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords made peace between the governments of Jordan and Israel.

Gulf War Syndrome has begun to effect service men and women since the war ended as well. The symptoms include muscle pain, chronic fatigue, and skin rashes. It's very mysterious in origin, but is very depilating. Some believe a U.S. cover-up is involved.

Probably the greatest effects of the Gulf War are being felt today, more than a decade after it ended. Hussein is surprisingly still in power in Iraq, and remains very hostile to the West and to the United States in particular. He forced out the U.N. Weapons Inspectors in 1998, and no one knows what kinds of weapons he is designing. Many feel that the U.S. will soon finish the job it started in 1990 and topple Hussein's regime for good.

One of the most persistent and disturbing rumors is that a Navy Captain named Michael Scott Speicher is still alive and being held in Iraq. He was originally listed as KIA (Killed In Action), but his status was changed to MIA (Missing In Action). It is believed that there is currently a debate to change his status to POW (Prisoner of War). Many Iraqi defectors swear they have seen Speicher alive and being held captive, and intelligence data continues to support this. Critics argue that if he was alive, Hussein would have used him to negotiate or propaganda long ago, but others claim that if there is one thing we know about Hussein, it is that we can not understand how he thinks.

Some also believe that Hussein had a hand in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the plane crash in Pennsylvania. One of Hussein's top officials met with hijacker leader Muhammad Atta a few weeks before the attacks. The U.S. Government is rumored to have more information to link Hussein to the attacks, though it has not been made public yet, if it exists.

Today the Middle East remains turbulent area, as the long standing Israeli-Palestinian Conflict continues. Can peace be negotiated in this are? We can only hope.

Works Cited


Butt, Gerald. "Saddam Hussein - his rise to power." BBC: 1998.

Gulf War. "Gulf War." 2001.

Kerschen, Arthur. "Gulf War Syndrome." 2002.

Lee, Roger A. "The History Guy:The Persian Gulf War (1990-1991)." 2001.

O'Hara, Scott. "" 2002.

Pike, John. "Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988)." 1999.

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