Invading Kuwait cost Iraq its future


Invading Kuwait cost Iraq its future


6 min read
28 Feb, 2017
Summary: Following the liberation of Kuwait from Iraqi occupation, Western sanctions decimated Iraq's society, depriving its once affluent people of any chance of normality, writes Tallha Abdulrazaq.
International forces in the town of Salman, southern Iraq, 27 February 1991 [AFP]

Twenty-six years ago today, the United States declared a ceasefire after it had utterly destroyed the Iraqi army during Operation Desert Storm - part of the first Gulf War - having forced the Iraqis to leave Kuwait, a country Baghdad had recently declared its 19th province.

Though Iraq's occupation was halted, this was not achieved without a litany of war crimes that were committed against Iraqi military personnel, and against many others. 

This began a long line of what can only be described as crimes against humanity perpetrated against the Iraqi people. On this day almost three decades ago, the Iraqi people lost their future.

The First Gulf War

A little under seven months earlier, on 2 August 1990, Iraqi forces launched an invasion of neighbouring Kuwait. This came after years of trying to settle major disputes over oil exports with Iraq's regional Arab "brothers", Kuwaiti slant drilling [under the border] into the shared Rumailah oilfield, and what Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein perceived to be Arab disrespect and enmity towards Iraq.

After all, Iraq had only just emerged barely victorious from a brutal eight-year war with Iran in 1988, with Tehran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's desire to export his revolution to other countries, threatening to topple their regimes - a threat to all regional Arab powers. 

People often blame Saddam for harbouring aggressive, expansionist agendas, and there is certainly merit to that.

The Iraqi invasion began in the early hours, and most of the military objectives the Iraqi high command had set for its troops had been achieved later that same day

However, Iraq arguably still had significant grievances with its Arab neighbours, and particularly with Kuwait, which - along with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - were all producing oil in excess of OPEC quotas. This was pushing down oil prices meaning that Iraq's war-ravaged economy was unable to recover.

It also meant that Iraq could not demobilise its vaunted "million-man army", as this would have caused high unemployment and widespread discontent. Not only was Kuwait helping to depress oil prices, but it then began slant-drilling and relieving Iraq of its own oil stocks, something Saddam Hussein correctly described as "economic warfare".

This, and a meeting with then-US Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie - who said that the US had "no opinion" on Arab-Arab disputes - led a gullible Saddam to order Kuwait to be attacked.

This also spelled the beginning of a series of catastrophes which would afflict the Iraqi nation

The Iraqi invasion began in the early hours, and most of the military objectives the Iraqi high command had set for its troops had been achieved later that same day.

The rest of Kuwait was subdued completely in less than three days. Their defensive capabilities were wiped out, and their royal family - the Al-Sabah clan - sent fleeing across the desert and into Saudi Arabia for protection.

While this may have resulted in a celebratory mood for an exultant Saddam, it also spelled the beginning of a series of catastrophes which would afflict the Iraqi nation - and all because Saddam tried to play chicken with the world's sole superpower at the time; the United States of America.

The Iraqi holocaust begins

Though Saddam's decision to invade Kuwait was clearly foolhardy, at best, the methods used by the US-led coalition to dislodge his forces from the rich Arab state were nothing short of criminal. The coalition built their case against Saddam and rallied public support against Iraq by relying on lies and dramatic subterfuge.

One example - hilarious had it not been a pretext to murder hundreds of thousands of Iraqis - saw a Kuwaiti Al-Sabah princess shamelessly pretending to be a nurse when testifying before Congress, and crying on camera as she told a venomous lie about Iraqi soldiers killing babies by removing them from incubators.

Although this was later exposed as "Deception on Capitol Hill", its effect meant that the killing of Iraqi babies happened after all.

Destroyed Iraqi Army tanks and trucks stand abandoned by fleeing
Iraqi troops on the outskirts of Kuwait City, 1 March 1991 [AFP]

Years later, US efforts to dehumanise Iraqi lives, was made readily apparent when then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright responded to a question from NBC News in May 1996 about the deaths of half a million Iraqi children in five years of post-war sanctions by saying: "We think the price is worth it." 

The sanctions were an example of the post-war crimes against humanity that cost millions of lives in Iraq. In addition, the exploitative UN-sponsored oil-for-food programme, that saw Iraq give up its treasure for substandard medicines and food, should also not be forgotten.

But plenty of crimes occurred during Desert Storm itself.

Former US Attorney-General Ramsey Clark, also famous for having acted as part of Saddam's defence team after the 2003 Iraq War, wrote a book named The Fire This Time, presenting a ghastly account of US war crimes in the Gulf.

The most notable incident will be familiar to those who were watching the news around that time: The mass murder of Iraqi troops who had given up and who were attempting to withdraw to Iraq a day before the ceasefire declared by President George Bush Sr.

As Iraqi forces were retreating along Highway 80 that connects Kuwait to Iraq, American and Canadian airpower unleashed a devastating attack on the already-defeated troops.

Footage from the attack showed mile after mile of mangled vehicles, bodies burnt to a crisp, and chilling photographs unveiled ghastly images of Iraqi soldiers with the skin burnt off their faces, their teeth exposed in a final, anguished grimace.

Madeleine Albright responded to a question from NBC News in May 1996 about the deaths of half a million Iraqi children over five years of post-war sanctions by saying: 'We think the price is worth it.'

Such was its ferocity that the incident became known as the "Highway of Death", where thousands of soldiers lost their lives to so-called "civilised powers". 

Though there are numerous incidents more, including the Amiriyah bomb shelter massacre in Baghdad, in which the US killed 408 civilians on 13 February 1991, it is clear that the liberation of Kuwait cost Iraq its future.

The US could have forced Saddam out of Kuwait without making extensive use of depleted uranium rounds, attacking civilian targets or committing widespread war crimes. It could also have sanctioned the regime rather than the people, and encouraged groups seeking freedom from dictatorship to mobilise political action, rather than simply making do with gathering the stooges that it has now installed to rule Iraq post-2003.

One thing remains clear, however: The sole objective of the US was to secure its oil interests, while utterly decimating an entire nation, before delivering the coup de grace in 2003 that led to a million more dead and displaced, without hope of a dignified future either for them or their children.

The end of the first Gulf War was the beginning of the Iraqi Holocaust, and that is the price the Iraqi people continue to this day to pay.

Tallha Abdulrazaq is a researcher at the University of Exeter's Strategy and Security Institute and winner of the 2015 Al Jazeera Young Researcher Award. His research focuses on Middle Eastern security and counter-terrorism issues. 

Follow him on Twitter: @thewarjournal

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.