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The Invasion of Kuwait, also known as the Iraq-Kuwait War, and perhaps more appropriately as Iraqi abolition of Kuwait was a major conflict between the Republic of Iraqmarker and the State of Kuwaitmarker which resulted in the seven-month long Iraqimarker occupation of Kuwaitmarker which subsequently led to direct military intervention by United Statesmarker-led forces in the Persian Gulf War.

In 1990 Iraq accused Kuwait of stealing Iraq's oil through slant drilling, but some Iraqi sources indicate Saddam Hussein’s decision to attack Kuwait was made only a few months before the actual invasion suggesting that the regime was under feelings of severe time pressure. The invasion started on August 2, 1990, and within two days of intense combat, most of the Kuwaiti Armed Forces were either overrun by the Iraqi Republican Guard or escaped to neighbouring Saudi Arabiamarker and Bahrainmarker. The state of Kuwait was abolished, Saddam announced in a few days that it was the 19th province of Iraq.

Causes of the conflict

Kuwait was a close ally of Iraq during the Iraq-Iran war and functioned as the country’s major port once Basramarker was shut down by the fighting. However, after the war ended, the friendly relations between the two neighbouring Arab countries turned sour due to several economic and diplomatic reasons which finally culminated in an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

Dispute over the financial debt

Kuwait had heavily funded the 8 year long Iraqi war against Iran. By the time the war ended, Iraq was not in a financial position to repay the $14 billion which it had borrowed from Kuwait to finance its war. Iraq argued that the war had prevented the rise of Iranianmarker influence in the Arab World. However, Kuwait's reluctance to pardon the debt created strains in the relationship between the two Arab countries. During late 1989, several official meetings were held between the Kuwaiti and Iraqi leaders but they were unable to break the deadlock between the two.

Economic warfare and slant drilling

According to George Piro, the FBI interrogator who questioned Saddam Hussein after his capture (in 2003), Iraq tried repaying its debts by raising the prices of oil through OPEC's oil production cuts. However, Kuwait, a member of the OPEC, prevented a global increase in petroleum prices by increasing its own petroleum production, thus lowering the price and preventing recovery of the war-crippled Iraqi economy. This was seen by many in Iraq as an act of aggression, further distancing the countries. The collapse in oil prices had a catastrophic impact on the Iraqi economy. According to former Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, "every US$1 drop in the price of a barrel of oil caused a US$1 billion drop in Iraq's annual revenues triggering an acute financial crisis in Baghdad." It was estimated that Iraq lost US$14 billion a year due to Kuwait's oil price strategy.

The Iraqi Government described it as a form of 'economic warfare', which it claimed was aggravated by Kuwait's alleged slant-drilling across the border into Iraq's Rumaila fieldmarker. The dispute over Rumaila field started in 1960 when an Arab League declaration marked the Iraq-Kuwait border 2 miles north of the southern-most tip of the Rumaila field. During the Iran–Iraq War, Iraqi oil drilling operations in Rumaila declined while Kuwait's operations increased. In 1989, Iraq accused Kuwait of using "advanced drilling techniques" to exploit oil from its share of the Rumaila field. Iraq estimated that US$2.4 billion worth of Iraqi oil was stolen by Kuwait and demanded compensation. Kuwait dismissed the accusations as a false Iraqi ploy to justify military action against it. Several American firms working in the Rumaila field also dismissed Iraq's slant-drilling claims as a "smokescreen to disguise Iraq's more ambitious intentions".

Kuwait's lucrative economy

After the Iran–Iraq War, the Iraqi economy was struggling to recover. Iraq's civil and military debt was higher than its state budget. Most of its ports were destroyed, oil fields mined, and traditional oil customers lost. Despite having a total land area 1/25th of Iraq, Kuwait's coastline was twice as long as Iraq's and its ports were some of the busiest in the Persian Gulf region. The Iraqi government clearly realized that by seizing Kuwait, it would be able to solve most of its financial problems and consolidate its regional authority. Due to its relatively small size, Kuwait was seen by Baghdadmarker as an easy target as well as a historically integral part of Iraq separated by British imperialism.

Hegemonic Claims

Though Kuwait's large oil reserves were widely considered to be the main reason behind the Iraqi invasion, the Iraqi government justified its invasion by claiming that Kuwait was a natural part of Iraq carved off due to British imperialism. After signing the Anglo-Ottoman Convention of 1913, the United Kingdommarker split Kuwait from the Ottoman territories into a separate sheikhdom. The Iraqi government also argued that the Kuwaiti Emir was a highly unpopular figure among the Kuwaiti populace. By overthrowing the Emir, Iraq claimed that it granted Kuwaitis greater economic and political freedom.

Kuwait had been part of the Ottoman province of Basramarker, and although its ruling dynasty, the al-Sabah family, had concluded a protectorate agreement in 1899 that assigned responsibility for its foreign affairs to Britain, it did not make any attempt to secede from the Ottoman Empire. For this reason, its borders with the rest of Basra province were never clearly defined or mutually agreed. Furthermore, Iraq alleged that the British High Commissioner "drew lines that deliberately constricted Iraq's access to the ocean so that any future Iraqi government would be in no position to threaten Britain's domination of the [Persian] Gulf".

Alleged international conspiracy

Saddam Hussein’s decision partly came as a reaction towards the alleged international conspiracy against Iraq which, in his view, was meant to weaken and destabilize the regime. Subtle shifts in the American policy together with the British and American efforts to block the export of dual-use technology to Iraq, a consequence of its nuclear program, were seen by Saddam as part of a concerted effort to build a case against Iraq. In this conspiracy theory, Kuwait was considered an accomplice of the foreign powers. In a memorandum dating from July 1990, the former Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz accused Kuwait and the UAE of production beyond their OPEC quotas and claimed that the overproduction was synchronized with the efforts of foreign powers to denigrate Iraq. Tariq argues that the fact that Kuwait refused to negotiate with a dangerous Iraq and risked being invaded by it sustains the theory according to which Kuwait had received tacit support from the U.S. even before the war started. At the same time the Iraqi military intelligence was receiving warnings about Israeli plans to attack Iraqi nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Saddam was convinced of the existence of a conspiracy and even described it to Wafiq al-Samara’i, deputy director of Iraqi military intelligence as follows:

“America is coordinating with Saudi Arabia and the UAE and Kuwait in a conspiracy against us.
They are trying to reduce the price of oil to affect our military industries and our scientific research, to force us to reduce the size of our armed forces....You must expect from another direction an Israeli military air strike, or more than one, to destroy some of our important targets as part of this conspiracy”

Following the invasion, Saddam’s unwillingness to accept a negotiated solution to the Kuwait crisis once again sustains the hypothesis that the fear of Iraq's domestic and economic destabilization was the most important factor which contributed to his invasion decision.

Diplomatic row

Post Iran–Iraq War and dispute over Rumaila oilfield, the diplomatic relations between Iraq and Kuwait deteriorated dramatically triggering several heated exchanges between Iraqi and Kuwaiti diplomats during various regional and Gulf Cooperation Council summits.

According to Federal Bureau of Investigationmarker agent Piro, Saddam stated during a conversation with Piro that the Kuwaiti emir Al Sabah told the foreign minister of Iraq during a discussion aimed at resolving some of the conflicts between the two countries that "he would not stop doing what he was doing until he turned every Iraqi woman into a $10 prostitute. And that really sealed it for him [Saddam Hussein], to invade Kuwait."

Iraqi-American relations

On July 25, 1990, the U.S. Ambassador in Iraq, April Glaspie, asked the Iraqi high command to explain the military preparations in progress, including the massing of Iraqi troops near the border. The American ambassador declared to her Iraqi interlocutor that Washington, “inspired by the friendship and not by confrontation, does not have an opinion” on the disagreement which opposes Kuwait to Iraq, stating "we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts". She also let Saddam Hussein know that the U.S. did not intend "to start an economic war against Iraq". These statements may have caused Saddam to believe he had received a diplomatic green light from the United States to invade Kuwait.

The invasion

On August 2, 1990 at 2:00 am , local time, Iraq launched an invasion of Kuwait with four elite Iraqi Republican Guard division (1st Hammurabi Armoured Division, 2nd al-Medinah al-Munawera Armoured Division, 3rd Tawalkalna ala-Allah Mechanized Infantry Division and 6th Nebuchadnezzar Motorized Infantry Division) and Iraqi Army special forces units equivalent to a full division. The main thrust was conducted by the commandos deployed by helicopters and boats to attack Kuwait Citymarker, while the other divisions seized the airports and two airbases.

In support of these units, the Iraqi Army deployed a squadron of Mil Mi-25 helicopter gunships, several units of Mi-8 and Mi-17 transport helicopters, as well as a squadron of Bell 412 helicopters. The foremost mission of the helicopter units was to transport and support Iraqi commandos into Kuwait City, and subsequently to support the advance of ground troops. The Iraqi Air Force (IrAF) had at least two squadrons of Sukhoi Su-22, one of Su-25, one of Mirage F1 and two of MiG-23 fighter-bombers. The main task of the IrAF was to establish air superiority through limited counter-air strikes against two main air bases, to provide close air support and reconnaissance as necessary.

In spite of months of Iraqi sabre-rattling, Kuwait did not have its forces on alert and was caught unaware. The first indication of the Iraqi ground advance was from a radar-equipped aerostat that detected an Iraqi armour column moving south. Kuwaiti air, ground, and naval forces resisted, but were vastly outnumbered. In central Kuwait, the 35th Armoured Brigade deployed approximately a battalion of tanks against the Iraqis and fought delaying actions near Jahramarker (see The Battle of the Bridges), west of Kuwait City. In the south, the 15th Armoured Brigade moved immediately to evacuate its forces to Saudi Arabia. Of the small Kuwaiti Navy, two missile boats were able to evade capture or destruction, one of the craft sinking three Iraqi vessels before fleeing.

Kuwait Air Force aircraft were scrambled, but approximately 20% were lost or captured. An air battle with the Iraqi helicopter airborne forces was fought over Kuwait City, inflicting heavy losses on the Iraqi elite troops, and a few combat sorties were flown against Iraqi ground forces. The remaining 80% were then evacuated to Saudi Arabiamarker and Bahrainmarker, some aircraft even taking off from the highways adjacent to the bases as the runways were overrun. While these aircraft were not used in support of the subsequent Gulf War, the "Free Kuwait Air Force" assisted Saudi Arabia in patrolling the southern border with Yemenmarker, which was considered a threat by the Saudis because of Yemen-Iraq ties.

Iraqi tanks attacked Dasman Palace, the royal residence. Amir Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah had already fled into the Saudi desert. His younger half brother, Sheikh Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, was seized from flight BA 149, and was shot and killed, after which his body was placed in front of a tank and run over.


More than 600 Kuwaiti oil wells were set on fire by the Iraqi forces causing massive environmental and economic damage to Kuwait.
After the decisive Iraqi victory, Saddam Hussein installed Alaa Hussein Ali as the Prime Minister and Ali Hassan al-Majid as the de facto governor of Kuwait. The exiled Kuwaiti royal family and other former government officials began an international campaign to persuade other countries to pressure Iraq to vacate Kuwait. The UN Security Council passed 12 resolutions demanding immediate withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, but to no avail.

Following the events of the Iraq-Kuwait war, about half of the Kuwaiti population, including more than 400,000 Kuwaits and several thousand foreign nationals, fled the country. More than 150,000 Indian national living in Kuwait were air-lifted by the Indianmarker government within a span of a week. However, the Iraqi invasion was welcomed by the Palestinian Liberation Organization and many of the 40,000 Palestinians living in Kuwait who were displaced after the 1967 war. Alaa Hussein Ali was placed as head of a puppet government in Kuwait, prior to its brief annexation into Iraq.

During the 7 month-long Iraqi occupation, the forces of Saddam Hussein allegedly looted Kuwait's vast wealth and there were also reports of violations of human rights. According to some independent organizations, about 600 Kuwaiti nationals were taken to Iraq and haven't yet been accounted for. A 2005 study revealed that the Iraqi occupation had a long-term adverse impact on the health of the Kuwaiti populace.

In February 1991, Kuwait was liberated by a multi-national military force led by the United States and Free Kuwaiti forces during Operation Desert Storm.

In December 2002, Saddam Hussein apologized for the invasion shortly before being deposed in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Two years later, the Palestinian leadership also apologized for its wartime support of Saddam.

In popular culture

The ground invasion of Kuwait City was featured in first scenes of the 2002 television film Live from Baghdad based on the non-fiction book of the same title.

The invasion of Kuwait, along with the conflict between Kuwait and Iraq beforehand, is depicted in the 2008 HBO/BBC miniseries House of Saddam.

See also


  1. Stork, Joe; Lesch, Ann M. : “Background to the Crisis: Why War? . Middle East Report, No. 167, On the Edge of War. (Nov - Dec., 1990), pp. 11-18.
  2. Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait; 1990 (Air War)
  3. The Associated Press: Interrogator: Invasion Surprised Saddam
  4. The University of Manitoba - The Manitoban - February 5, 2003
  5. CONFRONTATION IN THE GULF; The Oilfield Lying Below the Iraq-Kuwait Dispute - New York Times
  7. Iraq: Short History Lest We Forget, Part I
  8. Gulf War at AllExperts
  9. Khalidi, Walid: “The Gulf Crisis: Origins and Consequences . Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2. (Winter, 1991), pp. 5-28.
  10. FBI Agent: Hussein Didn't Expect Invasion -
  11. The New York Times, September 23, 1990.
  12. Persian Gulf States - Kuwait - Regional and National Security Considerations
  13. Eyewitness, Col. Fred Hart 1
  14. FRONTLINE/WORLD. Iraq - Saddam's Road to Hell - A journey into the killing fields. PBS
  15. Damage Assessment - Kuwait Oil. Federation of American Scientists.
  16. al-Marashi, Ibrahim (April 9, 2003). The Significance of the "Death" of Ali Hassan al-Majid. James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.
  17. Iraq.
  18. Kuwait Britannica
  19. Singh, K.Gajendra (February 24, 2003). PROPAGANDA WARS: The decline and fall of western media. South Asia Analysis Group.
  20. State of Kuwait
  21. Crimes committed by the Iraqi regime - The invasion of Kuwait August 1990. INDICT.
  22. Public health impact of 1990 Iraq invasion of Kuwait. Medical News Today. July 4, 2005.
  23. Saddam Sends Apology to Kuwait for Invasion. People's Daily. December 8, 2002.
  24. PLO apologises over Kuwait. December 12, 2004.

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