In early 1990, Iraq
accused Kuwait of stealing Iraqi petroleum
through cross-border slant drilling
, although some Iraqi sources indicated that Saddam Hussein
's decision to attack Kuwait was already made a few months before the actual invasion.
However, a variety of speculations have been made regarding the true intents behind the Iraqi move, including Iraq's inability to pay the more than US$
14 billion that it had borrowed from Kuwait to finance the Iran–Iraq War
, and Kuwait's surge in petroleum production levels which kept revenues down for Iraq.
The invasion started on 2 August 1990, and within two days, most of the Kuwaiti military
was either overrun by the Iraqi Republican Guard
or retreated to neighbouring Saudi Arabia
. Immediately following the invasion, Iraq set up a puppet government
known as the "Republic of Kuwait
" to rule over Kuwait, eventually annexing it outright, when Saddam Hussein announced a few days later that it was the 19th province of Iraq
Dispute over the financial debt
When the Iran–Iraq War
broke out, Kuwait
initially stayed neutral and also tried mediating between Iran and Iraq. In 1982, Kuwait along with other Arab states of the Persian Gulf
supported Iraq in order to curb the Iranian Revolutionary government. In 1982–1983, Kuwait began sending significant financial loans to Iraq. Kuwait's large-scale economic assistance to Iraq often triggered hostile Iranian actions against Kuwait. Iran repeatedly targeted Kuwaiti oil tankers in 1984 and fired weapons at Kuwaiti security personnel stationed on Bubiyan
island in 1988.
During the Iran–Iraq War, Kuwait functioned as Iraq's major port once Basra
was shut down by the fighting.
However, after the war ended, the friendly relations between the two neighbouring Arab
countries turned sour for several economic and diplomatic reasons that culminated in an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
By the time the Iran–Iraq War ended, Iraq was not in a financial position to repay the US$
14 billion it borrowed from Kuwait to finance its war and requested that Kuwait forgive the debt.
Iraq argued that the war had prevented the rise of Iranian hegemony in Kuwait. However, Kuwait's reluctance to pardon the debt strained the relationship between the two countries. In late 1989, several official meetings were held between the Kuwaiti and Iraqi leaders, but they were unable to break the deadlock between the two.
Alleged economic warfare and slant drilling
In 1988 Iraq's Oil Minister, Issam al-Chalabi, stressed a further reduction in the crude oil production quota of Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries
(OPEC) members in order to end the 1980s oil glut
Chalabi argued that higher oil prices would help Iraq increase its revenues and pay back its US$60 billion debt.
However, given its large downstream petroleum industry
, Kuwait was less concerned about the prices of crude oil
and in 1989, Kuwait requested OPEC to increase the country's total oil production ceiling by 50% to 1.35 million barrels (215,000 m3
) per day.
Throughout much of the 1980s, Kuwait's oil production was considerably above its mandatory OPEC quota and this had prevented a further increase in crude oil prices.
A lack of consensus among OPEC members undermined Iraq's efforts to end the oil glut and consequently prevented the recovery of its war-crippled 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".
Iraq interpreted Kuwait's refusal to decrease its oil production as an act of aggression.
The increasingly tense relations between Iraq and Kuwait were further aggravated when Iraq alleged that Kuwait was slant-drilling
across the border
into Iraq's Rumaila field
. The dispute over Rumaila field started in 1960 when an Arab League
declaration marked the Iraq–Kuwait border 3 kilometres (2 mi) north of the southernmost 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 foreign firms working in the Rumaila field also dismissed Iraq's slant-drilling claims as a "smokescreen to disguise Iraq's more ambitious intentions".
On 25 July 1990, only a few days before the Iraqi invasion, OPEC officials said that Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates
had agreed to a proposal to limit oil output to 1.5 million barrels (240,000 m3
) per day, thus potentially settling differences over oil policy between Kuwait and Iraq.
At the time of the settlement, more than 100,000 Iraqi troops were deployed along the Iraq–Kuwait border, and American officials expressed little indication of decline in tensions despite the OPEC settlement.
Iraqi hegemonic claims
The Iraqi government
, echoing claims made by Iraqi nationalists
for years, justified the invasion by claiming that Kuwait had always been an integral part of Iraq and only became an independent nation due to the interference of the British government
. After signing the Anglo-Ottoman Convention of 1913
, the British government planned to split Kuwait from the Ottoman territories into a separate sheikhdom
, but this agreement was never ratified. 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 loosely under the authority of the Ottoman vilâyet of Basra
, 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.
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 between Kuwait and Iraq, stating "we have no opinion on the Arab–Arab conflicts".
April Glaspie's first meeting with Saddam Hussein
Glaspie also indicated to Saddam Hussein that the United States 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.
Saddam Hussein and Glaspie later disputed what was said in this meeting. Hussein published a transcript but Glaspie disputed its accuracy before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March of 1991.
(In 2011 a WikiLeaks release of a cable, sent by the US embassy in Iraq after Glaspie's meeting with Saddam Hussein, finally offered a documentary view of her perception of the meeting.) In addition, one week before the invasion, the Assistant Secretary of State, John Kelly, told the US congress that the US had no treaty obligations to defend Kuwait.
According to Richard E. Rubenstein
, Glaspie was later asked by British journalists why she had said that, her response was "we didn't think he would go that far" meaning invade and annex the whole country. Although no follow-up question was asked, it can be inferred that what the U.S. government thought in July 1990 was that Saddam Hussein was only interested in pressuring Kuwait into debt forgiveness
and to lower oil production.
Despite 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
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 Chieftain tanks
, and an artillery battery
against the Iraqis and fought delaying actions near Al Jahra
(see 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.
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 Arabia
, 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 Yemen
, which was considered a threat by the Saudi Arabians because of Yemen–Iraq ties.
Iraqi troops attacked Dasman Palace, the Royal Residence, resulting in the Battle of Dasman Palace
. The Kuwaiti Emiri Guard, supported by local police and Chieftain tanks
and a Platoon of Saladin armoured cars managed to repel an airborne assault by Iraqi special forces, but the Palace fell after a landing by Iraqi marines (Dasman Palace is located on the coast). The Kuwaiti National Guard
, as well as additional Emiri Guards arrived, but the palace remained occupied, and Republican Guard tanks rolled into Kuwait City after several hours of heavy fighting.[page needed]
Towards the end of the first day of the invasion, only pockets of resistance were left in the country. By 3 August, the last military units were desperately fighting delaying actions at choke points
and other defensible positions throughout the country until out of ammunition or overrun by Iraqi forces. Ali al-Salem Air Base
of the Kuwaiti Air Force was the only base still unoccupied on 3 August, and Kuwaiti aircraft flew resupply missions from Saudi Arabia throughout the day in an effort to mount a defense. However, by nightfall, Ali al-Salem Air Base had been overrun by Iraqi forces. From then on it was only a matter of time until all units of the Kuwaiti Military were forced to retreat or be overrun.
Kuwaiti resistance movement
Kuwaitis founded a local armed resistance movement following the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait.
Most of the Kuwaitis who were arrested, tortured, and executed during the occupation were civilians. The Kuwaiti resistance's casualty rate far exceeded that of the coalition military forces and Western hostages.
The resistance predominantly consisted of ordinary citizens who lacked any form of training and supervision.
At first, Iraqi forces did not use violent tactics. Iraqi soldiers instructed Kuwaitis to replace their Kuwaiti license plates with Iraqi ones, and also set up an extensive system of security checkpoints to patrol the Kuwaiti population.
Within a few weeks of the invasion, however, Kuwaitis began participating in mass actions of nonviolent resistance. People stayed home from work and school en masse. Kuwaitis also began printing informational pamphlets about the invasion from their home computers and printers and distributed the pamphlets to neighbors and friends. After that wave of nonviolent resistance, the Iraqi military turned to repression in order to maintain control over Kuwait.
About 400,000 Kuwaiti citizens left the country after the invasion, and a network of safe houses was established for those who remained and joined the resistance. Pamphlets with anti-war slogans were printed and the resistance provided hiding places and false identification cards for Kuwaitis who were sought by the Iraqi secret police.
Resistance cells held secret meetings at mosques.
Kuwaiti women like Asrar al-Qabandi, a prominent female resistance leader,
staged street protests and carried signs with slogans like "Free Kuwait: Stop the Atrocities Now."
Iraqi police searched the homes of those suspected of hiding foreigners or covertly smuggling money to the resistance movement. Money that was smuggled to the resistance was often used to bribe Iraqi soldiers to look the other way.
Resistance tactics included car bombs
and sniper attacks
that caused a considerable number of Iraqi casualties.
By August 1990, the resistance movement was receiving support from the U.S. government in the form of intelligence, materials, and other types of covert assistance. Both the CIA and the U.S. Green Berets were involved. The U.S. government, however, would neither confirm nor deny its support of the resistance on record. On the topic of the resistance, President Bush stated, "... in a broad way I support the Kuwaiti underground. I support anybody that can add a hand in restoring legitimacy there to Kuwait and to getting the Iraqis out of Kuwait." Operation Desert Storm, which included U.S. forces, also aided the resistance movement out of its base in Taif, Saudi Arabia.
The Kuwaiti government went into exile in Taif and supported the resistance movement from there.
The exiled Kuwaiti government explicitly supported the resistance and commented on its strategies.
Although Iraqi forces curtailed almost all forms of communication within and outside the country, the resistance movement managed to smuggle satellite phones across the Saudi Arabian border in order to establish a line of communication with the exiled Kuwaiti government in Taif, Saudi Arabia.
Kuwaitis also printed informational pamphlets and distributed them to other citizens. This was especially important because the flow of information was severely restricted in Kuwait during the occupation; radio channels played transmissions from Baghdad and many Kuwaiti TV channels were shut down. A resistance newspaper titled Sumoud al-Sha'ab (Steadfastness of the People) was printed and circulated in secret.
Informational pamphlets became one of the only sources of news from the outside world. Foreigners and Kuwaitis of different genders and classes participated in the resistance, breaking down Kuwait’s traditional social barriers.
Ahmed ar-Rahmi, a lieutenant colonel in the Kuwaiti army, stated, "In Kuwait, everyone from children to old men resisted. There were no Kuwaiti puppets which Iraq could use to form a Government."
In October 1990, Iraqi officials cracked down on the resistance by executing hundreds of people it suspected were involved in the movement as well as conducting raids and searches of individual households. After the crackdown, the resistance began to target Iraqi military bases in order to reduce retaliation against Kuwaiti civilians.
In October 1990, the Iraqi government opened the borders of Kuwait and allowed anyone to exit. This resulted in an exodus of both Kuwaitis and foreigners, which weakened the resistance movement.
Ground troop movements from 24–28 February 1991 during Operation Desert Storm.
American tanks from the 3rd Armored Division during Operation Desert Storm.
Another crackdown occurred in January and February 1991. Iraqi forces publicly executed suspected members of the Kuwaiti resistance. Kuwaitis were kidnapped, their corpses later deposited in front of their family homes. The bodies of executed Kuwaiti resistance members showed evidence of different kinds of torture, including beating, electrical shocking, and fingernail removal.
Some 5,000 Palestinians living in Kuwait were arrested for their activities in support of the resistance, and Palestinian support was enough to cause Iraqi officials to threaten Palestinian leaders. Some Palestinians, however, supported Saddam’s regime because of sympathies with the Ba’ath party’s pugnacious anti-Israel stance. Palestinian members of the resistance sometimes disagreed with resistance tactics such as the boycott of government offices and commercial activity. The Kuwaiti resistance movement was suspicious of this Palestinian ambivalence, and in the weeks after Iraqi forces withdrew, the Kuwaiti government cracked down on Palestinians suspected of sympathizing with the Saddam regime.
Iraqi forces also arrested over two thousand Kuwaitis suspected of helping the resistance and imprisoned them in Iraq. Many of those arrests were made during the Iraqi retreat from Kuwait in February 1991. Hundreds escaped from prisons in southern Iraq after the retreat and over one thousand were repatriated by the Iraqi government,
but hundreds remain missing. The fate of 605 Kuwaitis arrested during the occupation remained unknown until 2009, when the remains of 236 of them were identified. Initially, Iraq claimed it had recorded the arrests of only 126 of the 605 missing Kuwaitis.
The names of 369 other missing Kuwaitis are stored in files maintained by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Seven of those missing Kuwaitis are women and nearly 24 are under the age of 16. Iraq has made little effort to address the hundreds of missing Kuwaitis, despite trying to mend diplomatic relations with Kuwait in other ways.
The resistance was a grass roots movement and leadership was organized horizontally,
although Sheik Salem Sabah was cited as the "nominal head of the resistance movement."
Yahya F. Al-Sumait, Kuwait’s housing minister, said in October 1990 that the resistance movement helped undermine the occupation’s legitimacy and dispel the idea that Iraq invaded in order to assist with a popular uprising against the Kuwaiti government. The movement also protected Americans, Britons and other foreigners trapped in Kuwait during the occupation.
Some have cited the resistance movement as part of the foundation for a more robust civil society in Kuwait after the occupation.
At the Al Qurain Martyrs Museum, Kuwait remembers its citizens slain during the resistance to Iraqi occupation. The families of those martyrs received material benefits from the Kuwaiti government such as cars, homes, and funding for trips to Mecca for the hajj. Since most accounts of the liberation of Kuwait focus on U.S.-led coalition forces, part of Kuwait’s goal in memorializing the resistance is to emphasize Kuwaiti citizens’ role in liberating their own country.
Aerial view of oil wells on fire
Following the events of the Iraq–Kuwait war, about half of the Kuwaiti population,
including 400,000 Kuwaitis and several thousand foreign nationals, fled the country. The Indian government evacuated
over 170,000 overseas Indians
by flying almost 488 flights over 59 days.
During the 7-month occupation, the forces of Saddam Hussein looted Kuwait's vast wealth and there were also reports of violations of human rights.
A 2005 study revealed that the Iraqi occupation had a long-term adverse impact on the health of the Kuwaiti populace.
International condemnation and Gulf War
The Iraqi invasion and occupation of Kuwait was unanimously condemned by all major world powers
. Even countries traditionally considered to be close Iraqi allies, such as France
, called for immediate withdrawal of all Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
Several countries, including the Soviet Union
, placed arms embargoes on Iraq. NATO
members were particularly critical of the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait and by late 1990, the United States
had issued an ultimatum to Iraq to withdraw its forces from Kuwait by 15 January 1991 or face war.
On 3 August 1990, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 660
condemning the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and demanding that Iraq unconditionally withdraw all forces deployed in Kuwait.
After a series of failed negotiations between major world powers and Iraq, the United States-led coalition forces
launched a massive military assault on Iraq and Iraqi forces stationed in Kuwait in mid-January 1991. By 16 January, Allied aircraft were targeting several Iraqi military sites and the Iraqi Air Force
Hostilities continued until late February and on 25 February, Kuwait was officially liberated from Iraq.
On 15 March 1991, the Emir of Kuwait returned to the country after spending more than 8 months in exile.
During the Iraqi occupation, about 1,000 Kuwaiti civilians were killed and more than 300,000 residents fled the country.
US troops in Kuwait, 2015
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 1990, Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh
, a longtime ally of Saddam Hussein, backed Saddam Hussein
's invasion of Kuwait. After Iraq lost the Gulf War, Yemenis were deported en masse from Kuwait by the restored government.
The US military continue a strong presence adding 4,000 troops in February 2015 alone.
There is also a very strong US civilian presence with an estimated 18,000 American children in Kuwait being taught by 625 US teachers.
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