Aug. 2 is the anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, when a dictator who did not shrink from using chemical weapons on his own people coveted his neighbor’s possessions and decided to assert himself.
He went too far. The UN and the Arab League gave Saddam until Jan. 15 to withdraw, after which the Security Council added military sanctions to economic ones. The US formed a coalition of 35 countries, not all of which contributed militarily, with most of the forces coming from the US, Saudi Arabia and the UK. Operation Desert Storm began on Jan. 17, 1991, and images of burning oilfields and the air bombardment of Baghdad are deeply engrained in the memory of those of us old enough to remember.
The troops stopped short of Baghdad and left Saddam in place, because George H. W. Bush chose to remain within the remit of the Security Council mandate and international law, and the war ended on Feb. 28, 1991. Worse was to come, however, for Iraq. Economic sanctions took their toll, as did violence by Saddam against his own people. George W. Bush’s pretexts for invading Iraq in 2003 (weapons of mass destruction and Saddam’s collaboration with Al-Qaeda) were never proved, but the immediate result of Operation Iraqi Freedom was never in doubt. Saddam was deposed, captured, tried and executed.
The huge price ordinary Iraqis have paid, and are paying day in and day out, should be foremost on our minds
The US has paid a high price for its involvement in Iraq. About 5,000 US troops have died there, and the financial cost has been estimated at $5,000 per second. But the price paid by the Iraqi people has been far, far higher. As of April 2018, there were 2.1 million displaced people in Iraq. According to UNICEF, malnutrition is widespread, especially among children. The country’s security apparatus was not fit for purpose and was overwhelmed by insurgents from all sides. The vacuum left by the US withdrawal was quickly filled by Daesh and its reign of terror in swaths of the country.
Iraq is marred by sectarian divides, violence and jockeying for power among ethnic groups. It is a playground for foreign countries, particularly Iran, seeking and obtaining influence. The biggest cancer may be corruption: Iraq is theoretically wealthy, with the world’s fifth-largest oil reserves and fertile land, but basic infrastructure such as water and power is sorely lacking, one of the reasons for widespread protests last year. International Energy Agency executive director Fatih Birol warned last week that if people lack access to power in the dead heat of this summer, there may be riots. And now, to make matters worse, there is the COVID-19 pandemic.
We should remember the invasion of Iraq in 1990, and the fact that the UN managed to speak with one voice to send the predatory Saddam Hussein back home. We must also remember what happened thereafter. The huge price ordinary Iraqis have paid, and are paying day in and day out, should be foremost on our minds. They have been the victims of recent history and they deserve much better.
Cornelia Meyer is a business consultant, macro-economist and energy expert. Twitter: @MeyerResources
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view
Analysis: How Iran reaped the rewards of Saddam’s 1990 Kuwait invasion
Invasion transformed Iraqi dictator from a necessary bulwark against Iran to an international pariah
The events unleashed a three-headed hydra of sectarianism, terrorism and militancy across the Middle East
Updated 03 August 2020
LONDON: Thirty years on, we continue to endure the catastrophic reverberations of the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. This act set in motion events that would unleash a three-headed hydra of sectarianism, terrorism and Iranian militancy.
The August 2 invasion constituted an immense psychological shock. We woke to images of utter horror and chaos: Arab soldiers assaulting and looting another Arab nation. Ordinary Kuwaiti families upended from lives of luxury — fleeing as terrified refugees into Saudi Arabia. The invasion was particularly disconcerting, given that Kuwait had been a principal ally and backer for Baghdad during the previous decade’s war with Iran.
Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon famously marked his point of no return, committing his armies to a devastating and history-changing Roman civil war. The Kuwait invasion represented Saddam Hussein’s own personal Rubicon crossing.
In 1990, Saddam was just another dictator who would have scarcely deserved a mention in the history books if he had been displaced in yet another Baathist, communist or Islamist coup a couple of years later. The Kuwait invasion saw him justifiably demonized in the global media as a savage, dictatorial monster who would have to be slain.
Within a year, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis would be dead — murdered by their own regime after the brutal suppression of uprisings which followed the Kuwait conflict. The Iraqi army was humiliated and destroyed, with tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers dead, and many others fleeing home to join ill-fated uprisings leaving the skeletons of thousands of abandoned tanks scattered across the desert.
1990 Kuwait invasion recap
On July 18 Iraq accuses Kuwait of stealing oil and encroaching on territory.
Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein demands $2.4 billion from Kuwait.
Kuwait accuses Iraq of trying to drill oil wells on its territory.
Iraq accuses Kuwait of flooding oil market and driving down prices.
On August 1 Arab League and Saudi Arabia suspend mediation attempts.
On August 2 Radio Kuwait accuses Iraqi troops of occupying its territory.
Faced with 100,000 Iraqi troops and 300 tanks, Kuwaiti army is overwhelmed.
Kuwait City falls and Kuwait’s ruler Sheikh Jaber Al-Sabah flees to Saudi Arabia.
UN Security Council demands immediate pullout of Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
On August 6, Security Council slaps trade and military embargo on Iraq.
President George H.W. Bush announces dispatch of troops to Saudi Arabia.
On August 8, Iraq announces Kuwait’s “total and irreversible” incorporation.
Later in the month, Iraq annexes Kuwait as its 19th province.
President George H.W. Bush made the equally fateful decision not to pursue Saddam’s army to Baghdad. The rights and wrongs of Bush’s decision continue to be argued over, but this left Saddam in power — wounded and vengeful. Unquestionably in 1990, Saddam had to be forced out of Kuwait, particularly as there were fears that he might send his forces deeper into the Gulf region. Yet cutting Saddam down to size led to a fundamental destabilization of the regional balance of power.
Throughout the 1980s, the ayatollahs’ regime in Tehran had been kept at bay by means of the vicious confrontation with Iraq, costing around a million lives. When Saddam’s regime fell like a dead branch in 2003, the Islamic Republic remained as a dominant regional force, free to spread its tentacles into Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain and beyond.
Already during the 1980s and 1990s, Tehran had been responsible for terrorist attacks, militant insurgencies and attempted coups, such as the 1996 Alkhobar bombings, which killed 19 US service personnel.
With Saddam gone, the ayatollahs desired not only to ensure that Iraq could never again exist as a threat, but to export their revolution throughout the Middle East, following the blueprint of Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Consequently, a sizable chunk of the region has been severed from the Arab sphere of influence, with Tehran today trying to knit these disparate nations together as a miserable and marginalized bloc of “resistance” states.
This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)
Yes, Saddam was a monster — a murderous threat to his own people and his neighbors. But in the years since 1990 we have discovered that there are worse things than his kind of monster.
When the hateful regimes of Saddam, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, Syria’s Bashar Assad and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh were challenged and upended, the result was mass civil chaos which has cost upwards of a million lives, displacing countless millions. It may be more than a generation before these nations enjoy the most elementary levels of stability, if ever.
I was an in-house analyst for CNN during the 2003 conflict. Anyone familiar with Iraq knew that regime change would be infinitely more challenging than President George W. Bush’s administration claimed. We shared Iraqis’ jubilation at the prospect of being rid of Saddam. Yet in our worst nightmares, few could have guessed how devastatingly far-reaching the ramifications of the invasion would be today, leaving Iraq and other nations as crippled, satellite dependencies of Tehran.
The events of 1990 and 2003 ignited the catastrophic Shia-Sunni divide, which in Iraq alone saw tens of thousands massacred in sectarian warfare as Iranian-sponsored militants bloodily erased Sunni and Christian populations from entire districts of Baghdad.
Saddam’s war helped radicalize figures like Osama bin Laden against the US, leading to Al-Qaeda and 9/11, which in turn set in motion the 2003 invasion, precipitating an explosive expansion of jihadist terrorism: Violence giving birth to violence on an ever-expanding scale.
Yes, Saddam was a monster, but in the years since 1990 we have discovered that there are infinitely worse things than monsters.
The White House in 2003 had neither the vision nor the desire to establish a stable, sovereign and well-governed Iraqi state. Through incompetence and malice, the US-led coalition succeeded in triggering a bloodbath, unifying Iraqis against them and handing over the keys of governance to Tehran. It all could have been so different.
During the 1980s, Saddam had been an ally of America and the West. These states conveniently turned a blind eye to his homicidal regime’s horrific crimes. Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait would change all that, while transforming himself from a necessary bulwark against Tehran to an international pariah. Overnight, he unified the entire world against him.
Today in 2020, there is plentiful evidence that Iran itself may be bringing the world to a tipping point where its terrorism, militancy and criminality become too horrific to ignore, with its suppression of the democratic aspirations of citizens throughout its “resistance bloc,” use of proxies to attack peace-loving nations, and efforts to acquire nuclear weapons to menace the world.
Just like Saddam, sabre-rattling ayatollahs risk their own Rubicon moment by taking their aggressive expansionism a step too far. And just like Saddam, the Iranian ayatollahs will eventually unite the world against them, bringing an unlamented end to their Satanic Republic.
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.
US president awards Kuwait’s emir with rare military decoration
The award was accepted on behalf of the emir by his son Sheikh Nasser Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah
The honor was granted in recognition of Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah’s “great efforts” and the important role he plays in the region and the world
Updated 3 min 30 sec ago
LONDON: US President Donald Trump on Friday presented Kuwait’s emir with a rare military award during a private ceremony at the White House.
The Legion of Merit, Degree Chief Commander is a prestigious decoration that can only be bestowed by the American president and was last awarded in 1991.
The honor was granted in recognition of Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah’s “great efforts” and the important role he plays in the region and the world, the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reported.
It also reflected the “distinguished and historic” partnership between Kuwait and the US and came in advance of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, KUNA added.
The award was accepted on behalf of the emir by his son Sheikh Nasser Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah.