Gulf War (1991) (Second Gulf War)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

GULF WAR (1991) (Second Gulf War)

War waged from 16 January to 28 February 1991 by an American-led coalition against Iraq after Iraq's invasion and occupation of Kuwait in August 1990. The war was the culmination of the Gulf Crisis, which began in July 1990 when the price of oil fell to $11 a barrel, severely reducing Iraq's income. Iraq, which was heavily in debt to Kuwait and the other Gulf states as a result of the Iran-Iraq War of 1980 through 1988, blamed the low price on overproduction by Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates and demanded compensation in the form of debt forgiveness, the cession of Kuwait's Rumailiya oil fields (to which Iraq had a longstanding but internationally unrecognized claim), and the leasing of two Kuwaiti islands at the head of the Persian Gulf for use as an oil port. The Kuwaitis refused, even as Iraqi president Saddam Hussein massed troops on the border. On 2 August 1990 Iraq invaded and occupied all of Kuwait. The administration of U.S. President George H. W. Bush determined to force Iraq out, despite the long friendly relationship between American military and intelligence agencies and Saddam Hussein's regime, especially during the Iran-Iraq War, when the United States had supplied Iraq with weapons, equipment, and intelligence and protected it from international censure over its behavior in the war and its assaults on its Kurdish population. On 2 August, the same day as the invasion, the UN Security Council condemned Iraq and demanded that it withdraw. On 3 August Arab League foreign ministers did the same (the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] and Jordan abstained) but also called for an Arab summit where a negotiated settlement could be reached, while rejecting intervention by any outside party. On 4 August the Organization of the Islamic Conference condemned Iraq (again the PLO abstained). On 6 August the Security Council passed a resolution imposing sanctions on Iraq. The Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, asked the United States for military protection. On 10 August the Arab League repeated its condemnation of Iraq (with only the PLO and Iraq opposed) and reversed its position on foreign intervention by supporting the Gulf states' request for American help.

Saddam Hussein responded by declaring a jihad to free Mecca from the Saudis. On 12 August Saddam Hussein proposed that Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait be linked to Israel's withdrawal from the occupied territories, an occupation that was also in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. After several months of political maneuvering and failed attempts at negotiation by various parties, the United States obtained UN approval and assembled a military coalition that included some twenty-nine countries, including several Arab states, although the bulk of the forces were American. These were gathered in the Gulf area with the clear intention of attacking the Iraqis in Kuwait and expelling them. Russia, which opposed a war, attempted to mediate but was unsuccessful. The United States launched its military offensive (Operation Desert Storm) on 16 January 1991 with a warplane and cruise missile attack on military installations, infrastructure (transportation, water, gas, and electricity distribution networks), and population centers in Iraq that went on continuously for five and a half weeks. On 21 February
Saddam Hussein agreed to the latest Russian plan for a truce; Bush rejected it. The Iraqis announced that they were withdrawing from Kuwait and began to pull out, setting fire to Kuwaiti oil wells as they moved toward the border. Bush ordered a ground attack into Kuwait on 24 February. The Iraqi forces, already in retreat, were driven out of Kuwait City and mostly destroyed from the air on the "highway of death" as their retreat was blocked. A ceasefire was declared on 28 February. Approximately 545,000 troops were involved in the war on the Iraqi side and 700,000 on the US-coalition side. Approximately 80,000 air sorties were flown and more than 200 cruise missiles fired by the coalition. The Iraqi air force was not a factor. Iraq launched perhaps a dozen Scud missiles at Israel, with negligible results; at the request of the United States, Israel did not retaliate. Total casualties, including civilian casualties, are unknown but in the tens of thousands; Iraqi military deaths are estimated at 100,000; total coalition deaths were 376. About 600 Kuwaitis were killed. On 3 April 1991 the UN Security Council made the lifting of sanctions conditional on the elimination of all Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and the surveillance of factories that had the potential to replace them. A war of attrition started between the United States and Iraq that lasted until the Iraq War of 2003. Iraqi deaths attributable to sanctions between 1991 and 2003 are estimated at anywhere from 500,000 to a million.

The war was a disaster for the PLO and for the Palestinians. Some Palestinians supported Iraq, or at least appreciated Saddam Hussein's rhetorical aggressiveness toward Israel; some, especially in Kuwait, condemned the invasion (including the Fatah and PLO representatives there); most are believed to have been neutral. Yasir Arafat and the PLO adopted an equivocal position intended to be seen as neutrality but which effectively supported, and was seen by the world as supporting, Saddam Hussein and Iraq. (The PLO was virtually alone in refusing to condemn the Iraqi invasion and occupation of Kuwait.) The practical results of this position were the persecution, expulsion, and impoverishment of the large Palestinian community in Kuwait—about 350,000 before the war and 30,000 after. The earnings of this community had supported many family members in the territories and the camps, and the PLO had collected taxes from it for the Palestine National Fund. Many of these Palestinians fled to Jordan, which suffered severe economic losses. The PLO also lost financial aid from the Arab states (mainly the Gulf states), which had supported Palestinian civic and social institutions and aid to the needy, and lost Arab diplomatic support in international affairs. Blanket curfews and border closings imposed by Israel on the occupied territories created social and economic havoc, and the PLO was nearly destroyed, leaving the Palestinian community increasingly vulnerable.

SEE ALSO Arafat, Yasir; Fatah, al-; Hussein, Saddam; Iran-Iraq War (1980–1988); Jihad; League of Arab States; Palestine Liberation Organization; Palestine National Fund.