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The Persian Gulf's History and The War that Almost Destroyed It

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Table of contents

  1. Origins and Causes of War
  2. Nature of War
  3. Effects and Results

This area of the world, the Persian Gulf, has a very turbulent history. We tend to call the 1991 conflict the Gulf War, however this was not the first war in this region. From 1980 to 1988 Iraq was involved in a war against its neighbor Iran. In 1980 Iraq invaded Iran on a dispute over the ownership of the Shatt Al Arab waterway which bordered the two countries . For years Iraq steadily lost ground against Iran, who was superior in numbers but inferior in technology. In the 1988 the Iraqis changed tactics and started using chemical weapons, massive artillery bombardments, and the Republican Guard. Iraq made rapid advances that pushed back the Iranians so much so that when the war ended they had gained 500 miles of territory . By this point, the Waterway was so clogged with silt and debris it had become useless . The conflict ended in a United Nations brokered ceasefire in August of 1988.

The war left Iraq with over 14 billion USD worth of debts, mainly to Kuwait. Iraq tried to convince Kuwait to forget the debt as Iraq had done Kuwait a favor by being at war with Iran, Kuwait declined and this caused a rift between the two countries. For a year they tried to resolve the financial situation but it did resolve . It was the tactics of chemical and artillery bombardment, and the mounting debts, that were the seeds of the future conflict. By mid-1990 the two countries had still not yet began negotiating a peace treaty after the conflict. Their foreign ministers met in Geneva July of 1990 and prospects for peace seemed viable, as it appeared that the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was wanted to dissolve that conflict and return the territory that his forces had long occupied back to Kuwait. However, just a mere two weeks later, Hussein delivered a speech where Kuwait was accused of stealing oil from the Rumaila oil fields located along their common border.

Origins and Causes of War

One major short-term cause of the war was the financial problem Iraq was in. By 1990 Iraq was in a severe financial crisis, as the price of oil was low and Iraq relied on this as its main source of income. Because of this, Iran accused Kuwait of overproducing and flooding the market with cheap oil to pander to the Western oil-buying countries. Kuwait agreed to lower production but this did not placate Saddam Hussein as he had a second problem with Kuwait: the Rumaila oil field. This land was also a player in the cause of the war. The Iraqis owned half this oil field and wanted the rest of it, so they accused Kuwait of stealing oil from the Iraqi half of the oil field.

One long-term cause was political reasons. Iraq had long been a volatile country in the Middle East, causing trouble with other nations around it. In the 1960s, a coup d’etat, or seizure of power, occurred in Iraq, and the Ba’athist political party took power. By the late 1970s a Ba’athist politician, General Saddam Hussein, became the official president of Iraq. Hussein built up the Iraqi military and began a war with Iran in 1980. The Iran-Iraq war lasted for eight years and cost hundreds of thousands of lives on each side, including soldiers and civilians. Two years after the war with Iran ended, Hussein was looking other places for new territory. This ended up being Kuwait. Saddam Hussein decided that he had no other option but military power so he stationed 100,000 troops on the border and in early August invaded Kuwait. As the Iraqi forces invaded and took over Kuwait they set fire to hundreds of Kuwaiti oil fields along the way .

Nature of War

In the Persian Gulf War, there were many advancements in technology and strategies, many from the U.S. who had joined in the war in opposition to Iraq . This included aerial bombardments, strategic supply lines, precision guided munitions (PGMs), Tomahawk cruise missiles, and F-117 Stealth fighter-bombers . The PGMs relied on laser guidance systems and were steered onto their targets, much more advanced than the similar munitions used in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. The Tomahawk missiles were able to launch from great distances and the fighter-bomber’s design made them all but invisible to Iraqi radar.

Once bombings had degraded Iraq’s capabilities, a coalition army went into action- forces who were one of the most equipped and trained in U.S. history. The equipment that had included the M-1 Abrams battle tank, the M-2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, the AH-64A Apache attack helicopter; the UH60A Blackhawk transport helicopter; and a new air defense system called the Patriot, and a missile capable of shooting down incoming missiles . Each of these new weapons took advantage of the microcomputer revolution, with the M-1 tank used a laser rangefinder and fire-guidance system. Finding the target and aiming the gun, formerly the capable after years of years of training and a tank commander’s practiced eye, was now the job of the laser and the computer. This was more than a match for the Iraqi threat.

The Iraqi forces used similar methods as they had in the Iran-Iraq War. This included chemical weapons and artillery bombardment. One other strategy the Saddam Hussein implemented was keeping Iran neutral. To do this, Iraq restored the pre-Iran-Iraq War boundary in the Shatt al-Arab riverway at the north end of the Persian Gulf. This plan was successful- Iran never became involved in the conflict. One mistake Iraq made in their strategy was anticipating that they would be attacked frontally, and therefore they heavily fortified these positions and not the others . During the war, the homefront of Iraq was not safe. As the war was going on partially in Iraq, there were evacuations of certain areas, many civilian deaths, and quite a lot of destruction of cities and the country.

In the U.S., the impact on the homefront was much more minimal than it was in the middle east. 230,00 U.S. troops were sent to the Persian Gulf War, which in itself was quite an impact on the homefront. With so many troops fighting in a war that was not ours, there were several protests against the fighting in the Gulf war. Propaganda was used to combat this, to sway people into supporting the war instead. In October of 1990 a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl named Nayirah appeared in Washington before the House ofRepresentatives’ Human Rights Caucus . She testified that Iraqi soldiers who had invaded Kuwait on August 2nd tore hundreds of babies from hospital incubators and killed them . Her testimony was reported around the world, rousing support against the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein who was now being viewed not only “the Butcher of Baghdad” but also “a tyrant worse than Hitler” by the U.S. President George Bush.

Effects and Results

The Gulf War achieved the United Nation’s objective of liberating Kuwait while producing remarkably one‐sided losses, an achievement to the U.S. but not to Iraq. Iraqi military casualties totaled an estimated 25,000 to 65,000, and the United Nations destroyed some 3,200 Iraqi tanks, over 900 other armored vehicles, and over 2,000 artillery weapons . Only about 86,000 Iraqi soldiers surrendered. In contrast, UN forces suffered combat losses of approximately 200 personnel from hostile fire, plus losses of 4 tanks, 9 other armored vehicles, and 1 artillery weapon . U.S. battle deaths among the 532,000 Americans included 122 from the army and Marines (35 to friendly fire) and 131 non combat fatalities . The allied forces of 254,000 suffered 92 combat deaths.

The reconstruction of Kuwait was a main concern of the allies after the war. The Kuwaiti countryside was littered with thousands of landmines. In addition, giant pools of spilled oil and 730 burning oil wells set afire by the Iraqis which encircled all animal life in toxic fluids and gases. The U.S. Corps of Engineers and foreign construction firms actively assisted in the reconstruction. During the war, the UN placed a trade embargo upon Iraq. The embargo remained in place until after the war. The Security Council laid out very strict demands on Iraq for lifting it, including destruction of its chemical and biological weapons, cease of nuclear weapons program, and acceptance of international inspections to ensure that these conditions were met. Iraq and Saddam Hussein, who was not forced from power after the war, resisted these demands and claimed that its withdrawal from Kuwait was sufficient enough compliance . In November 1994 Saddam Hussein signed a decree that formally accepted Kuwait’s sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity. This decree effectively ended Iraq’s claim to Kuwait as a province of Iraq and granted them independence. other than this decree, there were no other treaties or land redistribution as a result of the Persian Gulf War.

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