The 19th Province of Iraq: Saddam Hussein’s Annexation of Kuwait

Iraq invaded and formally abolished Kuwait in August of 1990. Numerous reasons were cited for Iraq seizing the small oil rich state, but a prominent one regarding its actual dismantlement as a state was that Kuwait was in a true sense a province of Iraq that had been ceded to the British for oil and geopolitical purposes.

Iraq cited the Anglo-Ottoman Convention of 1913 as justification for its claim that Kuwait was part of Iraq. Upon being signed by the British, this agreement saw the origins of the foundation of Kuwait and saw the territory split from the three Ottoman territories (Mosul, Baghdad and Basra) that make up the present state of Iraq, it subsequently claimed that Kuwait was carved from the Ottoman vilayet of Basra.

Britain counter claimed that the borders were never clearly defined those days and that it had reached an agreement with the ruling dynasty of the day to form the territory that became Kuwait as a protectorate. Britain also managed its foreign affairs. The territory gradually achieved autonomy and eventually became a political and sovereign entity of its own.

Iraq asserted that the British “drew lines [hence the border] that deliberately constricted Iraq’s access to the oceans so that any future Iraqi government would be in no position to threaten Britain’s domination of the Gulf.”

After Iraq becoming heavily indebted following the eight year war with Iran in the 1980s, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia refused to forgive the large debt Iraq had incurred from them in order to fight that costly war of attrition. To add insult to injury, the Kuwaitis were slant drilling across the border into the Rumaila oilfield in Iraq. Iraq accused Kuwait of stealing over $2.4 billion of Iraqi oil. Kuwait, however, claimed that Iraq was making up these accusations in order to justify taking aggressive military action against it.

Kuwait had also drastically lowered the price of oil by overproducing, thus paralyzing and crippling the Iraqi economy which was struggling to recover from the costly war. To add further insult to injury Kuwait caused Iraq to lose some $14 billion a year during the latter years of the war through the economic climate it had a pivotal role in creating via its oil price strategy.

Iraq went on to invade Kuwait on August 2nd 1990. The Kuwaiti armed forces were caught by surprise and quickly overpowered, only being able to form pockets of resistance against the mighty force made up of 100,000 Iraqi troops backed by air cover and tanks which was brutally efficient. The Emir of Kuwait and the country’s air force meanwhile evacuated over the border into Saudi Arabia.

The United Nations leveled sanctions against Iraq for its actions. The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, who had been aware of the mobilization of a large Iraqi force on the border, had informed Saddam that the United States had “no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts.” Many claim this statement had signaled to Saddam that Washington would not confront him if he went on to invade Kuwait.

However, it is also conceivable that the United States thought Iraq was just going to make limited incursions to assert itself in its ongoing border dispute with Kuwait.

The United States was swift to form a military coalition in Saudi Arabia under the auspices of Operation Desert Shield which saw over 900,000 troops from several nations conglomerate in the Saudi Kingdom ready to face down Saddam — if under some bizarre motive he may have unilaterally moved his forces south into the kingdom.

Six months later this operation morphed into Operation Desert Storm. Following Iraq’s refusal to abide by a UN deadline to leave Kuwait the coalition began bombing Iraq and drove its forces out of Kuwait and left its infrastructure and its military in shambles. Iraqi forces set fire to the Kuwait oil wells as it was forced to retreat, a large Iraqi Army ground force was destroyed as it was retreating from Kuwait in a horrific turkey shoot undertaken by U.S. warplanes along a highway that would become known as the ‘highway of death’.

Iraq’s army limped home across the border in disarray. Saddam, however, remained in power and still mustered enough strength to put down two large uprisings carried out by the Kurds in the north and the Shia in the south of the country.

The Iraqi dictator would later mobilize thousands of troops in Basra in October 1994 and for a tense few days he looked set to attempt to invade Kuwait a second time. He eventually backed down after U.S. army and naval forces once again scrambled to the region ready to face him down.

The next month Iraq formally recognized Kuwait’s sovereignty.

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