There are many reasons behind Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Some of the most basic causes thought to be behind this invasion is: Iraq had always considered Kuwait as a natural part of Iraq which was carved out of it due to British imperialism. After signing the Anglo-Ottoman Convention of 1913, the United Kingdom split Kuwait from the Ottoman territories into a separate sheikhdom. Iraqi government also argued that the Kuwaiti Emir was very unpopular among the people of Kuwait. Hence they claimed themselves to be the liberators of the Kuwaiti people, providing them with greater economic and political freedom by overthrowing the Emir.
After the Iran-Iraq War, the economy of Iraq was struggling to recover. Civil and military debt of Iraq had crossed its state budget. Most of its ports had been destroyed in the war, oil fields had already been mined, and traditional oil customers had been lost. In spite of having a total land area of just 1/25th of Iraq, Kuwait’s coastline was twice as long as Iraq’s and its ports were some of the busiest in the Persian Gulf region. The Iraqi government concluded that by seizing Kuwait, it would be able to solve most of its financial problems of Iraq consolidate its regional authority. Also, it is thought that with Saddam Hussein’s attempted invasion of Iran defeated, he sought easier conquests against his weak southern neighbors. Kuwait because of its relatively small size was seen as an easy target by the Iraqi government.
Kuwait had heavily funded the 8-year-long Iraqi-Iran war. By the time the war had ended, Iraq was not in a financial position to repay the $14 billion it had borrowed from Kuwait to finance its war. Iraq’s point of view that the war had prevented the rise of Iranian influence in the Arab World did not go down well with the Kuwait regime. Therefore Kuwait was reluctant to pardon the debt. It created strains in the relationship between the two Arab countries. During late 1989, several official meetings were held between the Kuwaiti and Iraqi leaders but they were unable to break the deadlock between the two and reach to a mutual agreement regarding the repaying of the debt by Iran. According to reports, Iraq tried to repay its debts by raising the prices of oil through OPEC’s oil production cuts. However, Kuwait, a member of the OPEC, prevented a global increase in petroleum prices by increasing its own petroleum production, thus lowering the price and preventing recovery of the war-crippled Iraqi economy. This was seen by many in Iraq as an act of aggression, further distancing the countries. The collapse in oil prices had a catastrophic impact on the Iraqi 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.” It has been estimated that Iraq lost around US$14 billion a year due to Kuwait’s oil price strategy. It created a further ridge in the relations between the Iraqi and Kuwaiti governments.
Iraq accused Kuwait of stealing Iraqi oil through slant drilling, however some Iraqi sources indicated Saddam Hussein’s decision to attack Kuwait was made only a few months before the actual invasion suggesting that the regime was under feelings of severe time pressure. The rich deposits of oil lined the ill-defined border of Iraq and Kuwait. Iraq constantly claimed that Kuwaiti oil rigs were illegally tapping into Iraqi oil fields. The problem was aggravated by the fact that the Middle Eastern deserts make border delineation difficult and this has caused many conflicts in the region.
Kuwait and many other Arab nations had supported Iraq against the Islamic Revolutionary government of Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, fearing that Saddam’s defeat would inspire an Iranian revolution throughout the Arab world. Following the end of the war, relations between Iraq and Kuwait deteriorated; with a lack of gratitude shown from the Baghdad government towards the Arab nations for their help in the war.
Options that could have been adopted to stop the war
The conflict resolution approach attributes escalation primarily to the failure of communication between the U.S. and Iraqi governments. The U.S. should have made its own views clearer in the condition that Iraq declared war on Kuwait. Right up to the point of war America kept its stand unclear as to what action it would take in an event of war. Saddam was motivated by this fact and decided to invade Kuwait.
The balance of power among the adversaries is also an important factor. Kuwait would have been empowered by improving its relations with potential ally Jordan. It would have helped Kuwait to defend itself better against Iraq and probably would have acted as a deterrent for the Iraqi attack on Kuwait.
The Arab countries could have acted as intermediate and helped the two countries to reach a mutual decision. The disinterest shown by the Arabs in the earlier stages of the conflict encouraged Saddam to go ahead with the planned invasion.
Even after the invasion of Kuwait there was a strong opinion in the intelligence community, as well as the Middle Eastern community, that the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam should be handled in an Arab context, not by Western powers.
A proposal was quickly put forward by the Saudis that could have produced a peaceful withdrawal of Saddam’s forces from Kuwait. The proposal was for Kuwait to allow Iraq to remove two Kuwaiti islands that were blocking the entrance to Iraq’s seaport. The islands were barren islands that were owned by Kuwait; they did nothing for Kuwait and they blocked the precious little access that Iraq had to the sea.
The proposal was seen as a face saving measure for Saddam that would allow him to withdraw from Kuwait and still declare a victory. At the same time the action would have provided assistance to the Iraqi economy. But the American government rejected the proposal as it justifiably wanted Iraq to gain nothing from the conflict.
The war and its consequences
On August 2 Iraq went ahead with plan of invasion of Kuwait with four of its elite Iraqi Republican Guard Divisions. Commandos were deployed by helicopters and boats to attack the Kuwait City. In support of these divisions a squadron of Mil Mi-25 helicopter gunships, several units of Mi-8 and Mi-17 transport helicopters, as well as a squadron of Bell 412 helicopters were deployed.
Kuwait was caught unaware by the invasion and did have its forces on alert. Kuwaiti forces tried to resist but they were vastly outnumbered. The Emir of Kuwait, Jaber Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-shahfled into the Saudi desert. After a decisive victory of his troops Saddam installed Alaa Hussein Ali as the Prime Minister of Kuwait.
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 and India, called for immediate withdrawal of all Iraqi forces from Kuwait. States had issued an ultimatum to Iraq to withdraw its forces from Kuwait by January 15, 1991 or face war. After series of failed negotiations between major world powers and Iraq, the United States-led coalition launched a massive military assault on Iraqi forces stationed in Kuwait in mid January 1991. By January 16, the Allied planes were targeting several Iraqi military sites and the Iraqi Air Force was said to be “decimated”. Hostilities continued until late February and on February 25, Kuwait was officially liberated from Iraq. On March 15, 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.