Twenty years on, shockwaves of Kuwait invasion are still felt in Middle East | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 02.08.2010
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Twenty years on, shockwaves of Kuwait invasion are still felt in Middle East

As deadline passes, coalition launches Desert Storm

A destroyed Iraqi tank rests near a series of oil well fires during the Gulf War

Iraqi forces were routed by Desert Storm's onslaught

After issuing an ultimatum for Iraq to withdraw its forces from Kuwait by January 15, 1991 or face war, the United States and Britain led a 34-nation, UN-authorized coalition force in a massive military assault against Iraqi forces in Kuwait. By February 25, Operation Desert Storm had decimated Iraqi forces and pushed them out of Kuwait, officially liberating the country.

Coalition forces pursued the retreating Iraqi army into Iraq but called off the advance four days into the ground assault, some 240 kilometers (150 miles) from Baghdad. In the days which followed the ceasefire, a peace summit was held and an agreement to end hostilities was signed by all parties. Coalition forces slowly retreated from Iraq and by the end of March 1991, the majority of US troops had left the Persian Gulf.

Some US troops stayed, however. Many of those who had been sent to Saudi Arabia to protect the country before the invasion of Kuwait as part of Operation Desert Shield remained there. About 5,000 US military personnel continued to be stationed at the base in Dhahran and were involved in enforcing the no-fly zone over Southern Iraq as part of Operation Southern Watch, a coalition air patrol mission sanctioned by the UN in 1992 to prevent continuing air attacks by Iraqi forces on Shi'ite Muslims.

"The US had an access-to-facilities agreement with Oman dating back to 1980 as well as small-scale agreements with Bahrain and the wide range of military agreements it had with Saudi Arabia dating back to the 1940s, but it was nothing like the visible and large-scale military footprint that it assumed post-1990," Dr. Ulrichsen said.

"In this sense, the invasion of Kuwait and its consequences were transformative in terms of the level and nature of US military commitment to the Gulf and wider Middle East."

US presence and action stokes growing Arab anger

The US military presence in the Gulf was called into action again in 1998 when US President Bill Clinton ordered four days of air strikes on Iraq after seven years of non-compliance with UN disarmament orders and Baghdad's continued rejection of weapons inspections.

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden

Bin Laden based his Jihad on US army presence in holy lands

While this action and other smaller strikes reminded the world that the US had Saddam contained and the region protected, some of Iraq's Arab neighbors were beginning to tire of the American presence. Others were starting to foment more extreme emotions and ideas.

"The Arabs of the region didn't know what to think after the war," said Hazhir Teimourian. "Removing Saddam might have created a vacuum into which Iran might have stepped but they also feared what would happen if the great powers were allowed to remove dictators."

"They hoped Saddam would now be much weaker and even learn his lesson. But the Shias of Iraq felt betrayed by the US for allowing Saddam to remain in power. America had urged them to rise against him and they did, but then he was allowed to get away with more mass crimes against them."

"There was a gradual shift in popular opinion during the 1990s in the Gulf States toward a more skeptical view of US motives although many relied on the United States for their external security," Dr. Ulrichsen added. "When al Qaeda emerged in the 1990s, its initial propaganda was based on the rejection of the presence of US-foreign military forces in the holy land of the Arabian Peninsula. This was an integral part of Osama bin Laden's call to arms in his February 1998 'Declaration of Jihad against Jews and Crusaders.'"

Bin Laden's Jihad would, of course, lead to the terrorist attacks on the US in September 2001 which would be used as the justification for the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, conflicts in which the US is still involved today.

After choosing not to remove Saddam from power in 1991, the US finally brought down his regime 12 years later in a military campaign largely influenced by terrorist atrocities planned in part as a response to its presence in the Gulf. The Iraqi dicator was executed in 2006 for crimes against humanity but the legacy of his 1990 invasion of Kuwait lives on.

Author: Nick Amies

Editor: Rob Mudge

Pages 1 | 2 | Full article

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