War in the Gulf: 24th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm

2015 is the 24th anniversary of the first Gulf War known as Operation Desert Storm.

Looking at the situation in the Gulf region prior to the Allied invasion of Iraq in the early 1990s, the Iranian Revolution in 1979 can be clearly linked to the incentive for Iraq’s then President, Saddam Hussein, to attack Iran over border disagreements and over differences between their different Muslim groups – in Iran there are mainly Shiite Muslims, while in Iraq there are mainly Sunni Muslims.

At the time, Western nations and many countries in the Gulf region backed Saddam’s invasion given that the Iranian Revolution would put in place a regime that did not have a good relationship with the West or Western democracy. Many of these countries allowed defense companies to supply Iraq with military equipment and arms in order to invade and attack Iran.

Twenty years later Iraq had grown to become the region’s biggest military power, but its national debt was high.The Gulf countries it had borrowed from to build its military capability wanted repaying, but Saddam Hussein believed his country’s efforts to contain the spread of the Iranian Revolution should be enough to cover the debts.

He asked Kuwait to forfeit their US$65 billion debt owed, but the country declined. This caused a great deal of animosity between the two neighbouring countries, and Iraq proceeded to make claims that Kuwait was stealing oil from a bordering oil-field.

This resulted in Iraq invading Kuwait in 1990. The West condemned the invasion and President Bush sent a quarter of a million troops to the region.

Backed by a United Nations resolution, countries from the West and Gulf came together to clear Iraq out of Kuwait.

President Bush made it clear that it was impossible for the West to allow a country to aggressively invade another. At the beginning he stated that the Allied troops were being sent in for defense purposes only, but by this time there were almost one million troops in the region, the teleSUR reports.

President Bush did as much as he could to make the troop presence part of a coalition. Given that the Cold War was finished, there was little opposition from Russia, and China, in the wake of the Tiananmen Square, did not want to do anything to gain further international condemnation.

The initial Allied attack was via air power and centred on Baghdad. It lasted 43 daysand bombing took place both day and night. Iraqi troops could do little to fight back except for some anti-aircraft fire and surface to air missiles. In just over a month, Saddam Hussein accepted the UN request to withdraw from Kuwait. But President Bush saw this as an opportunity to thwart Saddam Hussein once and for all.

Ground troops were sent in to Kuwait and the south of Iraq, where thousands of Iraqi soldiers were killed. Saddam Hussein stayed in power, but the Allies retained a presence in and around Iraq. This continued into the Clinton Presidency.

By the time the terrorist attacks of September, 11, 2001 came round, President George W. Bush saw it as an opportunity to finish Saddam Hussein once and for all. The second Gulf War began in 2003.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE