How Did One Man Set the Middle East Ablaze?
It was in August 1990 when the news broke: Iraq invaded Kuwait. Saddam Hussein led the invasion, a man who justified the destruction by claiming Kuwait, “was an artificial state carved out of the Iraqi coast by Western colonialists”.
One of Saddam’s biggest miscalculations was his judgement of how nearby countries would react. Saddam believed that they would support him; but instead of amiable support, he created a state of fear — most of the Arab league requested assistance from western leaders.
“Burn half of Israel”
Even more concerning was the fact that Saddam did not only have his eyes on Kuwait but Israel, too. He threatened to, “burn half of Israel,” with a barrage of bombs and toxic Scud missiles. It was the first time in Israel’s history that the country faced an existential threat.
The United Nation’s security council demanded that Saddam and his army leave Kuwait by January 1991. However, this was defied, sparking the start of the Gulf War and Operation Desert Storm.
During a mid-January night in 1991, the aerial offensive started. Allied forces attacked places of strategic interest in Iraq, such as airports, ammunition depots, and manufacturing plants.
Fire Rained Down
In response, Saddam attacked Israel. Over several weeks, 38 Scud missiles rained down on Israel, mainly damaging the Tel Aviv area, causing significant damage and death. Directly, the attacks killed two civilians; indirectly, they caused: 4 heart attacks, 7 deaths as a result of incorrect use of biological/chemical warfare kits, 208 injured, 225 cases of unnecessary injection of atropine. The missile attacks also damaged 1,302 houses, 6142 apartments, 23 public buildings, 200 shops and 50 cars.
But Israel held back, at the urging of the US, who were concerned that Israel’s retaliation could result in the Arab coalition deserting the US and allies in the war. Instead, Israel focused on supporting its civilians. The IDF procured and distributed gas masks to civilians, set up a medical supply network, and instructed the nation on how to prepare safe rooms, to be used during missile attacks.
A United Fight Against Hussein
Some 750,000 coalition personnel fought against Saddam and his army: 540,000 from the US, smaller unit forces were provided by Britain, France, Germany, the Soviet Union, Japan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia. Iraq, on the other hand, was supported by Jordan, Algeria, Sudan, Yemen, Tunisia, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
The first phase of the war, an aerial offensive, known as Operation Desert Storm, was a US-led attack on Iraq’s air defences, communication networks, weapons plants, oil refineries, and more. The coalition benefitted from the latest in military technology, including stealth bombers, cruise missiles, laser-guided missiles, and infrared night-bombing equipment.
The objective of Operation Desert Storm was to win the war in the air by disabling communications, destroying military equipment, and breaking down command and control. This, in turn, would help to minimise ground combat during the second phase of the war.
Within a few weeks, the war moved to its second phase, Operation Desert Sabre. It was a massive ground offensive targeting Iraqi ground forces in Kuwait and southern Iraq. Western forces pushed 120 miles into Iraq, attacking Iraq’s armoured reserves. The Iraqi Republican Guard mounted one last defence in Al-Basrah, south-east Iraq, but, surrounded by coalition forces, they were swiftly defeated.
The End of the Beginning
George Bush declared a cease-fire on the 28th February 1991, after 42 days of relentless attacks. The remaining Iraqi forces in Kuwait surrendered or fled, leading to what was considered an unqualified victory. However, tensions did not disappear but instead simmered under the surface.
A war which was intended to be fought at a minimum cost would go on to cost much more with time, both in the Middle East and around the world.
Still in power, Hussein’s forces continued to oppress the Iraqi people. They brutally suppressed uprisings by Kurds in the north and Shi’ites in the south. Unfortunately, these groups received no external support from the US or other governments because of the fear that the Iraqi state might have dissolved had they succeeded.
The US and British continued to patrol the skies of Iraq, maintaining a no-fly zone. While Iraq continued to show disregard for the peace terms, especially towards the weapons inspections. This regularly resulted in military flareups, with fire often being exchanged with British and US aircraft.
This continued until 2002, when the new President George Bush sponsored a new UN resolution, requesting that weapons inspectors return to Iraq in order to ensure that Iraq was fulfilling their requirements.
However, some countries did not believe that Iraq fully complied with the inspections, leading to concerns. President Bush gave Iraq an ultimatum: Saddam Hussein should step down as a leader and leave Iraq. Saddam did not comply, and a second war, known as the Iraq War, started in March 2003.
The war raged on for nine months until, on the 13th December 2003, Saddam Hussein was captured. Three years later, he was found guilty of crimes against humanity and was executed.
Unfortunately, the end of Saddam Hussein did not bring an end to the conflict. The war continued for another five years, until December 2011, when the US formally withdrew from Iraq.