War in the Gulf, 1990-1991: The Iraqi-Kuwait Conflict and It's Implications: Views from the Other Side.
Reviewed by Ayad Al-Qazzaz
The first casualty of war is the truth. The Gulf War is an example par excellence of this point. Countless books and articles on the Gulf War have been published. Most, unfortunately, lack either objectivity or scholarship. Many were published by organizations associated directly or indirectly with the U.S. government, such as the CIA and the Peace institute, by the Israeli lobby such as the Washington Institute for Near East, or by the Center for Research and Studies on Kuwait, funded by the Kuwaiti government. Hence, the book under review provides a breath of flesh air. The book is sorely needed and it will, no doubt, fill part of the wide gap in studies on the Gulf War. The book was written by two experts on Iraq and the Gulf. Khadduri has written extensively on the recent political history of Iraq, including four monographs. These works were based on original sources and interviews with key players who participated in events. Ghareeb is an expert on the Kurdish problem in Iraq and he has written two books and numerous articles on the subject. Both authors have extensive contact with Iraqis and others in the region, and have made extensive use of Arabic documents and sources. Unlike others, it pays close attention to the Iraqi side of the coin, which has been mostly ignored or glossed over.
The book is divided into four parts of which each is divided into several chapters. Part one deals with the origins of the Gulf War, part two discusses the immediate causes of the Gulf War, part three talks about the stages of the Gulf War, and part four spells out who was responsible for the Gulf War. The authors' basic premise is that it takes two to tango. Hussein's outrageous action of invading Kuwait was the main and immediate cause of the Gulf War. On the other hand, Kuwait's uncompromising refusal to settle the border dispute with Iraq, with the tacit support and encouragement of England and the United States, contributed significantly to the Gulf War. The book charts in meticulous detail the historical events that underlined the tension between Iraq and Kuwait. The book presents a number of key points and insights. Only twelve of them will be outlined in this short review.
1. The genesis of the Gulf War goes back to 1923, when Percy Cox, the British High Commissioner in Baghdad, accepted a proposal submitted by Major More, a British agent in Kuwait, for settling the border dispute between Iraq and Kuwait. By including the islands of Warba and Bubiyan as Kuwaiti, the settlement was based on terms very favorable to Kuwait. Both Cox and More were interested in maintaining the Pax Britannica. The agreement fashioned by the two Britons left Iraq with a Gulf coastline of less than forty miles. Most of that is made up of alluvial mud, unsuitable for the construction of maritime port facilities. Iraq's access to the Gulf is only through the Shatt al-Arab River, which it shares with Iran. In recent years, with an increase in imports and exports, this access has become increasingly inadequate for the country's commercial needs and requirements. The agreement with Kuwait has never been ratified by the Iraqi government, and it has become a bone of contention between the two countries.
2. The constant changes and instabilities in the Iraqi political system contributed to keeping alive the border dispute. Consequently, Iraq has weakened its position by submitting different proposals each time the two sides have met at the negotiating table. Alternatively, Kuwait's relatively stable government has made it possible for it to stand firm and to submit the same proposal for the border settlement over and over again. Kuwait refuses to compromise or to accommodate Iraq's needs on the grounds that any concession would lead to more demands. Furthermore, by promising help if needed, Britain has encouraged Kuwait to stand firm.
3. The Iraqi-Iranian War exhausted and weakened the Iraqi economy with Iraq owing debts of $80 billion to Arab and Western countries after the war. Iraq was unable to persuade Arab Gulf countries to contribute substantial amounts of funds for reconstruction. Therefore, the country was forced to rely on its own income from oil. However, income from oil was shrinking due to dropping oil prices, which on occasion dropped to $18 per barrel. The main barrier to higher prices was overproduction by the Gulf countries, particularly Kuwait. Kuwait stubbornly refused to go along with a proposal to cut its own production and to raise the price to over $20 per barrel. Both Britain and the United States encouraged Kuwait to stand firm against Iraq, promising their support against any Iraqi threat. Thus, the invasion of Kuwait was one of the consequences of the Iraqi-Iranian war.
5. The Gulf War started on 16 January 1991 and officially ended on 28 February 1991 (forty-two days). The United States and its allies flew over 100,000 sorties which dropped 88,500 tons of bombs, the largest amount in that time flame in the history of warfare. The Gulf War was a testing ground of new weapons such as new anti-personnel, Tomahawk cruise missiles, and many others. Between 80,000 to 200,000 Iraqis were killed and many more were wounded or died as a result of delayed war effects. The war also devastated the Iraqi economy. The Arab Monetary Fund reported in April 1993 that the Gulf war had cost Iraq over $256 billion. The purpose of the war was not only the expulsion of Iraq from Kuwait as announced, but also to destroy Iraq's industrial capacity and its extensive infrastructure. This would deter and prevent Iraq from playing a regional role in the area in the near future; a role that might not be compatible with U.S. interests and its allies in the Gulf.
6. The authors, on numerous occasions, have asserted that the United States has manipulated the United Nations and has not allowed the U.N. to discharge its duties properly. For example, the Arab League was not given an opportunity to resolve the crisis prior to the war. This seems inconsistent with the U.N. charter, which empowered regional organizations to deal with all such matters as appropriate for regional actions. See Article 52 of the Charter.
7. The authors raise a very interesting and important point regarding United Nations Resolution 678 which the United States used to justify its military action. The authors indicate that China, a permanent member, abstained. This therefore raised the question as to whether this resolution was valid under the Charter. Article 27(3) indicates that the abstention of one permanent member of the Security Council will not fulfill the requirement as stated in the text of the Charter. The abstention of one or more member means that the resolution will no longer be binding.
8. The responsibility of the Gulf War falls on many shoulders. Hussein's regime bears a prime responsibility for pursuing the wrong method, in asserting by force, otherwise legitimate territorial claims. Kuwait shares part of the blame. The negative and inflexible attitude it took toward the border dispute with Iraq contributed to the Gulf War. Kuwait rejected all Iraqi proposals, including the modest request to meet its essential requirements for trade and security. Britain also bears enormous responsibility. It arbitrarily demarcated the border between Iraq and Kuwait in 1923 in favor of Kuwait. It then encouraged Kuwait not to compromise and to stand firm in the border dispute with Iraq. Britain seems to have decided that its imperial interest in the Gulf would be better served by Kuwait rather than Iraq. The Bush Administration was also partly to blame by not warning Iraq that resorting to force would be a matter of great concern. To the contrary, in meeting with Hussein, the American Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, gave him the impression that the U.S. had no opinion on a conflict between the two countries, i.e., a border dispute between Iraq and Kuwait. Last but not least, regional organizations such as the Arab League and the Islamic Conference failed to act promptly to resolve the conflict. Both operate under cumbersome bureaucracies which, coupled with disunity and dissention, impeded their ability to resolve the problem.
9. Two important upshots in the aftermath of the Gulf War were the popular uprisings of the Muslim Shi'i in southern Iraq and the Kurds in the north. The uprising in the south failed for several reasons: it was spontaneous and was not the result of a well-planned action: it also lacked alternative vision or a political program. More importantly, it lacked leaders from inside the country who could be alternatives to Hussein. The Kurdish situation was somewhat different. They gained control over the major part of Iraqi Kurdistan and established an entity short of independence under Western protection. However, personal rivalries exacerbated by interference and manipulation of external supporters, undermined the credibility of the Kurdish leaders at home and abroad.
The U.N. Security Council settled the border dispute between Iraq and Kuwait in favor of the latter, without much consideration for Iraq's legitimate concerns and needs. Iraq protested, but to no avail. The demarcation confirmed that the rich oil field of south Rumayla and the two islands of Warba and Bubiyan fell within Kuwait's border. Also, it gave Kuwait the southern part of Umm Qaser, which had been under Iraqi jurisdiction before the war. The authors' opinion is "that the frontier between the states will be of continuous trouble as long as it has not been settled by agreement freely reached between them." In other words, what the Security Council did was a sure recipe for further trouble between the two countries.
11. The pundits and experts of the region, as well as Western and American officials, predicted the immediate downfall of Hussein in the aftermath of the Gulf War. Contrary to these predictions, Hussein's regime survived and outlasted many of the players of the Gulf War like Bush, Thatcher, and Major. Hussein's durability and survival are due to several factors. Among these are: (1) his brutal elimination of opposition groups through countless secret agencies. (2) his strength compared to that of non-unified opposition groups. There are currently no unified opposition groups. There are more than sixty opposition groups operating mostly abroad, all of which suffer from splintering and rivalry. These consist of varieties of ethnic and religious groups such as Muslim Shi'i, Kurds, Turkoman, and Assyrians, as well as Communists, Islamists, secularists, panArabist parties, and many independent figures. Most of the leaders of these opposition groups live abroad and are unknown to most Iraqis. (3) Last but not least has been Hussein's ability to manipulate the sanctions by blaming and accusing western powers of deliberately seeking to divide the country, destroy its weapons, and weaken its capacity to play its role in the region works to his advantage.
12. The authors conclude by saying that the Gulf war was not inevitable. Had Western powers been patient in dealing with Arab leaders, or had the Arab leaders acted more quickly before the wheels of Western intervention rolled, the crisis might have been resolved by peaceful means.
The book suffers from some minor problems, of which four will be noted here. The most important one is that there is no systematic discussion of Hussein's personality, the general characteristics of his profile, and his decision-making processes. Hussein's personality is discussed only in passing throughout the book - it is not thorough or focused. One of the most puzzling points about Hussein's personality is his tendency to overestimate his own power and to underestimate the power of his external enemies. One example is the Iraqi-Iranian war. He thought the war was going to be short and speedy, with a quick victory. Instead, it turned into a monstrosity that lasted eight years and had immeasurable consequences. Iraq paid heavily in lives and wealth. Thousands of Iraqis were killed and wounded and the country was left with a debt-burdened economy. One might think Hussein had learned a lesson and would not allow himself to be trapped in another war. But his invasion of Kuwait shows the same characteristics of overestimating his power and underestimating the power of his external enemies.
Another problem that should have been addressed is the impact of the sanctions on Iraq. Although the sanctions were discussed throughout the book they merited more focus. One thing the authors could have done was to reprint United Nations reports on the impact the sanctions were having on the Iraqi people. Most of these reports are not easily accessible to the general public.
The authors also fail to deal with issues of the United States' intentions about what to do with Hussein during and after the war. There is an abundance of credible evidence that suggests, while the U.S. publicly wanted him out of power, privately it pursued a policy of keeping Hussein weak and confined rather than eliminated. Having Hussein in power better serves American interests. He is a "villain" that can be blamed for all of the troubles of the area. The U.S. can and does use him to frighten the Gulf countries, particularly Kuwait. As a result they accept and tolerate a continued U.S. military presence in the area. Furthermore, the U.S. can sell arms to the wealthy Gulf countries thereby bolstering its own industrial military complex. Hussein can be used to justify the high investment in the American armed forces. Also, having Hussein in power absolves the U.S. from its moral and ethical responsibilities for the reconstruction of Iraq.
Lastly, the U.S. wants to keep the sanctions in tact to box in Hussein and to prevent Iraq from entering the oil market. The current price of oil on the international scene is low, often at less than $15 per barrel. If Iraq reenters the oil market, it will lead to a further decline in oil prices. This will affect the economies of U.S. Gulf allies and the economy of Alaska, Texas, and other states. Another problem which needed more attention was why Hussein decided to invade the entire country of Kuwait rather than just the disputed area.
These shortcomings are issues of omission and not commission. The book is a valuable reference and it will continue to be used by future historians in a discussion of the Gulf War and the Middle East. The authors recount tales of the Gulf War with scholarship, clarity and moral force. I strongly recommend the book to all students interested in the area, as well as to the general public.
Ayad Al-Qazzaz is a professor of sociology at California State University, Sacramento.