In the early morning hours of 2 August 1990, Iraq launched its invasion of Kuwait. The Iraqis deployed over 88,000 troops to overwhelm their small oil-rich neighbor. In just three days of fighting, the Iraqis had successfully defeated the Kuwaiti military and installed a Ba’athist puppet regime to rule the nation. The invasion sparked international condemnation, resulting in the United States and its Allies deploying over 700,000 soldiers to Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Shield. The invasion was the culmination of decades of poor relations between the government of Kuwait and Iraq.
Kuwait has a long history of being an economic hub in the Persian Gulf. Free from Ottoman control, Kuwait was able to divert trade from the Basra Vilayet (the Ottoman’s toehold on the Persian Gulf), fostering greater economic prosperity for the small Gulf state. In 1899, Kuwait became a British protectorate. When the Ottoman Empire collapsed in the aftermath of World War I, the modern state of Iraq was carved out. The Kingdom of Iraq lasted until 1958 before being dissolved into the Iraqi Republic. The Ba’athists rose to power in 1968 following the 17 July Revolution, with Saddam Hussein taking over the government in 1979.
Shortly after Saddam became the president of Iraq, he launched the invasion of Iran, sparking a decade-long war with his Persian neighbor. The war was costly for the Iraqi regime. To help fund the conflict, Iraq borrowed over $14 billion dollars from Kuwait. When the war ended, the Iraqi economy was in poor shape. Struggling to pay back their loan to the Kuwaitis, Iraq requested to have the loan forgiven. There was also the issue of oil prices (one of Iraq’s chief exports). Kuwait maintained an overproduction of its oil, driving down oil prices and damaging the revenue stream for Iraq. The Ba’athist regime also claimed Kuwait was stealing Iraqi oil through slant drilling. With Kuwait’s refusal to forgive the $14 billion war loan, and the continued accusation of slant drilling into Iraqi oil fields, the Iraqi government determined war was the only answer.
With the rapid collapse of the Kuwaiti military, Saudi Arabia feared they would be the next target for an Iraqi invasion. With support from US, Europe, and their Arab allies, a massive coalition was formed to protect Saudi Arabia and to liberate Kuwait. Operation Desert Shield was launched in August 1990. For the next five months, hundreds of thousands of soldiers were deployed to Saudi Arabia. On 17 January 1991, Operation Desert Storm began with an extensive air campaign. Over 100,000 sorties were flown during the preliminary stage of the conflict. One month later the ground offensive was launched. The Allied offensive overwhelmed Iraqi defenses, and by 27 February, Saddam ordered a retreat from Kuwait. The war was brief but had lasting consequences. In 2003, the US launched Operation Iraqi Freedom. Saddam and his Ba’athist regime were ousted from power, but in the aftermath, a long and complicated insurgency arose.