Persian Gulf War
On August 2, 1990, Iraqi forces invaded and occupied Kuwait.
On February 26, 1991, United States-led coalition forces restored
Kuwaiti sovereignty. These paired events represented both the
failure and the success of Kuwait's foreign policy.
The primary impetus for the invasion lay in the dynamics of internal
Iraqi politics--economic and political concerns after the long,
debilitating, and ultimately unsuccessful Iran-Iraq War. However,
economic and political relations between Iraq and Kuwait provided
the context for conflict.
Iraq's first financial disagreement with Kuwait related to oil
policy. Iraq objected to Kuwait's production beyond OPEC quotas
and the consequent contribution that overproduction made to lowering
oil prices internationally. Iraq also claimed Kuwait was siphoning
oil from the shared Ar Rumaylah oil field straddling the Iraq-Kuwait
border. During the Iran-Iraq War, Iraq ceased production from
its side of the field while Kuwait continued operations. Kuwait
asserted it had taken oil only from its own side of the field;
Iraq claimed it had poached. Another financial disagreement with
Kuwait concerned the estimated US$13 billion that Kuwait had lent
Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War, a debt that Iraq wished Kuwait
to forgive. These financial claims were set in a broader context.
The Iraqi government experienced serious financial strains following
the war with Iran; nearby Kuwait had apparently ample resources.
To obtain these resources, Iraq put forward whatever financial
claims it could.
In addition to economic issues, Iraq also disagreed with Kuwait
over borders. This claim had two somewhat contradictory dimensions.
Iraq first disputed the location of the border and then reaffirmed
its claim to all of Kuwait. The latter claim rested on the argument
that Iraq had once ruled Kuwait. This assertion to historical
sovereignty over Kuwait was not solidly grounded: Kuwait had always
been a self-governing political entity. Despite Ottoman Iraq's
historic interest in Kuwait, it had never ruled the shaykhdom.
When Kuwait was first established, the area was under the control
of the Bani Khalid of Arabia, not the Ottomans. For a brief period
in the late nineteenth century, Kuwait moved closer to the Ottomans,
and for a short time Abd Allah as Salim held the Ottoman title
of qaimaqam, or provincial governor; part of the Iraqi
claim invoked this fact (see Ruling
Family , this ch.). After Britain and Kuwait signed the 1899
treaty, Ottoman forces, anxious to overthrow Mubarak, had no place
in the shaykhdom. British forces came to Mubarak's support as
needed in favor of Kuwaiti independence.
Kuwait's status was again a matter of international discussion
in the period around World War I. In 1913 British and Ottoman
representatives drew up the draft Anglo-Ottoman Convention in
which Britain recognized Ottoman suzerainty over Kuwait but at
the same time declared Kuwait an autonomous district of the Ottoman
Empire. The convention conditioned recognition of Ottoman interests
in Kuwait on the promise of Ottoman noninterference in the internal
affairs of Kuwait. The Iraqi government's later assertion that
this constituted British recognition of Iraqi jurisdiction in
Kuwait was weak. The document specifically recognized Kuwait's
historical political autonomy and disallowed Iraqi interference
in Kuwait's domestic affairs. In any event, the document was never
ratified, and at the beginning of World War I, Britain moved closer
to Kuwait, not further away. At the end of World War I, the Ottoman
Empire was dissolved. In the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, Turkey renounced
claims to all former Ottoman provinces.
In the interwar years, the border question again arose. In 1922
the British convened a conference at Al Uqayr in Saudi Arabia
that set Saudi Arabia's borders with Kuwait and Iraq but not Kuwait
and Iraq's border with each other. However, in 1923 the British
high commissioner in Iraq sent a memorandum to the political agent
in Kuwait laying out the border between Kuwait and Iraq. When
in 1932 Iraq applied to the League of Nations for membership as
an independent state, it included information on the borders from
Iraq thus seemed to be moving toward acceptance of its border
with Kuwait when the discovery of oil, the promise of more Kuwaiti
oil revenues, and the related Majlis Movement occurred. As the
Majlis Movement grew, Iraq began to support dissidents in Kuwait
and simultaneously put forward claims to Kuwait. Iraq also explored
the idea of building a port on Kuwait's coast to give Iraq an
alternative to its port of Basra. Iraq began expressing interest
in the islands of Bubiyan and Warbah as well. The Majlis Movement
in Kuwait failed, however, and Iraq had to await another opportunity.
As long as Britain was there to support Kuwait, Iraq could do
little more than assert a verbal claim. When Kuwait became independent
in 1961, the Iraqi government tested Britain's resolve by bringing
forces to Kuwait's border in support of its claims on the shaykhdom.
British and Arab League forces, however, forestalled any Iraqi
In 1963 a new government came to power in Iraq. Anxious to mend
fences, this government formally recognized Kuwait and signed
an agreement recognizing the borders between the two states as
those set forth in Iraq's 1932 application to the League of Nations.
Iraq then dropped its objection to Kuwait's membership in the
UN and in the Arab League and established diplomatic relations,
including the exchange of ambassadors, with Kuwait.
Nonetheless, tensions lingered. During the 1960s and 1970s, a
series of border incidents took place, and there was continuing
Iraqi pressure for Kuwait to relinquish, or at least offer longterm
leases on, the islands of Warbah and Bubiyan. In the 1980s, relations
between the two states appeared to improve as Iraq, desperate
for Kuwaiti financial support in its war with Iran, was careful
not to press its unpopular claims. Both sides claimed sincerity
in their historical effort to negotiate the border issue. When
the war ended, however, the border issue reappeared.
The dispute itself does not seem to have been a precipitating
factor in the invasion. When Iraq entered Kuwait in August 1990,
it claimed to do so in support of a Kuwaiti rebellion. When no
pro-Iraqi rebellion (or even bloc) emerged, and Iraq found itself
unable to set up a pliable Kuwaiti government, it was forced to
resort to direct occupation. It was only at this point that the
Iraqi claim to Kuwait resurfaced. On August 9, one week after
the invasion, Iraq formally annexed Kuwait, adding the northern
part of the country, including the Ar Rumaylah oil field and the
islands of Warbah and Bubiyan, to Iraq's province of Basra and
creating a separate province out of the rest of Kuwait.
After Kuwait's liberation, the UN established a five-member boundary
commission to demarcate the Kuwait-Iraq boundary in accordance
with UN Security Council Resolution 687, which reaffirmed the
inviolability of the Iraq-Kuwait border. In April 1992, the commission
announced its findings, which demarcated the Kuwaiti border with
Iraq about 570 meters to the north near the Iraqi town of Safwan
and slightly north in the region of the contested Ar Rumaylah
oil field. These modifications gave Kuwait six oil wells in the
field and part of the Iraqi naval base of Umm Qasr. Kuwait accepted
the commission's finding and announced it intended to build a
security fence along its border with Iraq as an advance warning
system. Iraq responded to the findings with an angry letter in
May to the UN secretary general rejecting the commission's findings.
Domestically, it continued to refer to Kuwait's territory as an
integral part of Iraq. Physical demarcation of the land boundary
was completed in November 1992.
The postwar period thus opened with many of the issues still
unresolved that had played a role in precipitating the invasion
and war. In Iraq the government of Saddam Husayn continued to
assert its prewar claim to Kuwait, coloring Kuwait's postwar foreign
policy. As long as Saddam Husayn remains at the helm in Iraq,
Kuwait can feel no real security. Even were he to be replaced,
much of the insecurity that haunts Kuwait and drives its foreign
policy would remain. Kuwaitis see the war as one waged by the
Iraqi people and remember previous Iraqi promises to respect Kuwait's
sovereignty. Kuwait will continue to see Iraq as a serious threat,
regardless of what transpires in Iraq's leadership.
Data as of January 1993