On August 2, 1990, I woke up from the boom of a low-flying aircraft. I realized that there is something wrong because last night the Kuwait TV news, where I was chief editor, had reported that talks in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on defusing an explosive crisis in the Persian Gulf collapsed because "Kuwait did not give in to Iraqi demands to write off ... debts and to relinquish some of its territory."
The Jeddah talks were held amid reports that Iraq had built up a 100,000-strong army on its border with Kuwait.
On August 2, 1990, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, Iraq's tiny, oil-rich neighbor. Within hours Kuwait City had been captured and the Iraqis had established a provincial government. By annexing Kuwait, Iraq gained control of 20 percent of the world's oil reserves and, for the first time, a substantial coastline on the Persian Gulf.
Why Saddam invaded Kuwait?
At the end of the Iran-Iraq War (September 1980 - August 1988), Iraq emerged with a reinforced sense of national pride, but laden with massive debts.
Iraq had largely financed the eight-year-long war through loans, and owed at least $37 billion to Gulf creditors in 1990. Iraq owed $14 billion to Kuwait.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein called on Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates to cancel the Iraqi debt, which should have been considered payments to Iraq for protecting the Arabian Peninsula from Iranian expansionism.
After Kuwait rejected Saddam's debt-forgiveness demands, he threatened to reignite a conflict over the long-standing question of ownership of the Warbah and Bubiyan Islands, to which Iraq ascribed importance because of the secure access they afforded to its ports on the Khawr 'Abd Allahthe waterway to the Persian Gulf that remained the only viable alternative to the closed Shatt Al-'Arab, cluttered with debris from the Iran-Iraq War. The dispute over the Bubiyan and Warbah Islands was a key point of contention in the lengthy history of territorial conflict between Iraq and Kuwait. [Office of the Historian, Foreign Service Institute - United States Department of State]
In July 1990, Saddam accused Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates of breaking with Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) production quotas and over-producing crude oil for export, which depressed prices, depriving Iraq of critical oil revenues. In addition, Saddam Hussein alleged that Kuwait was stealing oil from the Rumayla oil field that straddled the Iraq-Kuwait border. He also demanded that Kuwait cede control of the Bubiyan and Warbah Islands to Iraq.
But on August 2, 1990, a force of one-hundred-thousand Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait and overran the country in a matter of hours.
The Iraqi Republican Guard units moved toward Kuwait City while Iraqi Special Forces secured key sites, including the islands of Warba and Bubayan, Kuwaiti air fields, and the palaces of the Emir and the Crown Prince. [Office of the Historian, Foreign Service Institute - United States Department of State]
On August 28, Iraq declared that Kuwait had become its nineteenth province.
US Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie
Eight days before his August 2, 1990, invasion of Kuwait, Saddam Hussein met with April Glaspie, then America's ambassador to Iraq. It was the last high-level contact between the two countries before Iraq went to war.
From a translation of Iraq's transcript of the meeting, released that September, press and pundits concluded that Ms. Glaspie had (in effect) given Saddam a green light to invade, according to Carleton Cole of Christian Science Monitor.
"We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts," the transcript reports Glaspie saying, "such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary [of State James] Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction ... that Kuwait is not associated with America."
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