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February 24, 2008

Was 1991 Gulf War a prelude to the 2003 Iraq debacle?

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

Historian Dr. Stephen J. Sniegoski, is perhaps right when he says: the neocons could not have initiated the 2003 war if the 1991 Gulf War had not taken place. In that sense the first Gulf War was a prelude to the 2003 war on Iraq, in which the U.S. government would pursue a policy in complete harmony with the thinking of the neocons to precipitate regime change and destabilize the Middle East.


February 26 marks the 17th anniversary of the liberation of Kuwait from the Iraqi occupation and end of the 1991 Gulf War.

Just before 6 am on August 2, 1990, I woke up by the boom of a low flying plane over my second floor apartment in Salmiya, Kuwait. My immediate reaction was that there is something wrong because I knew that Kuwait-Iraq talks had broken down in Jedda yesterday and Iraq had deployed about 30,000 troops on Kuwaiti border. I tuned Kuwait radio to listen 6 am news. Iraqi forces have invaded our homeland, a Defense Ministry said.

The Iraqi invasion was just a walk in. Kuwait had only15,000 army which had no match against Iraq which had the fourth largest army in the world. The ruling family had escaped to neighboring Saudi Arabia as the Iraqi troops moved into Kuwait through a desert route during the night.

Iraqi invasion of Kuwait came one day after the Kuwait-Iraq talks held in Jedda, Saudi Arabia collapsed as Kuwait refused to yield to Iraq’s demand to demarcate disputed border and write off about $ 14 billion dollars loan Kuwait gave to Iraq during its war with Iran. Kuwait, having felt threatened by the impact of Iranian Islamic revolution on its Shiite population, had provided Iraq with extensive loans during the war with Iran. Kuwait’s Shuaiba port was used to transport military hardware and other supplies for Iraq. With the end of the war, however, the Kuwaiti government demanded full repayment from Iraq, whereas Iraq expected Kuwait to write off its debt as a reward for its providing protection from Iran.

Iraq said that it had performed a collective service for all Arabs by waging the (1980-1988) war against non-Arab Iran therefore Kuwait and Saudi Arabia should write off war debts of Iraq which had accumulated $70 billion external debts. In addition, Iraq charged that Kuwait had taken advantage of the Iran-Iraq War to drill oil worth 2.1 billion dollars from the Iraq section of their shared Rumaila oil field. U.S. supplied slant drilling technology that allowed Kuwait to extract oil from the part of Rumaila - ninety percent of which lay under Iraq.

Historically, Kuwait had been part of the Ottoman province of Basra, and although its ruling dynasty, the al-Sabah family, had concluded a protectorate agreement in 1899 that assigned responsibility for its foreign affairs to Britain, it did not make any attempt to secede from the Ottoman Empire. For this reason, Iraqi governments had always refused to accept Kuwait's separation, and its borders were never clearly defined or mutually agreed. The British High Commissioner drew lines that deliberately constricted Iraq's access to the ocean so that any future Iraqi government would be in no position to threaten Britain's domination of the Gulf.

According to Iraq, the present-day border between Iraq and Kuwait, imposed by the British in 1922, lacked legitimacy. It likewise believed that Kuwait's Bubiyan Island, wedged between the southeastern tip of Iraq and the northeastern corner of Kuwait (and commanding Iraq's minuscule coastline along the Persian Gulf), was the rightful property of Iraq.

On July 25, 1990, as negotiations between Iraq and Kuwait stalled, Iraq massed troops on Kuwait’s borders and summoned American Ambassador April Glaspie to an unanticipated meeting with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. In that meeting, Saddam outlined his grievances against Kuwait, while promising that he would not invade Kuwait before one more round of negotiations. Although Glaspie expressed concern over the troop buildup but said that the US “[has] no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.” To emphasize this point, she also said that Secretary of State “James Baker has directed our official spokesmen to emphasize this instruction.”

Glaspie’s comments have been variously interpreted as raising concerns or giving Saddam Hussein a tacit green light to deal with Kuwait as he will. Some have interpreted portions of these statements, particularly the language "We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait", as signaling an American "green light" for the invasion.

Tellingly, on July 31, 1990, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs John Kelly, in testimony before the House Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East, pointed out that the United States had no defense treaty relationship with Kuwait or other Persian Gulf countries. Kelly's testimony constituted another signal to Saddam that the United States was apt to undertake no armed intervention on behalf of Kuwaiti independence and territorial integrity.

Even the mainstream press has been forced to acknowledge how U.S. statements of neutrality were so frequent and non-interventionist in character that they led Saddam to believe he had a green light to invade Kuwait. The Washington Post reported: “Since the invasion, highly classified U.S. intelligence assessments have determined that Saddam took U.S. statements of neutrality... as a green light from the Bush administration for an invasion. One senior Iraqi military official... has told the [CIA] agency that Saddam seemed to be sincerely surprised by the subsequent bellicose reaction.” (Cited by Waas, Murray, ‘Who Lost Kuwait? How the Bush Administration Bungled its Way to War in the Gulf’, Village Voice, 22 January 1991).

Hence it will not be too much to say that the Unite States, in fact, emitted signals that encouraged Saddam Hussein to believe Washington would not dispatch armed forces to rescue Kuwait in the event Iraq invaded its neighbor.

What was worse, it also encouraged the Kuwaitis. In a word, according to Jean Edward Smith, author of George Bush's War, the administration spoke with the proverbial forked tongue. "By saying it would not defend Kuwait, it encouraged Saddam to invade; by stressing its continued support for 'its longstanding friends in the area [of the Persian Gulf],' the Kuwaitis were given no incentive to compromise." By offering encouragement in both Iraq and Kuwait, Smith has concluded, "the United States bears substantial responsibility for what happened," i.e., for the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the resultant Gulf War.

Kuwait had adopted a hard-line policy of no-compromise with Iraq, refusing to negotiate and intransigent in the face of Iraq’s threat of using military means to put a stop to Kuwait’s policies. There are further reasons to believe that the U.S. encouraged Kuwait not to come to a peaceful compromise with Iraq.

King Hussein of Jordan revealed that just before the Iraqi invasion the Kuwaiti foreign minister Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah (who became Amir of Kuwait in January 2006) stated: "We are not going to respond to [Iraq] ... if they don't like it, let them occupy our territory ... we are going to bring in the Americans." And that the Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Saad Al Sabah told his military officers that in the event of an invasion, their duty was to hold off the Iraqis for 24 hours; by then "American and foreign forces would land in Kuwait and expel them." King Hussein expressed the opinion that Arab understanding was that Saddam had been goaded into invading, thereby stepping into a noose prepared for him. (Michael Emery, "How the U.S. Avoided Peace.' Village Voice, March 5, 1991)

A significant indication of the U.S. role can be discerned from a crucial discovery that occurred after the invasion, when the Iraqis found a confidential memorandum in a Kuwaiti intelligence file. Iraq cited this memorandum as evidence of a CIA-Kuwaiti plot to destabilize Iraq economically and politically. The Washington Post reported that Kuwait’s foreign minister fainted when confronted with this document at an Arab summit in August 1990. The document (dated 22 November 1989) was a top secret report to the Kuwaiti Minister of the Interior by his Director General of State Security, informing him of a meeting with the Director of the CIA in Washington, William Webster. The CIA and Kuwait have described the meeting as routine and the memorandum as a forgery. The document stated:

“We agreed with the American side that it was important to take advantage of the deteriorating economic situation in Iraq in order to put pressure on that country’s government to delineate our common border. The Central Intelligence Agency gave us its view of appropriate means of pressure, saying that broad cooperation should be initiated between us on condition that such activities be coordinated at a high level.”

Former U.S. Department of State official William Blum says in his book, Killing Hope, that Iraq was right about the CIA-Kuwait plot. The plot, Blum argues, was in response to increasing Iraqi warnings about American hegemony in the Gulf region, as well as to help stanch expected cuts in defense spending and boost President Bush's domestic popularity.

As happened with the second Gulf War a litany of lies and disinformation preceded the attack on Iraq in 1991. The path to war was one of overbearing, unquestioned rhetoric used by those bent on war to override disquiet. Lies and deceptions, used to mislead the public, prior to during and after the first Gulf War were the equivalent of a ‘second front’ in the war.

Polls showed that upwards of 80% of the American public supported the troop deployment. The anti-war faction and its “No Blood For Oil” slogan was ignored throughout the conflict.

President George H.W. Bush, British Prime Minister John Major and other Western leaders cloaked their war aims in the most noble language. They were fighting Saddam to 'liberate' Kuwait, to 'uphold international law', and to defend 'democracy' against evil 'dictatorship'.

Whatever the high-sounding justifications put forward by Bush, Major and the rest, there was no doubt that the decisive motive for the war was oil. Iraq and Kuwait accounted for 19 per cent of world oil reserves. Saudi Arabia, threatened by Saddam's regime, accounted for 25 per cent.

Nobody doubts that the global interests of the oil moguls, together with the demand of big business for cheap oil, were crucial factors in deciding Bush's policy. In fact, Bush's decision to send forces to the Gulf was merely the implementation of the 'Carter doctrine', put forward by President Jimmy Carter in 1980 after the Iranian hostage crisis. Any assault on the West's Middle Eastern oil supplies, announced Carter, "will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States," and will "be repelled by any means necessary, including military force." (New York Times, 24 January 1980)

Carter declared oil supplies "a vital interest" of the United States. Casper Weinberger, the US Defense Secretary, said: "The umbilical cord of the Western world runs through the Straits of Hormuz into the Arabian Gulf and the nations which surround it." (New York Times, 5 March 1981) Sixty-five per cent of the world's oil reserves are located in the Middle East. Kuwait, the Gulf states, and Saudi Arabia account for over 50 per cent of OPEC's known reserves.

Their real motive for war was the defense of the economic and strategic interests of US and world capitalism. On this occasion, however, the unprecedented unity of the UN Security Council allowed the US to cloak its policy in international legality. This had been made possible by the willingness of the Gorbachev leadership in the Soviet Union to accommodate the interests of US imperialism.

Karl von Clausewitz, a Prussian general says that states wage wars in pursuit of political objectives. Clausewitz metaphor is most commonly presented as seeing war in terms of political cost-benefit analysis: Each nation-state has political objectives, and war may best serve those objectives. The political "gains" are to be weighed against acceptable "costs."

The Gulf War was the most cost effective for US. Indeed, we made a profit on the war during the fiscal year 1991. Coalition partners contributed $54 billion for the war. Two thirds of the $54 billion was provided by the Gulf States, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia ($36 billion) with the remaining one-third mostly provided by Japan and Germany ($16 billion). The US paid roughly $7 billion, less than 12% of the total US cost. The US Department of Defense estimated the incremental cost at $61 billion.

The inflow of foreign capital not only offset America's budget costs but also helped reduce the United States balance-of-payments deficits. America's foreign balance swung from a $23.4 billion deficit in the fourth quarter of 1990 to a $10.2 billion surplus in the first quarter of 1991.

Historian Dr. Stephen J. Sniegoski, is perhaps right when he says: the neocons could not have initiated the 2003 war if the 1991 Gulf War had not taken place. In that sense the first Gulf War was a prelude to the 2003 war on Iraq, in which the U.S. government would pursue a policy in complete harmony with the thinking of the neocons to precipitate regime change and destabilize the Middle East.

As stated officially, the US objectives as a measure of ‘preemptive defense’ were mainly to eradicate Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) and its infrastructure to support terrorism (both of which later proved wrong); as well as a change of its corrupt regime headed by President Saddam Hussain.

However, when viewed in the historical context, the overall US security policy’s stated objectives turned out to be merely the military tools of securing vital US security and economic interests in the region. These were twofold: safeguarding Israeli security, which is the main US ally in the region; as well as to have total physical control of the oil resources in the region, thus securing for the US a dominant role in the formulation of global energy policies, naturally in the US interests.

Also one of the biggest hidden agenda was about the currency used to trade oil and consequently, who will dominate the world economically, in the foreseeable future — the US or the European Union. America had a monopoly on the oil trade, with the US dollar as the fiat currency, until Iraq broke ranks in 2000, started to trade oil in the EU’s fledgling euro, and profited mightily as the dollar sank by 20 per cent against the euro. Besides ensuring the dollar remains the premier world trading currency, physical control of oil reserves is vital to the US to ensure supply at affordable prices.

The greenback’s grip on oil trading and consequently on world trade in general, was under serious threat. If America did not stamp on this immediately, this economic brushfire could rapidly be fanned into a wildfire capable of consuming the US’s economy and its dominance of world trade. The US has enjoyed a special advantage for 30 years — it has been getting a free world trade ride because of the oil trade being conducted in dollars and oil is the major commodity to be traded. The US has been receiving a huge subsidy from everyone else in the world. As its debt has been growing, it has printed more money to keep trading.

To borrow William Clark, author of Petrodollar Warfare: Oil, Iraq and the Future of the Dollar, the Iranians are about to commit an "offense" far greater than Saddam Hussein's conversion to the euro of Iraq’s oil exports in the fall of 2000. Numerous articles have revealed Pentagon planning for operations against Iran as early as 2005. While the publicly stated reasons will be over Iran's nuclear ambitions, there are unspoken macroeconomic drivers explaining the Real Reasons regarding the 2nd stage of petrodollar warfare - Iran's upcoming euro-based oil Bourse.

Just before the March 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Dr. Thomas Barnett, Advisor to the office of the US Secretary of Defense and Professor at the U.S. Naval War College argued: “When the US finally goes to war in the Persian Gulf, it will not constitute a settling of old scores, or just an enforced disarmament of illegal weapons, or a distraction in the war on terror. Our next war in the Gulf will mark a historical tipping point – the moment when Washington takes real ownership of strategic security in the age of globalization.”

Sir Jonathan Porritt, head of the Sustainable Development Commission and advisor to the UK government on ecological issues, was more blunt: ‘I do not think that war would have happened if Iraq did not have the second largest oil reserves in the world.’

And finally, in his book, released in September 2007, The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World, Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve Bank Chairman, belatedly acknowledged: “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.” What Greenspan was acknowledging casually has always been denied by the Bush administration and the news media faithfully ignored? "BLOOD FOR OIL.”

"Why of course the people don't want war. . . . That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, a parliament or a communist dictatorship . . . the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. . . . All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger. - Hermann Goering, a leading member of Nazi Party and German Air Force Chief at Nuremberg trials, 1945

Submitters Bio:

Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American Muslim Perspective: www.amperspective.com