Former American President George HW Bush – the architect of the First Gulf War which killed tens of thousands of Iraqis – has died aged 94.
Bush served as US President from 1988-1992 and will be best remembered in the Muslim world for the bloody war that he launched – with the assistance of several Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt – against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1990-1.
In 1990 Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein accused Kuwait of siphoning crude oil from the Ar-Rumaylah oil fields located along their common border. He also insisted that Kuwait and Saudi Arabia cancel out $30 billion of Iraq’s foreign debt, and accused them of conspiring to keep oil prices low in an effort to pander to Western oil-buying nations.
On August 2, 1990, he ordered the invasion of Kuwait after receiving what he thought was a green light from the US ambassador to Iraq. Hussein assumed that his fellow Arab states would stand by in the face of his invasion of Kuwait and not call in outside help to stop it, but this proved to be a miscalculation.
Two-thirds of the 21 members of the Arab League condemned “Iraq’s act of aggression,” and Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd, along with Kuwait’s government-in-exile, turned to the United States and other members of NATO for support.
On August 8, the day on which the Iraqi government formally annexed Kuwait, the first U.S. Air Force fighter planes began arriving in Saudi Arabia as part of a military build-up dubbed Operation Desert Shield. The planes were accompanied by troops sent by NATO allies as well as Egypt and several other Arab nations, designed to guard against a possible Iraqi attack on Saudi Arabia.
By January, the coalition forces prepared to face off against Iraq numbered some 750,000, including 540,000 U.S. personnel and smaller forces from Britain, France, Germany, the Soviet Union, Japan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, among other nations. Iraq, for its part, had the support of Jordan (another vulnerable neighbor), Algeria, the Sudan, Yemen, Tunisia and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO).
Early on the morning of January 17, 1991, a massive U.S.-led air offensive hit Iraq’s air defenses, moving swiftly on to its communications networks, weapons plants, oil refineries and more. The Iraqi air force was either destroyed early on or opted out of combat under the relentless attack, the objective of which was to win the war in the air and minimise combat on the ground as much as possible.
By mid-February, the coalition forces had shifted the focus of their air attacks toward Iraqi ground forces in Kuwait and southern Iraq. A massive allied ground offensive, Operation Desert Sabre, was launched on February 24, with troops heading from northeastern Saudi Arabia into Kuwait and southern Iraq.
Over the next four days, coalition forces encircled and defeated the Iraqis and “liberated” Kuwait. At the same time, U.S. forces stormed into Iraq some 120 miles west of Kuwait, attacking Iraq’s armored reserves from the rear. The elite Iraqi Republican Guard mounted a defense south of Al-Basrah in southeastern Iraq, but most were defeated by February 27.
In all, at least 10,000 Iraqi forces were killed, in comparison with only 300 coalition troops.
Though the Gulf War was recognised as a decisive victory for the coalition, Kuwait and Iraq suffered enormous damage, and Saddam Hussein was not forced from power. Intended by coalition leaders to be a “limited” war fought at minimum cost, it would have lingering effects for years to come, both in the Persian Gulf region and around the world.
In the immediate aftermath of the war, Hussein’s forces suppressed uprisings by Kurds in the north of Iraq and Shi’ites in the south. The United States-led coalition failed to support the uprisings, afraid that the Iraqi state would be dissolved if they succeeded.
Shortly before Christmas 1991, the Medical Educational Trust in London published a comprehensive study of casualties. It said up to a quarter of a million men, women and children were killed or died as a direct result of the American-led attack on Iraq and its immediate aftermath.
In evidence before the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Select Committee, the major international relief agencies reported that 1.8 million people had been made homeless, and Iraq’s electricity, water, sewage, communications, health, agriculture and industrial infrastructure had been “substantially destroyed”, producing “conditions for famine and epidemics”.
In the years after the war, the deaths of half a million children as a result of an American and British-led economic embargo and the continuing bombing of populated areas in Iraq were not widely reported in the West.
In 2002, the United States (now led by President George W. Bush, son of the former president) sponsored a new U.N. resolution calling for the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq.
Amid differences between Security Council member states over how well Iraq had complied with those inspections, the United States and Britain began amassing forces on Iraq’s border.
Bush Jnr (without further U.N. approval) issued an ultimatum on March 17, 2003, demanding that Saddam Hussein step down from power and leave Iraq within 48 hours, under threat of war. Hussein refused, and the second Persian Gulf War began three days later. It would be much more bloody than its predecessor.