A Trap for Hussein (I)

New Eastern Outlook

After the failure of a series of talks between Iraq and Kuwait, including those conducted in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), the Iraqi army invaded Kuwait’s territory in the early morning of the 2nd of August, 1990. Having overcome the resistance of the small Kuwaiti army, the 120 thousand Iraqi military group managed to occupy the entire country by the evening of the same day.

The international community, having witnessed a flagrant violation of international law and UN Charter Principles, reacted in an unprecedented and strict manner to the occupation of a sovereign Kuwait by Iraq. On August 2, The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 660, wherein it condemned the occupation, demanded immediate withdrawal of Iraqi troops and confirmed Kuwait’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. As a response to the continuing accumulation of Iraqi forces and Baghdad’s measures towards breaking Kuwait’s political system, The UNSC adopted Resolution 661 on the 6th of August thus imposing comprehensive trade and economic sanctions, due to which Baghdad had to suspend its oil exports – Iraq’s main source of income.

However, the sanctions and widespread calls for reconsideration of its policy towards Kuwait made to Baghdad by several heads of state resulted in a boomerang effect. In his 8th of August address to the nation, Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi president, declared a “historic victory of the Iraqi revolution over Jabber al-Sabbah’s feudal regime in Kuwait” and a “total and final merger of Iraq and Kuwait”.

What were the main objectives behind this campaign? What was the foundation of Iraq’s strategy? How come such an experienced political leader like S. Hussein allowed himself and his country to fall into a trap, one with his name on it? Was he really expecting the international community to “swallow” this move as a fact of life, to accept the one-sided elimination of a small sovereign state on the sole basis of it once being part of Mesopotamia, or because Kuwait, together with UAE, exceeded the OPEC quota for oil production, thus lowering its market price and hampering Iraq’s economy? What are the reasons for the US two-faced policy towards Baghdad, having been close partners before the invasion?

Nowadays, after Hussein’s death, it is difficult to give a definite answer to the aforementioned questions. However it’s worth to at least try to understand the motives behind his actions and the reasons he failed, basing arguments on documentary evidence of that time and opinions of those who were involved in that situation.

It is well-known that one of the key elements of the US Global Domination Strategy is control of oil resources in the Persian Gulf states, which produce almost half of all hydrocarbons in the world. Such control allows the Americans to effectively manipulate the oil market prices and appropriately influence financial institutions in Western Europe and Japan – their main competitors in the world economy sphere. However, promoting such a doctrine means facing the obstacle of various regional-level factors. Khomeini’s regime in Iran became one of the most active centers of resistance to the American expansion in the region. The collapse of the Shah regime – a notable Washington ally – and the consequent proscription of Americans, coupled with the so-called Iran hostage crisis, when American diplomats were held captive by a group of Islamist students and militants for 444 days, not to mention the failure of the rescue operation – all these factors deeply hurt America’s pride and its image in the region, and raised doubts over the ability of the United States to protect the interests of the oil-producing Persian Gulf states.

The war between Iraq and Iran that started in September 1980 gifted the US a “golden chance” to retain not only regional position lost in the collapse of the Shah regime in Iran, but also to attempt to drastically weaken the new regime in Iran with the help of the Iraqis. The White House decided to support Iraq, which meant direct assistance and support for Hussein. The Reagan administration made a show out of excluding Iraq from its “terrorist regimes” list and reestablished diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1984, which were severed by Iraq in 1967. At Reagan’s order, the Pentagon made regular deliveries of American weapons to Iraq, while American companies delivered machines and products of “dual purpose”, including components for chemical and biological weapons. It’s worth noting that one of the agents was a prominent American arms dealer Sarkis Soghanalian, who was constantly in touch with the Iraqi government and signed arms contracts. During M. Saleh’s (Iraqi Minister of Trade) visit to Washington in 1987 the Americans promised a positive reaction to Iraq’s request to deliver AAM and LCAM-class missiles. In the 1988-1989 fiscal year the US granted Iraq a loan of over 1 million USD. The Americans regularly provided Iraq with intelligence data concerning the location of Iran’s troops, which had been gathered by American AWACS planes. For instance, according to Iraq’s Chief HQ, in January 1988 the US informed Iraq about a concentration of a large Iranian military group ready to assault Basra.

Despite the White House’s and the State Department’s loud sentiments about the US being interested in the immediate peaceful resolution of the Iraq-Iran conflict, according to statements made by the then Governor of California D. Deukmejian, the American administration chased an absolutely opposite goal – support active combat until both sides are drained to the limit and retain lost influence in Iran, while strengthening the US influence in Iraq. In order to achieve this goal the Americans secretly, through Israel, provided Iran with “Hawk” missile systems and “TOW” anti-tank guided missiles.

After the war with Iran was over the Iraqi government faced two main problems – economic and political (domestically), on the solution of which the Baath regime so heavily depended. The eight year-long war bankrupted the country. Foreign debt exceeded 80 billion USD, 30 to 40 billion of which was granted by neighboring Kuwait. In the country which reached the highest point of militarization (one million out of an 18 million population were in the army) living standards dropped drastically, coupled with a severe lack of experts and labor force to restore the devastated economy. The regime considered these difficulties not a result of its “adventurist” policy, but a result of not significant enough income generated by oil export, through which the army’s loyalty was bought and the whole state machinery worked. Unrest concerning the results of the war with Iran was growing inside the country since the war yielded no benefits for the Iraqi people. Thus Hussein needed a logically necessary new “adventure”, this time directed towards a small neighboring state, which was sure to be a success.

Under these circumstances Kuwait’s annexation by Baghdad wasn’t all that unexpected, as it may seem from media reports, due to it being a logical outcome of all the preceding events. Having started a several year-long bloody war with Iran, Iraq was labeled an aggressor neither in UN resolutions nor by any members of various Arabic organizations. Such unscrupulous position of the international community, caused by the rejection of the religious extremist regime in Iran, created an illusion of impunity in Hussein’s mind and obviously urged him to violate the international law once again. A clear encouragement of the Iraqi regime was also the fact that the international community wasn’t decisive enough in its attempt to condemn Baghdad’s use of chemical weapons both against Iran and against the Kurds (for example, the Halabja poison gas attack in 1988, where between 3,200 and 5,000 were killed and thousands more injured). Then, driven by their own foreign policy interests, the US choose to ignore such actions of the Hussein regime[1], which later became the basis of the trial against the Iraqi leader. Donald Rumsfeld, during his visit to Baghdad in 1983 to conduct negotiations with the Iraqi leaders, preferred to skip such “sensitive” topics as Baghdad’s use of chemical weapons (even against their own citizens) created with the help of the US, thereby earning enthusiastic praise from the Iraqi government[2].

It’s also important to consider the fact that Hussein fell into the spell of delusion about total freedom, support from the US and the Arab world, his own might and independence from everyone else (a nuclear program, a chemical weapon arsenal created with the help of American and Western European companies and a national program of development of space and missile technology), due to him receiving military equipment from various sources and in large numbers without significant interference in the Iraq-Iran war by the West. Therein lay his ambitions to become leader of the Arab world and to turn Iraq in a regional power.

To be continued…

[1] Department of State, Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs Information Memorandum from Jonathan T. Howe to George P. Shultz. “Iraq Use of Chemical Weapons,” November 1, 1983.; Department of State, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Action Memorandum from Jonathan T. Howe to Lawrence S. Eagleburger. “Iraqi Use of Chemical Weapons” [Includes Cables Entitled “Deterring Iraqi Use of Chemical Weapons” and “Background of Iraqi Use of Chemical Weapons”], November 21, 1983.

[2] United States Interests Section in Iraq Cable from William L. Eagleton, Jr. to the Department of State. “Meeting With Tariq Aziz: Expanding Iraq’s Oil Export Facilities,” January 3, 1984; United States Interests Section in Iraq Cable from William L. Eagleton, Jr. to the Department of State. “[Excised] Iraqi Pipeline through Jordan,” January 10, 1984.

Source: New Eastern Outlook

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