Analysis: How Iran reaped the rewards of Saddam’s 1990 Kuwait invasion

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An aerial view of burning oil wells in al-Ahmadi oil field in Kuwait, set ablaze by retreating Iraqi troops, on March 14, 1991. (AFP file photo)
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An aerial view of burning oil wells in al-Ahmadi oil field in Kuwait, set ablaze by retreating Iraqi troops, on April 1, 1991. (AFP file photo)
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Several blown-out wells damaged by retreating Iraqi soldiers on June 5, 1991 in al-Ahmadi oil field in southern Kuwait. (AFP file photo)
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Egyptian refugees loading their luggage atop a bus at the Iraq-Jordan border checkpoint as thousands of foreigners flee the war in Iraq and Kuwait on August 16, 1990. (AFP photo)
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Kuwaiti oilfields set on fire by invading Iraqi troops at the end of their 1990 invasion. (KUNA photo)
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A view of the Iraq-Jordan border checkpoint crowded by cars and buses as thousands of foreigners flee the war in Iraq and Kuwait on August 17, 1990. (AFP photo)
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Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein rallying his troops. (AFP photo)
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Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and his confidants. (AFP photo)
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Updated 03 August 2020

Analysis: How Iran reaped the rewards of Saddam’s 1990 Kuwait invasion

  • Invasion transformed Iraqi dictator from a necessary bulwark against Iran to an international pariah 
  • The events unleashed a three-headed hydra of sectarianism, terrorism and militancy across the Middle East

LONDON: Thirty years on, we continue to endure the catastrophic reverberations of the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. This act set in motion events that would unleash a three-headed hydra of sectarianism, terrorism and Iranian militancy. 

The August 2 invasion constituted an immense psychological shock. We woke to images of utter horror and chaos: Arab soldiers assaulting and looting another Arab nation. Ordinary Kuwaiti families upended from lives of luxury — fleeing as terrified refugees into Saudi Arabia. The invasion was particularly disconcerting, given that Kuwait had been a principal ally and backer for Baghdad during the previous decade’s war with Iran. 

Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon famously marked his point of no return, committing his armies to a devastating and history-changing Roman civil war. The Kuwait invasion represented Saddam Hussein’s own personal Rubicon crossing. 


ALSO READ: Moments that changed the Middle East


In 1990, Saddam was just another dictator who would have scarcely deserved a mention in the history books if he had been displaced in yet another Baathist, communist or Islamist coup a couple of years later. The Kuwait invasion saw him justifiably demonized in the global media as a savage, dictatorial monster who would have to be slain. 

Within a year, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis would be dead — murdered by their own regime after the brutal suppression of uprisings which followed the Kuwait conflict. The Iraqi army was humiliated and destroyed, with tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers dead, and many others fleeing home to join ill-fated uprisings leaving the skeletons of thousands of abandoned tanks scattered across the desert. 


1990 Kuwait invasion recap

  • On July 18 Iraq accuses Kuwait of stealing oil and encroaching on territory.
  • Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein demands $2.4 billion from Kuwait.
  • Kuwait accuses Iraq of trying to drill oil wells on its territory.
  • Iraq accuses Kuwait of flooding oil market and driving down prices.
  • On August 1 Arab League and Saudi Arabia suspend mediation attempts.
  • On August 2 Radio Kuwait accuses Iraqi troops of occupying its territory.
  • Faced with 100,000 Iraqi troops and 300 tanks, Kuwaiti army is overwhelmed.
  • Kuwait City falls and Kuwait’s ruler Sheikh Jaber Al-Sabah flees to Saudi Arabia.
  • UN Security Council demands immediate pullout of Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
  • On August 6, Security Council slaps trade and military embargo on Iraq.
  • President George H.W. Bush announces dispatch of troops to Saudi Arabia.
  • On August 8, Iraq announces Kuwait’s “total and irreversible” incorporation.
  • Later in the month, Iraq annexes Kuwait as its 19th province.

President George H.W. Bush made the equally fateful decision not to pursue Saddam’s army to Baghdad. The rights and wrongs of Bush’s decision continue to be argued over, but this left Saddam in power — wounded and vengeful. Unquestionably in 1990, Saddam had to be forced out of Kuwait, particularly as there were fears that he might send his forces deeper into the Gulf region. Yet cutting Saddam down to size led to a fundamental destabilization of the regional balance of power. 

Throughout the 1980s, the ayatollahs’ regime in Tehran had been kept at bay by means of the vicious confrontation with Iraq, costing around a million lives. When Saddam’s regime fell like a dead branch in 2003, the Islamic Republic remained as a dominant regional force, free to spread its tentacles into Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain and beyond. 

Already during the 1980s and 1990s, Tehran had been responsible for terrorist attacks, militant insurgencies and attempted coups, such as the 1996 Alkhobar bombings, which killed 19 US service personnel. 

With Saddam gone, the ayatollahs desired not only to ensure that Iraq could never again exist as a threat, but to export their revolution throughout the Middle East, following the blueprint of Hezbollah in Lebanon. 

Consequently, a sizable chunk of the region has been severed from the Arab sphere of influence, with Tehran today trying to knit these disparate nations together as a miserable and marginalized bloc of “resistance” states. 

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Yes, Saddam was a monster — a murderous threat to his own people and his neighbors. But in the years since 1990 we have discovered that there are worse things than his kind of monster. 

When the hateful regimes of Saddam, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, Syria’s Bashar Assad and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh were challenged and upended, the result was mass civil chaos which has cost upwards of a million lives, displacing countless millions. It may be more than a generation before these nations enjoy the most elementary levels of stability, if ever. 




Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein rallying his troops. (AFP photo)

I was an in-house analyst for CNN during the 2003 conflict. Anyone familiar with Iraq knew that regime change would be infinitely more challenging than President George W. Bush’s administration claimed. We shared Iraqis’ jubilation at the prospect of being rid of Saddam. Yet in our worst nightmares, few could have guessed how devastatingly far-reaching the ramifications of the invasion would be today, leaving Iraq and other nations as crippled, satellite dependencies of Tehran. 

The events of 1990 and 2003 ignited the catastrophic Shia-Sunni divide, which in Iraq alone saw tens of thousands massacred in sectarian warfare as Iranian-sponsored militants bloodily erased Sunni and Christian populations from entire districts of Baghdad. 

Saddam’s war helped radicalize figures like Osama bin Laden against the US, leading to Al-Qaeda and 9/11, which in turn set in motion the 2003 invasion, precipitating an explosive expansion of jihadist terrorism: Violence giving birth to violence on an ever-expanding scale. 

Yes, Saddam was a monster, but in the years since 1990 we have discovered that there are infinitely worse things than monsters. 

Baria Alamuddin

The White House in 2003 had neither the vision nor the desire to establish a stable, sovereign and well-governed Iraqi state. Through incompetence and malice, the US-led coalition succeeded in triggering a bloodbath, unifying Iraqis against them and handing over the keys of governance to Tehran. It all could have been so different. 

During the 1980s, Saddam had been an ally of America and the West. These states conveniently turned a blind eye to his homicidal regime’s horrific crimes. Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait would change all that, while transforming himself from a necessary bulwark against Tehran to an international pariah. Overnight, he unified the entire world against him. 

Today in 2020, there is plentiful evidence that Iran itself may be bringing the world to a tipping point where its terrorism, militancy and criminality become too horrific to ignore, with its suppression of the democratic aspirations of citizens throughout its “resistance bloc,” use of proxies to attack peace-loving nations, and efforts to acquire nuclear weapons to menace the world. 

Just like Saddam, sabre-rattling ayatollahs risk their own Rubicon moment by taking their aggressive expansionism a step too far. And just like Saddam, the Iranian ayatollahs will eventually unite the world against them, bringing an unlamented end to their Satanic Republic.

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Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.


Iran virus deaths surge past 24,000

Updated 20 September 2020

Iran virus deaths surge past 24,000

  • President Hassan Rouhani blamed people’s failure to observe preventive measures, especially wearing masks, for the surge in cases

JEDDAH: The official coronavirus death toll in Iran surged past 24,000 on Saturday as health chiefs admitted 90 percent of COVID-19 patients on ventilators in hospital were dying.

Payam Tabarsi, head of infectious diseases at Masih Daneshvari Hospital in Tehran, said the number of emergency room patients had jumped from 68 a day to 200 in the past week. “People are queuing to be admitted,” he said, and if the trend continued, deaths from coronavirus could reach 600 a day within weeks.

Iran’s total number of confirmed cases in the past 24 hours spiked by 2,845 to 419,043 and the death toll rose by 166 to 24,118, Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said.

Iran was slow to react to the first coronavirus cases in February, and is now battling the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak. Daily infections have remained above 2,000 for the past two weeks and are nearing the 3,574 high reached in early June.

Analysts both inside and outside Iran are skeptical of the official figures and believe the true level of infections and deaths is far higher. President Hassan Rouhani blamed people’s failure to observe preventive measures, especially wearing masks, for the surge in cases.

“Today, the Health Ministry gave a worrying report,” he said on Saturday. “The public’s observance, which was 82 percent in earlier weeks, has fallen to 62 percent.”

FASTFACTS

  • Iran’s total number of confirmed cases in the past 24 hours spiked by 2,845 to 419,043 and the death toll rose by 166 to 24,118. •Daily infections have remained above 2,000 for the past two weeks and are nearing the 3,574 high reached in early June. •551 new cases were reported in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, taking the total to 329,271. •Worldwide, the virus has infected just under 31 million people and killed nearly 960,000, amid fears of a ‘second wave.’
  • Daily infections have remained above 2,000 for the past two weeks and are nearing the 3,574 high reached in early June.
  • 551 new cases were reported in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, taking the total to 329,271.
  • Worldwide, the virus has infected just under 31 million people and killed nearly 960,000, amid fears of a ‘second wave.’

Meanwhile in Saudi Arabia daily coronavirus case numbers have fallen to a five-month low after 551 new cases were reported on Saturday, taking the total to 329,271. The death toll rose by 28 to 4,458. The last time the Kingdom recorded numbers in the 500s was April 15, when 518 cases were reported.

Worldwide, the virus has infected just under 31 million people and killed nearly 960,000, amid fears of a “second wave” of the pandemic after the first outbreaks early in the year.

European countries from Denmark to Greece have announced new restrictions to curb surging infections in some of their largest cities, and Britain is considering new measures to tackle an “inevitable” second wave of COVID-19.

The UK has reported the fifth-largest number of deaths from COVID-19 in the world, after the US, Brazil, India and Mexico. “We are now seeing a second wave coming in ... it is absolutely, I’m afraid, inevitable, that we will see it in this country,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

England’s public health chief Yvonne Doyle said: “We’re seeing clear signs this virus is now spreading across all age groups and I am particularly worried by the increase … among older people. This could be a warning of far worse things to come.”