1988 Jan 1
, Iraq

The United States remained officially neutral after Iraq's invasion of Iran in 1980, which became the Iran–Iraq War, although it provided resources, political support, and some "non-military" aircraft to Iraq. With Iraq's newfound success in the war, and the Iranian rebuff of a peace offer in July, arms sales to Iraq reached a record spike in 1982. When Iraqi President Saddam Hussein expelled Abu Nidal to Syria at the US's request in November 1983, the Reagan administration sent Donald Rumsfeld to meet Saddam as a special envoy and to cultivate ties.

Dispute over the financial debt

By the time the ceasefire with Iran was signed in August 1988, Iraq was heavily debt-ridden and tensions within society were rising. Most of its debt was owed to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Iraq's debts to Kuwait amounted to $14 billion. Iraq pressured both nations to forgive the debts, but they refused.

Iraqi hegemonic claims

The Iraq–Kuwait dispute also involved Iraqi claims to Kuwaiti territory. Kuwait had been a part of the Ottoman Empire's province of Basra, something that Iraq claimed made Kuwait rightful Iraqi territory. Kuwait's ruling dynasty, the al-Sabah family, had concluded a protectorate agreement in 1899 that assigned responsibility for Kuwait's foreign affairs to the United Kingdom. The UK drew the border between Kuwait and Iraq in 1922, making Iraq almost entirely landlocked. Kuwait rejected Iraqi attempts to secure further provisions in the region.

Alleged economic warfare and slant drilling

Iraq also accused Kuwait of exceeding its OPEC quotas for oil production. In order for the cartel to maintain its desired price of $18 per barrel, discipline was required. The United Arab Emirates and Kuwait were consistently overproducing; the latter at least in part to repair losses caused by Iranian attacks in the Iran–Iraq War and to pay for the losses of an economic scandal. The result was a slump in the oil price – as low as $10 per barrel ($63/m3) – with a resulting loss of $7 billion a year to Iraq, equal to its 1989 balance of payments deficit. Resulting revenues struggled to support the government's basic costs, let alone repair Iraq's damaged infrastructure. Jordan and Iraq both looked for more discipline, with little success. The Iraqi government described it as a form of economic warfare, which it claimed was aggravated by Kuwait slant-drilling across the border into Iraq's Rumaila oil field.

In early July 1990, Iraq complained about Kuwait's behavior, such as not respecting their quota, and openly threatened to take military action. On the 23rd, the CIA reported that Iraq had moved 30,000 troops to the Iraq-Kuwait border, and the US naval fleet in the Persian Gulf was placed on alert. Discussions in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, mediated on the Arab League's behalf by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, were held on 31 July and led Mubarak to believe that a peaceful course could be established. The result of the Jeddah talks was an Iraqi demand for $10 billion to cover the lost revenues from Rumaila; Kuwait offered $500 million. The Iraqi response was to immediately order an invasion, which started on 2 August 1990 with the bombing of Kuwait's capital, Kuwait City.

Iraqi Army Tank

Invasion of Kuwait

1990 Aug 2 - Aug 4
, Kuwait

The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was an operation conducted by Iraq on 2 August 1990, whereby it invaded the neighboring State of Kuwait, consequently resulting in a seven-month-long Iraqi military occupation of the country. The invasion and Iraq's subsequent refusal to withdraw from Kuwait by a deadline mandated by the United Nations led to a direct military intervention by a United Nations-authorized coalition of forces led by the United States. These events came to be known as the first Gulf War, eventually resulting in the forced expulsion of Iraqi troops from Kuwait and the Iraqis setting 600 Kuwaiti oil wells on fire during their retreat, as a scorched earth strategy.

The invasion started on 2 August 1990, and within two days, most of the Kuwaiti military was either overrun by the Iraqi Republican Guard or retreated to neighboring Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Towards the end of the first day of the invasion, only pockets of resistance were left in the country. By 3 August, the last military units were desperately fighting delaying actions at choke points and other defensible positions throughout the country until out of ammunition or overrun by Iraqi forces. Ali al-Salem Air Base of the Kuwaiti Air Force was the only base still unoccupied on 3 August, and Kuwaiti aircraft flew resupply missions from Saudi Arabia throughout the day in an effort to mount a defense. However, by nightfall, Ali al-Salem Air Base had been overrun by Iraqi forces.

Iraqi Republican Guard T-72 tank officer, First Gulf War.

Battle of Dasman Palace

1990 Aug 2
, Dasman Palace

On 2 August 1990, shortly after 00:00 local time, Iraq invaded Kuwait. The attack on Dasman Palace, the residence of the Emir of Kuwait, by Iraqi special forces commenced sometime between 04:00 and 06:00; these forces have been variously reported as helicopter airborne troops, or as infiltrators in civilian clothes. The Iraqi forces were reinforced through the battle by the arrival of further troops, notably elements of the Republican Guard "Hammurabi" Division that had passed to the east of Al Jahra, using Highway 80 to attack into Kuwait City.

Fighting was fierce, especially around midday, but ended around 14:00 with the Iraqis taking control of the palace. They were thwarted in their aim of capturing the Emir and his advisors, who had relocated to General Headquarters before the assault began. Among the casualties was the Emir's younger brother, Fahd Al-Ahmad, who was killed as he arrived to defend the palace.

Iraqi T62 tank during the First Gulf War.

Battle of the Bridges

1990 Aug 2
, Al Jahra

On 2 August 1990, shortly after 00:00 local time, Iraq invaded Kuwait. The Kuwaitis were caught unprepared. Despite the diplomatic tension and the Iraqi buildup on the border, no central orders were issued to the Kuwaiti armed forces and they were not on alert. Many of the personnel were on leave as 2 August was both the Islamic equivalent of New Year and one of the hottest days of the year. With many on leave, some new crews were assembled from personnel available. In total, the Kuwaiti 35th Brigade managed to field 36 Chieftain tanks, a company of armoured personnel carriers, another company of antitank vehicles and an artillery battery of 7 self-propelled guns.

They faced units from the Iraqi Republican Guard. The 1st "Hammurabi" Armoured Division consisted of two mechanised brigades and one armoured, whereas the Medinah Armoured Division consisted of two armoured brigades and one mechanised. These were equipped with T-72s, BMP-1s and BMP-2s, as well as having attached artillery. It is important to note that the various engagements were against elements of these rather than against the fully deployed divisions; specifically the 17th Brigade of the "Hammurabi", commanded by Brigadier General Ra'ad Hamdani, and the 14th Brigade and 10th Armoured Brigade of the Medinah. Another challenge resulted from the fact that neither Hamdani nor his troops held any enmity for the Kuwaitis and therefore planned to minimise casualties, military and civilian. According to his plan, there would be no preliminary shelling or “protective (artillery) fire." Hamdani went so far as to require his tanks to fire only high-explosive shells, instead of SABOT (Armour Piercing) in an attempt to “frighten the occupants, but not destroy the vehicle.”2.

The Kuwaiti 7th Battalion was the first to engage the Iraqis, sometime after 06:45, firing at a short range for the Chieftains (1 km to 1.5 km) and halting the column. The Iraqi response was slow and ineffectual. Iraqi units continued to arrive at the scene apparently unaware of the situation, allowing the Kuwaitis to engage infantry still in trucks and even to destroy a SPG that was still on its transport trailer. From Iraqi reports, it appears that much of the 17th Brigade was not significantly delayed and continued advancing on its objective in Kuwait City.

At 11:00 elements of the Medinah Armoured Division of the Iraqi Republican Guard approached along Highway 70 from the west, the direction of the 35th Brigade's camp. Again they were deployed in column and actually drove past the Kuwaiti artillery and between the 7th and 8th Battalions, before the Kuwaiti tanks opened fire. Taking heavy casualties, the Iraqis withdrew back to the west. After the Medinah regrouped and deployed they were able to force the Kuwaitis, who were running out of ammunition and in danger of being encircled, to withdraw south. The Kuwaitis reached the Saudi border at 16:30, spending the night on the Kuwaiti side before crossing over the next morning.

UN Security Council issues resolution 678.


1990 Aug 4 - 1991 Jan 15
, United Nations Headquarters

Within hours of the invasion, Kuwait and US delegations requested a meeting of the UN Security Council, which passed Resolution 660, condemning the invasion and demanding a withdrawal of Iraqi troops. On 3 August 1990, the Arab League passed its own resolution, which called for a solution to the conflict from within the league, and warned against outside intervention. Iraq and Libya were the only two Arab League states that opposed the resolution for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait; the PLO opposed it as well. The Arab states of Yemen and Jordan – a Western ally which bordered Iraq and relied on the country for economic support – opposed military intervention from non-Arab states. Separately, Sudan, also an Arab League member, aligned itself with Saddam.

On 6 August, Resolution 661 placed economic sanctions on Iraq. Resolution 665 followed soon after, which authorized a naval blockade to enforce the sanctions. It said the "use of measures commensurate to the specific circumstances as may be necessary ... to halt all inward and outward maritime shipping in order to inspect and verify their cargoes and destinations and to ensure strict implementation of resolution 661."

The US administration had at first been indecisive with an "undertone ... of resignation to the invasion and even adaptation to it as a fait accompli" until the UK's prime minister Margaret Thatcher played a powerful role, reminding the President that appeasement in the 1930s had led to war, that Saddam would have the whole Gulf at his mercy along with 65 percent of the world's oil supply, and famously urging President Bush "not to go wobbly".Once persuaded, US officials insisted on a total Iraqi pullout from Kuwait, without any linkage to other Middle Eastern problems, accepting the British view that any concessions would strengthen Iraqi influence in the region for years to come.

On 29 November 1990, the Security Council passed Resolution 678, which gave Iraq until 15 January 1991 to withdraw from Kuwait, and empowered states to use "all necessary means" to force Iraq out of Kuwait after the deadline. Ultimately, the US and UK stuck to their position that there would be no negotiations until Iraq withdrew from Kuwait and that they should not grant Iraq concessions, lest they give the impression that Iraq benefited from its military campaign. Also, when US Secretary of State James Baker met with Tariq Aziz in Geneva, Switzerland, for last minute peace talks in early 1991, Aziz reportedly made no concrete proposals and did not outline any hypothetical Iraqi moves.

US Army soldiers from the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade during the Gulf War. | ©SSGT F. Lee Corkran

Operation Desert Shield

1990 Aug 8
, Saudi Arabia

One of the main concerns in the Western world was the significant threat Iraq posed to Saudi Arabia. Following Kuwait's conquest, the Iraqi Army was within easy striking distance of Saudi oil fields. Control of these fields, along with Kuwaiti and Iraqi reserves, would have given Saddam control over the majority of the world's oil reserves. Iraq also had a number of grievances with Saudi Arabia. The Saudis had lent Iraq some 26 billion dollars during its war with Iran. The Saudis had backed Iraq in that war, as they feared the influence of Shia Iran's Islamic revolution on its own Shia minority. After the war, Saddam felt he should not have to repay the loans due to the help he had given the Saudis by fighting Iran.

Acting on the Carter Doctrine policy, and out of fear the Iraqi Army could launch an invasion of Saudi Arabia, US President George H. W. Bush quickly announced that the US would launch a "wholly defensive" mission to prevent Iraq from invading Saudi Arabia, under the codename Operation Desert Shield. The operation began on 7 August 1990, when US troops were sent to Saudi Arabia, due also to the request of its monarch, King Fahd, who had earlier called for US military assistance. This "wholly defensive" doctrine was quickly abandoned when, on 8 August, Iraq declared Kuwait to be Iraq's 19th province and Saddam named his cousin, Ali Hassan Al-Majid, as its military-governor.

The US Navy dispatched two naval battle groups built around the aircraft carriers USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and USS Independence to the Persian Gulf, where they were ready by 8 August. The US also sent the battleships USS Missouri and USS Wisconsin to the region. A total of 48 US Air Force F-15s from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, landed in Saudi Arabia and immediately commenced round-the-clock air patrols of the Saudi–Kuwait–Iraq border to discourage further Iraqi military advances. They were joined by 36 F-15 A-Ds from the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing at Bitburg, Germany. The Bitburg contingent was based at Al Kharj Air Base, approximately an hour south east of Riyadh. Much of the material was airlifted or carried to the staging areas via fast sealift ships, allowing a quick buildup. As part of the buildup, amphibious exercises were carried out in the Gulf, including Operation Imminent Thunder, which involved the USS Midway and 15 other ships, 1,100 aircraft, and a thousand Marines. In a press conference, General Schwarzkopf stated that these exercises were intended to deceive the Iraqi forces, forcing them to continue their defense of the Kuwaiti coastline.

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Naval Blockade of Iraq

1990 Aug 12
, Persian Gulf (also known as the Arabian Gulf)

On 6 August, Resolution 661 placed economic sanctions on Iraq. Resolution 665 followed soon after, which authorized a naval blockade to enforce the sanctions. It said the "use of measures commensurate to the specific circumstances as may be necessary ... to halt all inward and outward maritime shipping in order to inspect and verify their cargoes and destinations and to ensure strict implementation of resolution 661." On 12 August, the naval blockade of Iraq begins. On 16 August, Secretary Dick Cheney orders U.S. naval ships to stop all cargo and tankers leaving and entering Iraq and Kuwait.

Iraqi Proposals

Iraqi Proposals

1990 Aug 12 - Dec
, Baghdad

On 12 August 1990, Saddam "propose that all cases of occupation, and those cases that have been portrayed as occupation, in the region, be resolved simultaneously". Specifically, he called for Israel to withdraw from occupied territories in Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon, Syria to withdraw from Lebanon, and "mutual withdrawals by Iraq and Iran and arrangement for the situation in Kuwait." He also called for a replacement of US troops that mobilized in Saudi Arabia in response to Kuwait's invasion with "an Arab force", as long as that force did not involve Egypt. Additionally, he requested an "immediate freeze of all boycott and siege decisions" and a general normalization of relations with Iraq. From the beginning of the crisis, President Bush was strongly opposed to any "linkage" between Iraq's occupation of Kuwait and the Palestinian issue.

Another Iraqi proposal communicated in August 1990 was delivered to US National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft by an unidentified Iraqi official. The official communicated to the White House that Iraq would "withdraw from Kuwait and allow foreigners to leave" provided that the UN lifted sanctions, allowed "guaranteed access to the Persian Gulf through the Kuwaiti islands of Bubiyan and Warbah", and allowed Iraq to "gain full control of the Rumaila oil field that extends slightly into Kuwaiti territory". The proposal also "include offers to negotiate an oil agreement with the United States 'satisfactory to both nations' national security interests,' develop a joint plan 'to alleviate Iraq's economical and financial problems' and 'jointly work on the stability of the gulf.'"

In December 1990, Iraq made a proposal to withdraw from Kuwait provided that foreign troops left the region and that an agreement was reached regarding the Palestinian problem and the dismantlement of both Israel's and Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The White House rejected the proposal. The PLO's Yasser Arafat expressed that neither he nor Saddam insisted that solving the Israel–Palestine issues should be a precondition to solving the issues in Kuwait, though he did acknowledge a "strong link" between these problems.

100 British hostages held by Saddam Hussein for 4 months were freed.

Saddam's Shields

1990 Aug 20 - Dec 10
, Iraq

On 20 August 1990, 82 British nationals are taken hostage in Kuwait. On 26 August, Iraq sieges foreign embassies in Kuwait City. On 1 September, Iraq allows 700 Westerners, held hostage since the invasion, to leave Iraq. On 6 December, Iraq releases 3,000 foreign hostages from Kuwait and Iraq. On 10 December, Iraq releases British hostages.

Iraq annexes Kuwait

Iraq annexes Kuwait

1990 Aug 28
, Kuwait City

Immediately following the invasion, Iraq set up a puppet government known as the "Republic of Kuwait" to rule over Kuwait, eventually annexing it outright, when Saddam Hussein announced a few days later that it was the 19th province of Iraq. Alaa Hussein Ali is appointed Prime Minister of the Provisional Government of Free Kuwait and Ali Hassan al-Majid is appointed Governor of the Kuwait Governorate, which is declared the 19th Governorate of Iraq. Kuwait is officially annexed by Iraq on August 28, 1990.

General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr.

Assembling a Coalition Force

1990 Sep 1
, Syria

To ensure that the US received economic backing, James Baker went on an 11-day journey to nine countries in September 1990, which the press dubbed "The Tin Cup Trip". The first stop was Saudi Arabia, which a month before had already granted permission to the United States to use its facilities. However, Baker believed that Saudi Arabia should assume some of the cost of the military efforts to defend it. When Baker asked King Fahd for 15 billion dollars, the King readily agreed, with the promise that Baker ask Kuwait for the same amount.

The next day, 7 September, he did just that, and the Emir of Kuwait, displaced in a Sheraton hotel outside his invaded country, easily agreed. Baker then moved to enter talks with Egypt, whose leadership he considered "the moderate voice of the Middle East". President Mubarak of Egypt was furious with Saddam for his invasion of Kuwait, and for the fact that Saddam had assured Mubarak that an invasion was not his intention. Egypt received approximately $7 billion in debt forgiveness for its providing of support and troops for the US-led intervention.

Baker traveled to Syria to discuss its role in the crisis with its President Hafez Assad. Harboring this animosity and impressed with Baker's diplomatic initiative to visit Damascus (relations had been severed since the 1983 bombing of US Marine barracks in Beirut), Assad agreed to pledge up to 100,000 Syrian troops to the coalition effort. This was a vital step in ensuring Arab states were represented in the coalition. In exchange, Washington gave Syrian dictator President Hafez al-Assad the green light to wipe out forces opposing Syria's rule in Lebanon and arranged for weapons valued at a billion dollars to be provided to Syria, mostly through Gulf states. In exchange for Iran's support for the US-led intervention, the US government promised the Iranian government to end US opposition to World Bank loans to Iran. On the day before the ground invasion began, the World Bank gave Iran the first loan of $250m.

Baker flew to Rome for a brief visit with the Italians in which he was promised the use of some military equipment, before journeying to Germany to meet with American ally Chancellor Kohl. Although Germany's constitution (which was brokered essentially by the United States) prohibited military involvement outside Germany's borders, Kohl committed a two billion dollar contribution to the coalition's war effort, as well as further economic and military support of coalition ally Turkey, and the transportation of Egyptian soldiers and ships to the Persian Gulf.

A coalition of forces opposing Iraq's aggression was formed, consisting of forces from 39 countries. It was the largest coalition since World War II. US Army General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. was designated to be the commander of the coalition forces in the Persian Gulf area. The Soviet Union condemned Baghdad's aggression against Kuwait, but did not support the United States and allied intervention in Iraq and tried to avert it.

Although they did not contribute any forces, Japan and Germany made financial contributions totaling $10 billion and $6.6 billion respectively. US troops represented 73% of the coalition's 956,600 troops in Iraq. Many of the coalition countries were reluctant to commit military forces. Some felt that the war was an internal Arab affair or did not want to increase US influence in the Middle East. In the end, however, many governments were persuaded by Iraq's belligerence towards other Arab states, offers of economic aid or debt forgiveness, and threats to withhold aid.

General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. and President George H. W. Bush visit US troops in Saudi Arabia on Thanksgiving Day, 1990.

Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq

1991 Jan 12
, Washington

President George H. W. Bush requested a Congressional joint resolution on January 8, 1991, one week before the January 15, 1991, deadline issued to Iraq specified by the November 29, 1990 United Nations United Nations Security Council Resolution 678. President Bush had deployed over 500,000 U.S. troops without Congressional authorization to Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf region in the preceding five months in response to Iraq's August 2, 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

The U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution authorizing the use of military force in Iraq and Kuwait. The votes were 52–47 in the U.S. Senate and 250–183 in the House of Representatives. These were the closest margins in authorizing force by the U.S. Congress since the War of 1812.

USAF F-16A, F-15C & F-15E aircraft fly over burning oil fields in Kuwait | ©US Air Force

Gulf War Air Campaign

1991 Jan 17 - Feb 23
, Iraq

The Gulf War began with an extensive aerial bombing campaign on 16 January 1991. For 42 consecutive days and nights, the coalition forces subjected Iraq to one of the most intensive air bombardments in military history. The coalition flew over 100,000 sorties, dropping 88,500 tonnes of bombs, which widely destroyed military and civilian infrastructure. The air campaign was commanded by USAF Lieutenant General Chuck Horner, who briefly served as US Central Command's Commander-in-Chief – Forward while General Schwarzkopf was still in the US.

A day after the deadline set in Resolution 678, the coalition launched a massive air campaign, which began the general offensive codenamed Operation Desert Storm. The priority was the destruction of Iraq's Air Force and anti-aircraft facilities. The sorties were launched mostly from Saudi Arabia and the six carrier battle groups (CVBG) in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea.

The next targets were command and communication facilities. Saddam Hussein had closely micromanaged Iraqi forces in the Iran–Iraq War, and initiative at lower levels was discouraged. Coalition planners hoped that Iraqi resistance would quickly collapse if deprived of command and control.

The air campaign's third and largest phase targeted military targets throughout Iraq and Kuwait: Scud missile launchers, weapons research facilities, and naval forces. About a third of the coalition's air power was devoted to attacking Scuds, some of which were on trucks and therefore difficult to locate. US and British special operations forces had been covertly inserted into western Iraq to aid in the search for and destruction of Scuds.

Iraqi anti-aircraft defenses, including man-portable air-defense systems, were surprisingly ineffective against enemy aircraft, and the coalition suffered only 75 aircraft losses in over 100,000 sorties, 44 due to Iraqi action. Two of these losses are the result of aircraft colliding with the ground while evading Iraqi ground-fired weapons. One of these losses is a confirmed air-air victory.

American MIM-104 Patriot missiles launching to intercept incoming Iraqi Al-Hussein missiles over the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, 12 February 1991.

Iraqi rocket attacks on Israel

1991 Jan 17 - Feb 23
, Israel

Throughout the entire Gulf War air campaign, Iraqi forces fired approximately 42 Scud missiles into Israel from 17 January to 23 February 1991. The strategic and political goal of the Iraqi campaign was to provoke an Israeli military response and potentially jeopardize the United States-led coalition against Iraq, which had full backing and/or extensive contributions from an overwhelming majority of the states of the Muslim world and would have suffered immense diplomatic and material losses if Muslim-majority states rescinded their support due to the political situation of the ongoing Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Despite inflicting casualties on Israeli civilians and damaging Israeli infrastructure, Iraq failed to provoke Israeli retaliation due to pressure exerted by the United States on the latter to not respond to "Iraqi provocations" and avoid any bilateral escalations.

The Iraqi missiles were predominantly aimed at the Israeli cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa. Despite numerous missiles being fired, a number of factors contributed to the minimisation of casualties in Israel. From the second attack onwards, the Israeli population were given a few minutes warning of an impending missile attack. Due to shared United States' satellite information on missile launches, citizens were given appropriate time to seek shelter from the impending missile attack.

Supporting artillery from the 10th Marine Regiment.

Battle of Khafji

1991 Jan 29 - Feb 1
, Khafji Saudi Arabia

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who had already tried and failed to draw Coalition troops into costly ground engagements by shelling Saudi Arabian positions and oil storage tanks and firing Scud surface-to-surface missiles at Israel, ordered the invasion of Saudi Arabia from southern Kuwait. The 1st and 5th Mechanized Divisions and 3rd Armored Division were ordered to conduct a multi-pronged invasion toward Khafji, engaging Saudi Arabian, Kuwaiti, and U.S. forces along the coastline, with a supporting Iraqi commando force ordered to infiltrate further south by sea and harass the Coalition's rear.

These three divisions, which had been heavily damaged by Coalition aircraft in the preceding days, attacked on 29 January. Most of their attacks were repulsed by U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army forces but one of the Iraqi columns occupied Khafji on the night of 29–30 January. Between 30 January and 1 February, two Saudi Arabian National Guard battalions and two Qatari tank companies attempted to retake control of the city, aided by Coalition aircraft and U.S. artillery. By 1 February, the city had been recaptured at the cost of 43 Coalition servicemen dead and 52 wounded. Iraqi Army fatalities numbered between 60 and 300, while an estimated 400 were captured as prisoners of war.

The Iraqi capture of Khafji was a major propaganda victory for Iraq: on 30 January Iraqi radio claimed that they had "expelled Americans from the Arab territory". For many in the Arab world, the battle of Khafji was seen as an Iraqi victory, and Hussein made every possible effort to turn the battle into a political victory. On the other side, confidence within the United States Armed Forces in the abilities of the Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti armies increased as the battle progressed. After Khafji, the Coalition's leadership began to sense that the Iraqi Army was a "hollow force" and it provided them with an impression of the degree of resistance they would face during the Coalition's ground offensive that would begin later that month. The battle was felt by the Saudi Arabian government to be a major propaganda victory, which had successfully defended its territory.

US NAVY Phantoms in the Persian Gulf.

Annihilation of the Iraqi Navy

1991 Jan 29 - Feb 2
, Persian Gulf (also known as the Arabian Gulf)

The Battle of Bubiyan (also known as the Bubiyan Turkey Shoot) was a naval engagement of the Gulf War that occurred in the waters between Bubiyan Island and the Shatt al-Arab marshlands, where the bulk of the Iraqi Navy, which was attempting to flee to Iran, much like the Iraqi Air Force, was engaged and destroyed by Coalition warships and aircraft.

The battle was completely one-sided. Lynx helicopters of the British Royal Navy, using Sea Skua missiles, were responsible for destroying 14 vessels (3 minesweepers, 1 minelayer, 3 TNC 45 Fast Attack Craft, 2 Zhuk-class patrol boats, 2 Polnocny-class landing ships, 2 salvage vessels, 1 Type 43 minelayer, and 1 other vessel) during the battle. The battle saw 21 separate engagements over a course of 13 hours. A total of 21 of the 22 ships that attempted to escape were destroyed.

Also related to the Bubiyan action was the Battle of Khafji in which Saddam Hussein sent an amphibious assault to Khafji to reinforce the city against the Coalition attack. That too was spotted by the Coalition naval forces and subsequently destroyed.

After the Bubiyan action, the Iraqi Navy ceased to exist as a fighting force at all, which left Iraq with very few ships, all in poor condition.

American AH-64 Apache helicopters proved to be very effective weapons during the 1991 Gulf War.

Early Fire Fights

1991 Feb 15 - Feb 13
, Iraq

Task Force 1-41 Infantry was the first coalition force to breach the Saudi Arabian border on 15 February 1991 and conduct ground combat operations in Iraq engaging in direct and indirect fire fights with the enemy on 17 February 1991. Prior to this action the Task Force's primary fire support battalion, 4th Battalion of the 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, participated in a massive artillery preparation. Around 300 guns from multiple countries participated in the artillery barrage. Over 14,000 rounds were fired during these missions. M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems contributed an additional 4,900 rockets fired at Iraqi targets. Iraq lost close to 22 artillery battalions during the initial stages of this barrage, including the destruction of approximately 396 Iraqi artillery pieces.

By the end of these raids Iraqi artillery assets had all but ceased to exist. One Iraqi unit that was totally destroyed during the preparation was the Iraqi 48th Infantry Division Artillery Group. The group's commander stated his unit lost 83 of its 100 guns to the artillery preparation. This artillery prep was supplemented by air attacks by B-52 bombers and Lockheed AC-130 fixed wing gunships. 1st Infantry Division Apache helicopters and B-52 bombers conducted raids against Iraq's 110th Infantry Brigade. The 1st Engineer Battalion and 9th Engineer Battalion marked and proofed assault lanes under direct and indirect enemy fire to secure a foothold in enemy territory and pass the 1st Infantry Division and the British 1st Armored Division forward.

M163 Vulcan AA vehicle.

Initial moves into Iraq

1991 Feb 15 - Feb 23
, Iraq

The war's ground phase was officially designated Operation Desert Saber. The first units to move into Iraq were three patrols of the British Special Air Service's B squadron, call signs Bravo One Zero, Bravo Two Zero, and Bravo Three Zero, in late January. These eight-man patrols landed behind Iraqi lines to gather intelligence on the movements of Scud mobile missile launchers, which could not be detected from the air, as they were hidden under bridges and camouflage netting during the day. Other objectives included the destruction of the launchers and their fiber-optic communications arrays that lay in pipelines and relayed coordinates to the TEL operators launching attacks against Israel. The operations were designed to prevent any possible Israeli intervention.

Elements of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Battalion 5th Cavalry of the 1st Cavalry Division of the US Army performed a direct attack into Iraq on 15 February 1991, followed by one in force on 20 February that led directly through seven Iraqi divisions which were caught off guard. From 15 to 20 February, the Battle of Wadi al-Batin took place inside Iraq; this was the first of two attacks by 1 Battalion 5th Cavalry of the 1st Cavalry Division. It was a feint attack, designed to make the Iraqis think that a coalition invasion would take place from the south. The Iraqis fiercely resisted, and the Americans eventually withdrew as planned back into the Wadi al-Batin. Three US soldiers were killed and nine wounded, with one M2 Bradley IFV turret destroyed, but they had taken 40 prisoners and destroyed five tanks, and successfully deceived the Iraqis. This attack led the way for the XVIII Airborne Corps to sweep around behind the 1st Cav and attack Iraqi forces to the west. On 22 February 1991, Iraq agreed to a Soviet-proposed ceasefire agreement. The agreement called for Iraq to withdraw troops to pre-invasion positions within six weeks following a total ceasefire, and called for monitoring of the ceasefire and withdrawal to be overseen by the UN Security Council.

The coalition rejected the proposal, but said that retreating Iraqi forces would not be attacked, and gave 24 hours for Iraq to withdraw its forces. On 23 February, fighting resulted in the capture of 500 Iraqi soldiers. On 24 February, British and American armored forces crossed the Iraq–Kuwait border and entered Iraq in large numbers, taking hundreds of prisoners. Iraqi resistance was light, and four Americans were killed.

Liberation of Kuwait Campaign

Liberation of Kuwait Campaign

1991 Feb 23 - Feb 28
, Kuwait City

At 4 a.m. on 24 February, after being shelled for months and under the constant threat of a gas attack, the U.S. 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions crossed into Kuwait. They maneuvered around vast systems of barbed wire, minefields and trenches. Once into Kuwait, they headed towards Kuwait City. The troops themselves encountered little resistance and, apart from several minor tank battles, were met primarily by surrendering soldiers. The general pattern was that coalition troops would encounter Iraqi soldiers who would put up a brief fight before deciding to surrender.

On 27 February, Saddam Hussein issued a retreat order to his troops in Kuwait; however, one unit of Iraqi troops appeared to have not gotten the retreat order. When the U.S. Marines arrived at Kuwait International Airport, they encountered fierce resistance, and it took them several hours to gain control and secure the airport. As part of the retreat order, the Iraqis carried out a "scorched earth" policy that included setting hundreds of oil wells on fire in an effort to destroy the Kuwaiti economy. After the battle at Kuwait International Airport, the U.S. Marines stopped at the outskirts of Kuwait City, allowing their coalition allies to take and occupy Kuwait City, effectively ending combat operations in the Kuwaiti theater of the war.

After four days of fighting, all Iraqi troops were expelled from Kuwait, ending a nearly seven-month occupation of Kuwait by Iraq. A little over 1,100 casualties were suffered by the Coalition. Estimates of Iraqi casualties range from 30,000 to 150,000. Iraq lost thousands of vehicles, while the advancing Coalition lost relatively few; Iraq's obsolete Soviet T-72 tanks proved no match for the American M1 Abrams and British Challenger tanks.

Liberation of Kuwait Day 1

Liberation of Kuwait Day 1

1991 Feb 24
, Kuwait

US decoy attacks by air attacks and naval gunfire the night before Kuwait's liberation were designed to make the Iraqis believe the main coalition ground attack would focus on central Kuwait. For months, American units in Saudi Arabia had been under almost constant Iraqi artillery fire, as well as threats from Scud missiles and chemical attacks.

On 24 February 1991, the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions and the 1st Light Armored Infantry Battalion crossed into Kuwait and headed toward Kuwait City. They encountered trenches, barbed wire, and minefields. However, these positions were poorly defended, and were overrun in the first few hours. Several tank battles took place, but otherwise coalition troops encountered minimal resistance, as most Iraqi troops surrendered. The general pattern was that the Iraqis would put up a short fight before surrendering. However, Iraqi air defenses shot down nine US aircraft. Meanwhile, forces from Arab states advanced into Kuwait from the east, encountering little resistance and suffering few casualties.

Liberation of Kuwait Day 2

Liberation of Kuwait Day 2

1991 Feb 25
, Kuwait

On 25 February 1991, a Scud missile hit a US Army barracks of the 14th Quartermaster Detachment, out of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, stationed in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 28 soldiers and injuring over 100.

Highway of Death

Liberation of Kuwait Day 3

1991 Feb 26
, Kuwait

The coalition's advance was much swifter than US generals had expected. On 26 February, Iraqi troops began retreating from Kuwait, after they had set 737 of its oil wells on fire. A long convoy of retreating Iraqi troops formed along the main Iraq–Kuwait highway. Although they were retreating, this convoy was bombed so extensively by coalition air forces that it came to be known as the Highway of Death. Thousands of Iraqi troops were killed. American, British, and French forces continued to pursue retreating Iraqi forces over the border and back into Iraq, eventually moving to within 240 km (150 mi) of Baghdad, before withdrawing back to Iraq's border with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

U.S. A-10 attack aircraft units distinguished themselves during combat operations during the Gulf war.

Liberation of Kuwait Days 4 & 5

1991 Feb 27 - Feb 28
, Kuwait

The Battle of Norfolk was a tank battle fought on February 27, 1991, during the Persian Gulf War, between armored forces of the United States and United Kingdom, and those of the Iraqi Republican Guard in the Muthanna Province of southern Iraq. The primary participants were the U.S. 2nd Armored Division (Forward),1st Infantry Division (Mechanized), and the Iraqi 18th Mechanized and 9th Armoured Brigades of the Republican Guard Tawakalna Mechanized Infantry Division along with elements from eleven other Iraqi divisions. The 2nd Armored Division(Fwd) was assigned to the American 1st Infantry Division as its 3rd maneuver brigade due to the fact that one of its brigades was not deployed. The 2nd Armored Division(Fwd)'s Task Force 1-41 Infantry would be the spearhead of VII Corps. The British 1st Armoured division was responsible for protecting the right flank of VII Corps, their main adversary being the Iraqi 52nd Armored Division and multiple infantry divisions. It was the final battle of the war before the unilateral ceasefire took effect.

The Battle of Norfolk has been recognized by some sources as the second largest tank battle in American history and the largest tank battle of the 1st Gulf War. No fewer than 12 divisions participated in the Battle of Norfolk along with multiple brigades and elements of a regiment. American and British forces destroyed approximately 850 Iraqi tanks and hundreds of other types of combat vehicles. Two additional Republican Guard divisions were destroyed at Objective Dorset by the U.S. 3rd Armored Division on 28 February 1991. During this battle the U.S. 3rd Armored Division destroyed 300 enemy vehicles and captured 2,500 Iraqi soldiers.

USAF aircraft fly over burning Kuwaiti oil wells (1991).

Kuwaiti Oil Fires

1991 Feb 27
, Kuwait

After four days of fighting, Iraqi forces were expelled from Kuwait. As part of a scorched earth policy, they set fire to nearly 700 oil wells and placed land mines around the wells to make extinguishing the fires more difficult. The fires were started in January and February 1991, and the first oil well fires were extinguished in early April 1991, with the last well capped on November 6, 1991.

Kurdish uprising of 1991. | ©Richard Wayman

Kurdish Uprising and End of active hostilities

1991 Mar 1
, Iraq

In coalition-occupied Iraqi territory, a peace conference was held where a ceasefire agreement was negotiated and signed by both sides. At the conference, Iraq was authorized to fly armed helicopters on their side of the temporary border, ostensibly for government transit due to the damage done to civilian infrastructure. Soon after, these helicopters and much of Iraq's military were used to fight an uprising in the south. On March 1, 1991, one day after the Gulf War ceasefire, a revolt broke out in Basra against the Iraqi government. The uprising spread within days to all of the largest Shia cities in southern Iraq: Najaf, Amarah, Diwaniya, Hilla, Karbala, Kut, Nasiriyah and Samawah. The rebellions were encouraged by an airing of "The Voice of Free Iraq" on 2 February 1991, which was broadcast from a CIA-run radio station out of Saudi Arabia. The Arabic service of the Voice of America supported the uprising by stating that the rebellion was well supported, and that they would soon be liberated from Saddam.

In the North, Kurdish leaders took American statements that they would support an uprising to heart, and began fighting, hoping to trigger a coup d'état. However, when no US support came, Iraqi generals remained loyal to Saddam and brutally crushed the Kurdish uprising and the uprising in the south. Millions of Kurds fled across the mountains to Turkey and Kurdish areas of Iran. On April 5, the Iraqi government announced "the complete crushing of acts of sedition, sabotage and rioting in all towns of Iraq." An estimated 25,000 to 100,000 Iraqis were killed in the uprisings. These events later resulted in no-fly zones being established in northern and southern Iraq.

In Kuwait, the Emir was restored, and suspected Iraqi collaborators were repressed. Eventually, over 400,000 people were expelled from the country, including a large number of Palestinians, because of PLO support of Saddam. Yasser Arafat didn't apologize for his support of Iraq, but after his death Mahmoud Abbas formally apologized in 2004 on behalf of the PLO. This came after the Kuwaiti government formally forgave the group.

There was some criticism of the Bush administration, as they chose to allow Saddam to remain in power instead of pushing on to capture Baghdad and overthrowing his government. In their co-written 1998 book, A World Transformed, Bush and Brent Scowcroft argued that such a course would have fractured the alliance, and would have had many unnecessary political and human costs associated with it.


1991 Mar 15
, Kuwait City

On 15 March 1991, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah returned to Kuwait, staying at the private home of a wealthy Kuwaiti as his own palace had been destroyed. He was met with a symbolic arrival with several dozens cars filled with people honking their horns and waving Kuwaiti flags who tried to follow the Emir's convoy. According to The New York Times, he faced a population divided between those who stayed and those who fled, a government straining to reassert control and a rejuvenated opposition that is pressing for greater democracy and other postwar changes, including voting rights for women. Democracy advocates had been calling for restoration of Parliament that the Emir had suspended in 1986.


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