Gulf War

See also: 2003 invasion of Iraq and Gulf War (disambiguation)
C Company, 1st Battalion, The Staffordshire Regiment, 1st UK Armoured Division
C Company, 1st Battalion, The Staffordshire Regiment, 1st UK Armoured Division

The 1991 Persian Gulf War was a conflict between Iraq and a coalition force of 34 nations mandated by the United Nations and led by the United States.

The lead up to the war began with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 which was met with immediate economic sanctions by the United Nations against Iraq. Hostilities commenced in January 1991, resulting in a decisive victory for the coalition forces, which drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait with minimal coalition deaths. The main battles were aerial and ground combat within Iraq, Kuwait and bordering areas of Saudi Arabia. The war did not expand outside of the immediate Iraq/Kuwait/Saudi border region, although Iraq fired missiles on Israeli cities.

Other common names for the conflict include the Gulf War, War in the Gulf, Iraq-Kuwait Conflict, UN-Iraq conflict, Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Desert Sabre, 1990 Gulf War (for the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait), 1991 Gulf War (1990-1991), the Second Gulf War (to distinguish it from the Iran-Iraq war) and Gulf War Sr. and First Gulf War (to distinguish it from the 2003 invasion of Iraq). In Iraq, the war is often colloquially called simply Um M'aārak ("the Mother of All Battles").



Prior to World War I, under the Anglo-Ottoman Convention of 1913, Kuwait was considered to be an autonomous caza within Ottoman Iraq. Following the war, Kuwait fell under British rule and later became an independent emirate. However, Iraqi officials did not accept the legitimacy of Kuwaiti independence or the authority of the Kuwaiti Emir. Iraq never acknowledged Kuwait's right to be an independent nation and in the 1960s, the United Kingdom deployed troops to Kuwait to deter an Iraqi annexation.

During the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, Kuwait was allied with Iraq, largely due to desiring Iraqi protection from Islamic Iran. After the war, Iraq was extremely indebted to several Arab countries, including a $14 billion debt to Kuwait. Iraq hoped to repay its debts by raising the price of oil through OPEC oil production cuts, but instead, Kuwait increased production, lowering prices, in an attempt to leverage a better resolution of their border dispute. In addition, greatly antagonizing Iraq, Kuwait had taken advantage of the Iran-Iraq War and had begun illegal slant drilling for oil into Iraqi reserves, and had built military outposts on Iraqi soil near Kuwait. Furthermore, Iraq charged that it had performed a collective service for all Arabs by acting as a buffer against Iran and that therefore Kuwait and Saudi Arabia should negotiate or cancel Iraq's war debts. Hussein's primary two-fold justification blended the assertion of Kuwaiti territory being an Iraqi province arbitrarily cut off by imperialism, and the use of annexation as retaliation for the "economic warfare" Kuwait had waged through slant drilling into Iraq's oil supplies while it had been under Iraqi protection.

The war with Iran had also seen the destruction of almost all of Iraq's port facilities on the Persian Gulf cutting off Iraq's main trade outlet. Many in Iraq, expecting a resumption of war with Iran in the future, felt that Iraq security could only be guaranteed by controlling more of the Gulf Coast, including more secure ports. Kuwait thus made a tempting target.

Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein
Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein

Ideologically, the invasion of Kuwait was justified through calls to Arab nationalism. Kuwait was described as a natural part of Iraq carved off by British imperialism. The annexation of Kuwait was described as a step on the way to greater Arab union. Other reasons were given as well. Iraqi president Saddam Hussein presented it as a way to restore the empire of Babylon in addition to the Arab nationalist rhetoric. The invasion was also closely tied to other events in the Middle East. The First Intifada by the Palestinians was raging, and most Arab states, including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, were dependent on western alliances. Saddam thus presented himself as the one Arab statesman willing to stand up to Israel and the U.S.

Iraq and the United States pre-war

During the Iran-Iraq war, U.S.-Iraqi relations had warmed, as the U.S. found it useful to "tilt" toward Iraq. The Reagan administration removed Iraq from the State Department's annual list of states that sponsor terrorism in 1982. Following the war, however, there were moves within the United States Congress to isolate Iraq diplomatically and economically over concerns about human rights violations, its dramatic military build-up, and hostility to Israel. Specifically, the Senate in 1988 unanimously passed the "Prevention of Genocide Act of 1988," which would have imposed sanctions on Iraq. The legislation died when the House balked as a result of intense lobbying against it by the Reagan administration. [1] ( Opposition to the regime in Iraq was thus shared by many on the left-wing as well as some neoconservatives, most prominently Paul Wolfowitz. These moves were disowned by high-ranking US senators like Robert Dole, who told Iraqi President Hussein that "Congress does not represent U.S. President George H. W. Bush or the government" and that Bush would veto any move toward sanctions against Iraq. (From the Iraqi transcript of the meeting, as published in Sifry et al, 1991.)

The relationship between Iraq and the United States remained close until the day Iraq invaded Kuwait, in the course of which the U.S. sold to Iraq "dual-use" items, such as helicopters which Iraq immediately deployed in its war with Iran. [2] ( In 1988, the U.S. government approved $500 million in credits to Iraq to buy U.S. farm commodities. On October 2, 1989, President George H.W. Bush signed secret National Security Directive 26, which begins, "Access to Persian Gulf oil and the security of key friendly states in the area are vital to U.S. national security." [3] ( With respect to Iraq, the directive stated, "Normal relations between the United States and Iraq would serve our longer term interests and promote stability in both the Gulf and the Middle East." In 1990, the US Department of Agriculture proposed allocating $1 billion in new credits to Iraq to purchase farming commodities.

An investigation by the Senate Banking Committee in 1994 determined that the U.S. Department of Commerce had approved the shipping of biological agents to Iraq during the mid 1980s, including Bacillus Anthracis (anthrax), later identified by the Pentagon as a key component of the Iraqi biological warfare program, as well as Clostridium Botulinum, Histoplasma Capsulatum, Brucella Melitensis, and Clostridium Perfringens. The Committee report noted that each of these had been "considered by various nations for use in war." [4] ( Declassified U.S. government documents indicate that the U.S. government had confirmed that Iraq was using chemical weapons "almost daily" during the Iran-Iraq conflict as early as 1983. [5] (

In late July, 1990, as negotiations between Iraq and Kuwait stalled, Iraq massed troops on Kuwait's borders and summoned American ambassador April Glaspie for 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, some people perceived her answers as giving tacit approval for an invasion, by saying that the US "[has] no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait" (from the Iraqi transcript of the meeting, as published in Sifry). To emphasize this point, she also said at the meeting, "James Baker has directed our official spokesmen to emphasize this instruction." Although ambassador Glaspie shortly after left the foreign service, US sources say that she had handled everything "by the book" and had not signaled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein any approval for defying the Arab League's Jeddah crisis squad, which had conducted the negotiations. However, Saddam's expectations may have been influenced by a perception that the US just at this time was approving the reunification of Germany, another act that he considered to be nothing more than the nullification of an artificial, internal border.

In November 1989, CIA director William Webster met with the Kuwaiti head of security, Brigadier Fahd Ahmed Al-Fahd. Subsequent to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, Iraq claimed to have found a memorandum pertaining to their conversation. The Washington Post reported that Kuwaiti's foreign minister fainted when confronted with this document at an Arab summit in August. Later, Iraq cited this memorandum as evidence of a CIA-Kuwaiti plot to destabilize Iraq economically and politically. The CIA and Kuwait have described the meeting as routine and the memorandum as a forgery. The document reads in part:

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.

Invasion of Kuwait

At the break of dawn on August 2, 1990, Iraqi troops crossed the Kuwaiti border with armor and infantry, occupying strategic posts throughout the country, including the Emir's palace. The Kuwaiti Army was quickly overwhelmed, though they bought enough time for the Kuwaiti Air Force to flee to Saudi Arabia. Troops looted medical and food supplies, detained thousands of civilians and took over the media. Iraq detained thousands of Western visitors as hostages and later attempted to use them as bargaining chips. Hussein then installed a new Iraqi provincial governor, described as "liberation" from the Kuwaiti Emir; this was largely dismissed as war propaganda.


Within hours of the initial invasion, the Kuwaiti and United States of America delegations requested a meeting of the UN Security Council, which passed Resolution 660, condemning the invasion and demanding a withdrawal of Iraqi troops. On August 3, the Arab League passed its own resolution condemning the invasion and demanding a withdrawal of Iraqi troops. The Arab League resolution also called for a solution to the conflict from within the Arab League, and warned against foreign intervention. On August 6, the Security Council passed Resolution 661, placing economic sanctions on Iraq.

The decision by the west to repel the Iraqi invasion had as much to do with preventing an Iraqi invasion of Saudi Arabia, a nation of far more importance to the world than Kuwait. The rapid success of the Iraqi army against Kuwait had brought Iraq's army within easy striking distance of the Hama oil fields, Saudi Arabia's most valuable oil fields. Iraqi control of these fields as well as Kuwait and Iraqi reserves would have given it an unprecedented monopoly in the vital commodity. Saudi Arabia could put up little more resistance than Kuwait and the entire world believed the temptation for Saddam to further advance his ambitions would prove too great. The entire world — especially the oil hungry states of the United States, Europe and Japan — saw such an oil monopoly as very dangerous.

Iraq had a number of grievances with Saudi Arabia. The concern over debts stemming from the Iran-Iraq war was even greater when applied to Saudi Arabia, which Iraq owed some 26 billion dollars. The long desert border was also ill-defined. Rapidly after his victory over Kuwait Saddam began verbally attacking the Saudi kingdom. He argued that the American-supported Kingdom was an illegitimate guardian of holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Saddam combined the language of the Islamist groups that had recently fought in Afghanistan with the rhetoric Iran had long used to attack the Saudis.

The addition of Allahu Akbar to the flag of Iraq and images of Saddam praying in Kuwait were part of a plan to win the support of the Muslim Brotherhood and detach Islamist Mujahideen from Saudi Arabia. These attacks on Saudi Arabia escalated as western troops poured into the country.

President George H. W. Bush quickly announced that the US would launch a "wholly defensive" mission to prevent Iraq from invading Saudi Arabia - Operation Desert Shield [PRES], and US troops moved into Saudi Arabia on August 7. On August 8, Iraq declared parts of Kuwait to be extensions of the Iraqi province of Basra and the rest to be the 19th province of Iraq.

The United States navy mobilised two naval battle groups, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and USS Independence, to the area [NAVY], where they were ready by August 8. The United States also sent the battleships USS Missouri and USS Wisconsin to the region, and they would later become the last battleships to actively participate in a foreign war. Military buildup continued from there, eventually reaching 500,000 troops. The consensus among military analysts is that until October, the American military forces in the area would have been insufficient to stop an invasion of Saudi Arabia had Iraq attempted one.

A long series of UN Security Council and Arab League resolutions were passed regarding the conflict. One of the most important was Resolution 678, passed on November 29, giving Iraq a withdrawal deadline of January 15 1991, and authorizing "all necessary means to uphold and implement Resolution 660", a diplomatic formulation authorizing the use of force.

The United States, especially Secretary of State James Baker, assembled a coalition of forces to join it in opposing Iraq, consisting of soldiers from 34 countries: Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Honduras, Italy, Kuwait, Morocco, The Netherlands, Niger, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Korea, Spain, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States itself. US troops represented 74% of 660,000 troops in the theater of war. Many of the coalition forces were reluctant to join; some felt that the war was an internal Arab affair; others feared increasing American influence in Kuwait. In the end, many nations were persuaded by offers of economic aid or debt forgiveness. (Blum)

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Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. and President Bush visit U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia on Thanksgiving Day, 1990.

The United States went through a number of different public justifications for their involvement in the conflict. The first reasons given were the importance of oil to the American economy and the United States' longstanding friendly relationship with Saudi Arabia [PRES]. However, some Americans were dissatisfied with these explanations and "No Blood For Oil" became a rallying cry for domestic peace activists, though opposition never reached the size of opposition to the Vietnam War. Later justifications for the war included Iraq's history of human rights abuses under President Saddam Hussein, the potential that Iraq may develop nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction, and that "naked aggression [against Kuwait] will not stand." In Canada this was the main argument; Canada had long opposed unilateral aggression, including those by the United States, and used this as the argument for intervention.

Shortly after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the organization Citizens for a Free Kuwait was formed in the US. It hired the public relations firm Hill and Knowlton for about $11 million, money from the Kuwaiti government. This firm went on to manufacture a fake campaign, which described Iraqi soldiers pulling babies out of incubators in Kuwaiti hospitals and letting them die on the floor. A video news release was widely distributed by US TV networks; false supporting testimony was given before Congress and before the UN Security Council. The fifteen-year-old girl testifying before Congress was later revealed to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States; the supposed surgeon testifying at the UN was in fact a dentist who later admitted to having lied. [MCA] (For more, see Nurse Nayirah.)

Various peace proposals were floated, but none were agreed to. The United States insisted that the only acceptable terms for peace were Iraq's full, unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait. Iraq insisted that withdrawal from Kuwait must be "linked" to a simultaneous withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and Israeli troops from the West Bank, Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and southern Lebanon.

On January 12, 1991 the United States Congress authorized the use of military force to drive Iraq out of Kuwait. Soon after the other states in the coalition did the same.

Air campaign

A day after the deadline set in Resolution 678, the coalition launched a massive air campaign codenamed Operation Desert Storm: more than 1,000 sorties per day, beginning early morning on January 17, 1991. Weapons used included smart bombs, cluster bombs, daisy cutters and cruise missiles. Iraq responded by launching 8 Scud missiles into Israel the next day. The first priority for coalition forces was destruction of the Iraqi air force and anti-aircraft facilities. This was quickly achieved and for the duration of the war Coalition aircraft could operate largely unchallenged. Despite Iraq's better-than-expected anti-aircraft capabilities, only one coalition aircraft was lost in the opening day of the war. Stealth aircraft were heavily used in this phase to elude Iraq's extensive SAM systems and anti-aircraft weapons; once these were destroyed, other types of aircraft could more safely be used. The sorties were launched mostly from Saudi Arabia and the six coalition aircraft carrier groups in the Persian Gulf.

The next Coalition targets were command and communication facilities. Saddam had closely micromanaged the Iraqi forces in the Iran-Iraq War and initiative at the lower levels was discouraged. Coalition planners hoped Iraqi resistance would quickly collapse if deprived of command and control. The first week of the air war saw a few Iraqi sorties but these did little damage, and thirty-eight Iraqi MiGs were shot down by Coalition planes. Soon after, the Iraqi airforce began fleeing to Iran. On January 23, Iraq began dumping approximately 1 million tons of crude oil into the gulf, causing the largest oil spill in history.

The third and largest phase of the air campaign targeted military targets throughout Iraq and Kuwait: Scud missile launchers, weapons of mass destruction sites, weapons research facilities and naval forces. About one third of the Coalition airpower was devoted to attacking Scuds. In addition, it targeted facilities useful for both the military and civilians: electricity production facilities, telecommunications equipment, port facilities, oil refineries and distribution, railroads and bridges. Two live nuclear reactors were bombed, in violation of the recently passed UN Resolution 45/52 banning such attacks. Electrical power facilities were destroyed across the country. At the end of the war, electricity production was at four percent of its pre-war levels. Bombs destroyed the utility of all major dams, most major pumping stations and many sewage treatment plants. In most cases, the Allies avoided hitting civilian-only facilities. However, on February 13 1991, two laser-guided "smart bombs" destroyed an air raid shelter in Baghdad killing hundreds of Iraqis. U.S. officials claimed that the bunker was a military communications center, but Western reporters have been unable to find evidence for this.

Iraq launched missile attacks on coalition bases in Saudi Arabia and on Israel, in the hopes of drawing Israel into the war and drawing other Arab states out of it. This strategy proved ineffective. Israel did not join the coalition, and all Arab states stayed in the coalition except Jordan, which remained officially neutral throughout. On January 29, Iraq attacked and occupied the abandoned Saudi city of Khafji with tanks and infantry. However, Battle of Khafji ended when Iraqis were driven back by Saudi Arabia and Qatar forces supported by U.S. Marines with close air support over the following two days.

Ground campaign

A US Army convoy crosses the Iraqi desert.
A US Army convoy crosses the Iraqi desert.

On February 22, 1991, Iraq agreed to a Soviet-proposed cease-fire agreement. The agreement called for Iraq to withdraw troops to pre-invasion positions within three weeks following a total cease-fire, and called for monitoring of the cease-fire and withdrawal to be overseen by the UN Security Council. The US rejected the proposal but said that retreating Iraqi forces would not be attacked, and gave twenty-four hours for Iraq to begin withdrawing forces.

On February 24, the US began Operation Desert Sabre, the ground portion of its campaign. US forces pulled plows along Iraqi trenches, burying their occupants alive. Soon after, a convoy of Marines penetrated deep into Iraqi territory, collecting thousands of deserting Iraqi troops, weakened and demoralized by the extensive air campaign. The US anticipated that Iraq might use chemical weapons; General Colin Powell later suggested that a US response to such an act might have been to destroy dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, drowning Baghdad in water, though this was never fully developed as a plan.

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General Colin Powell briefs President George H. W. Bush and his advisors on the progress of the ground war

The United States originally hoped that Saddam would be overthrown in an internal coup, and used CIA assets in Iraq to organize a revolt. When a popular rebellion against Saddam began in southern Iraq, the United States did not support it due to the fact that the coalition refused to aid in an invasion (and also due to various policy changes within the United States). As a result, not only was the rebellion brutally subdued, but the main CIA operative who was tasked with organizing the revolt was disavowed and accused of "disobeying orders to not organize a revolt".

In their cowritten 1998 book, "A World Transformed" George Bush the Elder and Brent Scowcroft discussed regime change in Iraq:

Trying to eliminate Saddam [in 1991], extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guidelines about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in 'mission creep', and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs... Would have have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under those circumstances, there was no viable 'exit strategy' we could see, violating another of our principles... Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different - and perhaps barren - outcome.". (quoted in Losing America, pg 154)
The "Highway of Death"
The "Highway of Death"

Iraq did not use chemical weapons and the allied advance was much swifter than US generals expected. On February 26, Iraqi troops began retreating out of Kuwait, setting fire to Kuwaiti oil fields as they left. A long convoy of retreating Iraqi troops — along with Iraqi and Palestinian civilians — formed along the main Iraq-Kuwait highway. This convoy was bombed so extensively by the Allies that it came to be known as the Highway of Death. One hundred hours after the ground campaign started, President Bush declared a ceasefire and on February 27 declared that Kuwait had been liberated. Journalist Seymour Hersh has charged that, two days after the ceasefire was declared, American troops led by Barry McCaffrey engaged in a systematic massacre of retreating Iraqi troops, in addition to some civilians. McCaffrey has denied the charges and an army investigation has cleared him. (Forbes, Daniel)

A peace conference was held in allied-occupied Iraq. At the conference, Iraq negotiated use of armed helicopters on their side of the temporary border. Soon after, these helicopters — and much of the Iraqi armed forces — were refocused toward fighting against a Shiite uprising in the south. In the North, Kurdish leaders took heart in American statements that they would support a people's uprising and began fighting, in the hopes of triggering a coup. However, when no American support was forthcoming, Iraqi generals remained loyal and brutally crushed the Kurdish troops. Millions of Kurds fled across the mountains to Kurdish areas of Turkey and Iran. These incidents would later result in no-fly zones in both the North and the South. In Kuwait, the Emir's dictatorship was restored and suspected Iraqi collaborators were attacked extra-judicially, especially Palestinians. Eventually, over 400,000 people were expelled from the country.

On March 10 1991, Operation Desert Farewell began to move 540,000 American troops out of the Persian Gulf.

Canadian involvement

Canada was one of the first nations to agree to condemn Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and it quickly agreed to join the U.S. led coalition. In August Prime Minister Brian Mulroney sent the destroyers HMCS Terra Nova and HMCS Athabaskan to enforce the trade blockade against Iraq. The supply ship HMCS Protecteur was also sent to aid the gathering coalition forces. When the UN authorized full use of force in the operation Canada sent a CF18 squadron with support personnel. Canada also sent a field hospital to deal with casualties from the ground war.

When the air war began Canada's planes were integrated into the coalition force and provided air cover and attacked ground targets. This was the first time since the Korean War that Canadian forces had participated in combat operations.

Canada suffered no casualties during the conflict but since its end many veterans have complained of suffering from Gulf War Syndrome.


Casualties During the War

Gulf War casualty numbers are controversial. Coalition military deaths seem to be around 378, with US forces suffering 148 battle-related and 145 non-battle-related deaths (included in the 378). The UK suffered 47 deaths, the Arab contingents had about 40 killed, and France lost 2 men. The largest single loss of Coalition forces happened on February 25, 1991 when an Iraqi Scud missile hit an American military barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia killing 28 U.S. Army Reservists from Pennsylvania. The number of coalition wounded seems to have been less than 1,000.

Independent analysts generally agree the Iraqi death toll was well below initial post-war estimates. In the immediate aftermath of the war, these estimates ranged as high as 100,000 Iraqi troops killed and 300,000 wounded. According to "Gulf War Air Power Survey" by Thomas A. Keaney and Eliot A. Cohen, (a report commissioned by the U.S. Air Force; 1993-ISBN 0-16-041950-6), there were an estimated 10-12,000 Iraqi combat deaths in the air campaign and as many as 10,000 casualties in the ground war. This analysis is based on enemy prisoner of war reports.

The Iraqi government claimed that 2,300 civilians died during the air campaign.

One infamous incident during the war highlighted the question of large-scale Iraqi combat deaths. This was the `bulldozer assault' in which two brigades from the U.S. 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized)--The Big Red One--used plows mounted on tanks and combat earthmovers to bury Iraqi soldiers defending the fortified "Saddam Line." While approximately 2,000 of the troops surrendered, escaping burial, one newspaper story reported that the U.S. commanders estimated thousands of Iraqi soldiers had been buried alive during the two-day assault February 24-25, 1991. However, like all other troop estimates made during the war, the estimated 8,000 Iraqi defenders was probably greatly inflated. While one commander thought the numbers might have been in the thousands, another reported his brigade buried between 80 and 250 Iraqis. After the war, the Iraqi government found 44 bodies.


The Post-War Effects of Depleted Uranium

In 1998, Saddam government doctors reported that Coalition use of depleted uranium caused a massive increase in birth defects and cancer among Iraqis, particularly leukemia. The government doctors claimed they were unable to provide evidence linking depleted uranium to the cancer and birth defects because the sanctions prevented them from obtaining necessary testing equipment. Subsequently, a World Health Organization team visited Basra and proposed a study to investigate the causes of higher cancer rates in southern Iraq, but Saddam refused.

sources: "Iraqi cancers, birth defects blamed on U.S. depleted uranium" by Larry Johnson, Nov. 12 2002. "Depleted uranium shells propaganda target by Iraqis" by Michael Woods, March 26, 2003.

The World Health Organization was nonetheless able to assess the health risks of Depleted Uranium in a post-combat environment thanks to a 2001 mission to Kosovo. A 2001 WHO fact sheet on depleted uranium concludes: "because DU is only weakly radioactive, very large amounts of dust (on the order of grams) would have to be inhaled for the additional risk of lung cancer to be detectable in an exposed group. Risks for other radiation-induced cancers, including leukaemia, are considered to be very much lower than for lung cancer." In addition, "no reproductive or developmental effects have been reported in humans" as a result of DU exposure.


The U.S. Department of State has also published a fact sheet on depleted uranium. It states that "World Health Organization and other scientific research studies indicate Depleted Uranium poses no serious health risks" and "Depleted Uranium does not cause birth defects. Iraqi military use of chemical and nerve agents in the 1980's and 1990's is the likely cause of alleged birth defects among Iraqi children." In regard to cancer claims, the fact sheet states that "According to environmental health experts, it is medically impossible to contract leukemia as a result of exposure to uranium or depleted uranium," and "Cancer rates in almost 19,000 highly exposed uranium industry workers who worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory projects between 1943 and 1947 have been examined, and no excess cancers were observed through 1974. Other epidemiological studies of lung cancer in uranium mill and metal processing plant workers have found either no excess cancers or attributed them to known carcinogens other than uranium, such as radon."


However, there are claims that the effect is more severe as the Depleted Uranium ammunition would fragment into tiny particles when it hit the target. In addition, Iraq’s arid climate meant that tiny particles of DU were likely to be blown around and inhaled by civilians for years to come.


Kuwaiti oil wells on fire.
Kuwaiti oil wells on fire.

The cost of the war to the United States was calculated by Congress to be $61.1 billion. Other sources estimate up to $71 billion. About $53 billion of that amount was paid by different countries around the world: $36 billion by Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States; $16 billion by Germany and Japan (who were not part of the coalition due to the treaties that ended WWII). About 25% of Saudi Arabia's contribution was paid in form of in-kind services to the troops, such as food and transportation.

US troops represented about 74% of the combined force, and the global cost was therefore higher. The United Kingdom, for instance, spent $4.1 billion during this war.


The Gulf War was a "televised war". For the first time people all over the world were able to watch live pictures of missiles hitting their targets and fighters taking off from aircraft carriers. Allied forces were keen to demonstrate the "pin-point" accuracy of their weapons.

The big-three network anchors led the network news coverage of the war. ABC's Peter Jennings, CBS's Dan Rather, and NBC's Tom Brokaw were anchoring their evening newscasts when air strikes began on January 16, 1991. ABC News correspondent Gary Shepard, reporting live from Baghdad, told Jennings of the quietness of the city. But, moments later, Shepard was back on the air as flashes of light were seen on the horizon and tracer fire was heard on the ground. On CBS, viewers were watching a report from correspondent Allen Pizzey, who was also reporting from Baghdad, when the war began. Rather, after the report was finished, announced that there were unconfirmed reports of flashes in Baghdad and heavy air traffic at bases in Saudi Arabia. On the "NBC Nightly News", correspondent Mike Boettcher reported unusual air activity in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Moments later, Brokaw announced to his viewers that the air attack had begun. But it was CNN who gained the most popularity for their coverage. CNN correspondents John Holliman and Peter Arnett and CNN anchor Bernard Shaw relayed telephone reports from the Al-Rashid Hotel as the air strikes began. Newspapers all over the world also covered the war and "Time" magazine published a special issue dated January 28, 1991, the headline "WAR IN THE GULF" emblazoned on the cover over a picture of Baghdad taken as the war began.

The US policy regarding media freedom was much more restrictive than in the Vietnam War. The policy had been spelled out in a Pentagon document entitled "Annex Foxtrot." Most of the press information came from briefings organized by the military. Only selected journalists were allowed to visit the front lines or conduct interviews with soldiers. Those visits were always conducted in the presence of officers, and were subject to both prior approval by the military and censorship afterward. This was ostensibly to protect sensitive information from being revealed to Iraq, but often in practice it was used to protect politically embarrassing information from being revealed. This policy was heavily influenced by the military's experience with the Vietnam War, which it believed it had lost due to public opposition within the United States.

At the same time, the coverage of this war was new in its instantaneousness. Many American journalists remained stationed in the Iraqi capital Baghdad throughout the war, and footage of incoming missiles was carried almost immediately on the nightly television news and the cable news channels such as CNN. A British crew from CBS News (David Green & Andy Thompson) equipped with satellite transmission equipment travelled with the front line forces and having transmitted live tv pictures of the fighting en route, arrived the day before the forces in Kuwait City, transmitting live television from the city and covering the entrance of the Arab forces the following day.


Saddam Hussein in a  picture overseeing a war scene in the foreground
Saddam Hussein in a propaganda picture overseeing a war scene in the foreground

Following the uprisings in the North and South, no-fly zones were established to help protect the Shiite and Kurdish people groups in South and North Iraq, respectively. These no-fly zones (originally north of the 36th parallel and south of the 32nd) were monitored mainly by the US and the UK. Combined, they flew more sorties over Iraq in the eleven years following the war than were flown during the war. These sorties dropped bombs nearly every other day. However, the greatest amount of bombs was dropped during two sustained bombing campaigns: Operation Desert Strike, which lasted a few weeks in September 1996, and Operation Desert Fox, in December 1998.

Widespread infrastructure destruction hurt the Iraqi population. Years after the war electricity production was less than a quarter its pre-war level. The destruction of water treatment facilities caused sewage to flow directly into the Tigris River, from which civilians drew drinking water, resulting in widespread disease.

Economic sanctions were kept in place following the war, pending a weapons inspection regime with which Iraq never fully cooperated. Iraq was allowed to import certain products under the UN's Oil for Food program. A 1998 UNICEF report found that the sanctions resulted in an increase in 90,000 deaths per year [IAC]. The sanctions on Iraq and the American military presence in Saudi Arabia contributed to the United States' increasingly negative image within the Arab world.

A United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) on weapons was established, to monitor Iraq's compliance with restrictions on weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. Iraq accepted some and refused other weapons inspections. The team found some evidence of biological weapons programs at one site and non-compliance at many other sites.

In 1997, Iraq expelled all US members of the inspection team, alleging that the United States was using the inspections as a front for espionage, which the U.S. later admitted was true. The team returned for an even more turbulent time period between 1997 and 1999; one member of the weapons inspection team, US Marine Scott Ritter, resigned in 1998, alleging that the United States was blocking investigations because they did not want a full-scale confrontation with Iraq. He also alleged that the CIA was using the weapons inspection teams as a cover for covert operations inside Iraq. In 1999, the team was replaced by a new team which began inspections in 2002. For more on these inspections, see Iraq disarmament crisis. In 2002, Iraq — and especially Saddam Hussein — became targets in the United States' War on Terrorism, leading to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, led by the United States and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom.

Many returning coalition soldiers reported illnesses following their participation in the Gulf War, a phenomenon known as Gulf war syndrome. The number of children born in soldier's families with serious congenital defects or serious illnesses is also alarmingly high, 67%, according to a study by the Department of Veterans Affairs. [6] ( There has been widespread speculation and disagreement about the causes of the syndrome and birth defects (though the government has attempted to downplay the seriousness of the situation). A report published in 1994 by the General Accounting Office said that American troops were exposed to 21 potential "reproductive toxicants". Some factors considered as possibly causal include exposure to radioactive depleted and non-depleted uranium used in munitions, oil fires, or the anthrax vaccine.

The People's Republic of China (whose army in many ways resembled the Iraqi army) was surprised at the performance of American technology on the battlefield. The swiftness of the Coalition victory resulted in an overall change in Chinese military thinking and began a movement to technologically modernize the People's Liberation Army.

A crucial result of the Gulf War, according the Gilles Kepel, was the sharp revival in Islamic extremism. The change of face by Saddam's secular regime did little to draw support from Islamist groups. However it, combined with the Saudi Arabian alliance with the United States and Saudi Arabia being seen as being on the same side of Israel dramatically eroded that regime's legitimacy. Activity of Islamist groups against the Saudi regime increased dramatically. In part to win back favour with Islamist groups Saudi Arabia greatly increased funding to those that would support the regime. Throughout the newly independent states of Central Asia the Saudis paid for the distribution of millions of Korans and the building of hundreds of mosques for extremist groups. In Afghanistan the Saudi regime became a leading patron of the Taliban in that nation's civil war.


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Precision guided munitions (PGMs, also "smart bombs"), such as the United States Air Force guided missile AGM-130, were heralded as key in allowing military strikes to be made with, supposedly, a minimum of civilian casualties. Specific buildings in downtown Baghdad could be bombed whilst journalists in their hotels watched cruise missiles fly by. PGMs amounted to approximately 7.4% of all bombs dropped by the coalition. Other bombs included cluster bombs, which break up into clusters of bomblets, and daisy cutters, 15,000-pound bombs which can "[disintegrate] everything within hundreds of yards". (Walker)

Among the numerous special forces from the United States, the Light Armoured Recon (LAR) played a powerful role in the removal of Iraqi troops. Light Armored Vehicles (LAV) provided logistic command centers, logistics posts, mortar positions and long range suppressing fire with their powerful 50mm guns.

Scud is a low-technology rocket bomb that Iraq used, launching them into both Saudi Arabia and Israel. Some bombs caused extensive casualties, others caused little damage. Concerns were raised of possible chemical or biological warheads on these rockets, but if they existed they were not used.

America's Patriot missile defense was used for the first time in combat. The US military claimed to have shot down many Scud rockets in flight, with an effectiveness of 100%. Afterwards, it was demonstrated that the Patriots' effectiveness was primarily psychological: some claim that their effectiveness was as low as between 0% to 10%. However, there really is no good evidence to prove whether the Scuds were intercepted or not, so no figures are really backed up by undisputed facts. The higher figures tend to be calculated based on the percentage of Scud warheads which were known to have impacted and exploded compared to the number of Scud missiles launched, but due to factors such as duds, misses and impacts which were not reported, this is not really a good way to measure effectiveness. The lowest figures are typically based upon the number of interceptions where there is proof that the warhead was hit by at least one missile, but due to the way the poorly built Al-Hussein (Scud derivative) missiles broke up in flight, it was often hard to tell which piece was the warhead, and there were few radar tracks which were actually stored which could be analyzed later, hence the very low figures. Realistically the actual performance was probably somewhere inbetween. The US Army maintains the Patriot delivered a "miracle performance" in the Gulf War.

Global Positioning System units were key in enabling coalition units to navigate easily across the desert. Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) and satellite communication systems were also important.

Military awards

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This T-shirt was worn by members of the Florida National Guard in Kuwait during the Gulf War. The shirt is stylized in a parody of Hard Rock Cafe T-shirts, reading "Hard Luck Cafe" in a circle with a background of an oil field. Below the logo reads, "Kuwait City, Kuwait: under new management."
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The Kuwait Liberation Medal.

The U.S. Southwest Asia Service Medal was established in March of 1991 to recognize those U.S. military members who had participated in the Gulf War. The governments of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait also issued a medal, known as the Kuwait Liberation Medal, which was first created in 1994 and is an authorized foreign military decoration for wear on U.S. military uniforms.


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da:Golfkrigen 1991 de:Zweiter Golfkrieg es:Guerra del Golfo fr:Tempte du dsert he:מלחמת המפרץ nl:Golfoorlog (1991) ja:湾岸戦争 no:Gulfkrigen pl:Pierwsza wojna w Zatoce Perskiej pt:Guerra do Golfo fi:Persianlahden sota sv:Kuwaitkriget vi:Cuộc chiến Vùng Vịnh lần thứ nhất zh:海湾战争


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