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History, Persian Gulf War and Aftermath

international forces, cruise missile attack, oil Iraq, military crisis, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan

In 1990 Iraq revived a long-standing territorial dispute with Kuwait, its ally during the war with Iran, claiming that overproduction of petroleum by Kuwait was injuring Iraq’s economy by depressing the price of crude oil. Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait on August 2 and rapidly took over the country. The UN Security Council issued a series of resolutions that condemned the occupation, imposed a broad trade embargo on Iraq, and demanded that Iraq withdraw unconditionally by January 15, 1991.

When Iraq failed to comply, a coalition led by the United States began intensive aerial bombardment of military and infrastructural targets in Iraq and Kuwait in January 1991. The ensuing Persian Gulf War proved disastrous for Iraq, which was forced out of Kuwait in about six weeks. Coalition forces invaded southern Iraq, and tens of thousands of Iraqis were killed. Many of the country’s armored vehicles and artillery pieces were destroyed, and its nuclear and chemical weapons facilities were severely damaged. In April, Iraq agreed to UN terms for a permanent ceasefire; coalition troops withdrew from southern Iraq as a UN peacekeeping force moved in to police the Iraq-Kuwait border. Meanwhile, Hussein used his remaining military forces to suppress rebellions by Shias in the south and Kurds in the north. Hundreds of thousands of Kurdish refugees fled to Turkey and Iran, and U.S., British, and French troops landed inside Iraq’s northern border to establish a Kurdish enclave with refugee camps to protect another 600,000 Kurds from Iraqi government reprisals. In addition, international forces set up “no-fly zones” in both northern and southern Iraq to ensure the safety of the Kurdish and Shia populations.

The UN trade embargo remained in place after the war. The Security Council laid out strict demands on Iraq for lifting the sanctions, including destruction of its chemical and biological weapons, cessation of nuclear weapons programs, and acceptance of international inspections to ensure that these conditions were met. Iraq resisted these demands, claiming that its withdrawal from Kuwait was sufficient compliance.

In June 1993 the United States launched a widely criticized cruise missile attack against Iraq in retaliation for a reported assassination plot against former U.S. president George Bush. In November 1994 Hussein signed a decree formally accepting Kuwait’s sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity. The decree effectively ended Iraq’s claim to Kuwait as a province of Iraq.

In 1994 Iraq continued its efforts to crush internal resistance with an economic embargo of the Kurdish-populated north and a military campaign against Shia rebels in the southern marshlands. The Shias were quickly crushed, but the crisis in the Kurdish region, which had long suffered from internal rivalries, was prolonged. Kurds had often disputed over land rights, and as their economic and political security deteriorated in the early 1990s, the conflicts became more extreme. In the mid-1990s clashes between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led to a state of civil war.

In August 1996 leaders of the KDP asked Hussein to intervene in the war. He sent at least 30,000 troops into the Kurdish enclave protected by international forces, capturing the PUK stronghold of Irbil. The international forces decided to leave the enclave rather than intervene in the dispute between rival Kurdish factions. The KDP was quickly installed in power. The United States responded to Hussein’s incursion with two missile strikes against southern Iraq, but the following month Iraq again helped KDP fighters, this time taking the PUK stronghold of As Sulaymaniyah. By 1997 the KDP ruled most of northern Iraq.

In September 1998 the PUK and KDP signed an agreement calling for the establishment of a joint regional government. Although implementation of the agreement proceeded more slowly than planned, it resulted in an end to the fighting between the two groups.

Meanwhile, the economic crisis in Iraq continued to worsen in 1995 and 1996. Prices were high, food and medicine shortages were rampant, and the free-market (unofficial) exchange rate for the dinar was in severe decline. Although the sanctions continued, in April 1995 the UN Security Council voted unanimously to allow Iraq to sell limited amounts of oil to meet its urgent humanitarian needs. Iraq initially rejected the plan but then accepted it in 1996; it began to export oil at the end of that year. In 1998 the UN increased the amount of oil Iraq was allowed to sell, but Iraq was unable to take full advantage of this increase because its production capabilities had deteriorated under the sanctions.

Hussein’s interference with UN weapons inspectors nearly brought Iraq into another military crisis in early 1998. However, UN secretary general Kofi Annan negotiated an agreement that secured Iraq’s compliance and averted military strikes by the United States and its allies. In December of that year, in response to reports that Iraq was continuing to block inspections, the United States and Britain launched a four-day series of air strikes on Iraqi military and industrial targets. In response, Iraq declared that it would no longer comply with UN inspection teams, called for an end to the sanctions, and threatened to fire on aircraft patrolling the “no-fly zones.” Through 2001, Iraq continued to challenge the patrols, and British and U.S. planes struck Iraqi missile launch sites and other targets.

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