Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, declaring that Kuwait was now the 19th province of Iraq. The justification was an old territorial claim on the Gulf state, but the main reasons were economic.
Iraq had built enormous debts with its neighbours, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, during the Iran-Iraq War and one solution was to annex oil-rich Kuwait.
The Iraq invasion was swift and successful. Saddam Hussein appointed a cousin as Governor and appeared on TV with Western hostages.
Iraq could be forgiven for thinking they could act in their own backyard with impunity – they had been armed by US and Saudi Arabia in support of their war with Iran and were equipped for military victory.
Following a UN resolution, an international coalition force was assembled, led by the USA.
‘Operation Desert Storm’ – the name given by the United States to the UN-sponsored action to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait – began on 16 January 1991 when American F-15 fighter-bombers took off from bases in Saudi Arabia and bombed military targets in Iraq and Kuwait.
They were quickly followed by RAF Tornados flying low to scatter bombs over airport runways, and by other American aircraft including the new F-117A Stealth fighters, by aircraft from the Saudi and Kuwaiti air forces, and by Tomahawk cruise missiles.
An air raid on Baghdad was reported five on television by correspondents of the American cable television network CNN from the Al-Rashid Hotel. From the television station in his capital, President Saddam Hussein declared that Iraq would fight on in what he described as the “mother of all battles”.
Shortly after midnight on 18 January, Saddam tried to broaden the conflict by attacking Israel. About 12 Scud missiles fired from Iraq landed in and around Tel Aviv. Another batch, aimed at Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, was brought down by Patriot anti-missile missiles.
On 22 January a Scud hit a block of flats in the Israeli town of Ramat Gan, killing three people. Israelis promised reprisals, but responded to urgent pleas from President Bush and Prime Minister Major and agreed to take no immediate action.
Patriot antimissile defence weapons were hurriedly shipped to Israel and proved quite effective in shooting down Scuds, although some continued to get through.
The allies were having difficulty locating the mobile missile launchers, which became one of their first bombing priorities. Another was the elimination of the Iraqi air force. In spite of relentless and virtually continuous bombing raids, averaging some 15,000 sorties a week for the first month of the war, this was not achieved, mainly because the aircraft were kept on the ground in well-protected bunkers.
However, in late January it became known that some of the latest Iraqi aircraft – perhaps 100 or more – had flown to Iran, apparently in search of safe haven until the war was over.
This lent weight to the claims of the American commander, General Norman Schwarzkopf – popularly known as “Stormin’ Norman” (pictured below), and others that Iraq had conceded control of the air to the UN allied forces.
On 24 January, the first small segment of Kuwaiti territory was liberated when the allies captured the island of Qaruh, used by Iraq as a forward command post to monitor air and sea movements. The island was taken after a five-hour battle by joint American, British and Saudi air and naval forces.
The first land battle was provoked by the Iraqis on 29 January when some 50 tanks, mostly Soviet T55s, invaded Saudi Arabia. They were followed by other Iraqi troops and tanks, all apparently intent on capturing the town of Khafji.
They were engaged by allied forces and a battle raged in and around the town for nearly two days before all the Iraqis were expelled. Eleven US marines and many Iraqi troops were killed in the fighting, and more than 160 Iraqis were taken prisoner.
Although the war lasted barely a month and a half, Desert Storm Generals Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell became household names thanks to hourly televised updates of events in the Persian Gulf. Meanwhile, Desert Storm trading cards helped American youngsters keep abreast of the latest weaponry . . .
Primarily as a result of overwhelming air superiority, by the end of February Iraq was out of Kuwait.
His ill-considered and disastrous invasion of Kuwait did not shake Saddam Hussein, nor did it weaken his grasp of power in Iraq. The coalition cease-fire and apparent failure to optimise their strategic advantage puzzled many.
The Bush administration recognised the cost of pursuing regime change. They also thought that Saddam would be overthrown by his own people after the defeat.
He would, in fact, remain in power for another 12 years, allowing him to celebrate Bush’s defeat in the 1993 election.