The US was greatly concerned at the success of the Islamic revolution in Iran. Graham Fuller, a Middle East specialist with the CIA during the 1980s, said, “There was a genuine visceral fear of Islam in Washington as a force that was utterly alien to American thinking, and really scared us. Senior people at the Pentagon and elsewhere were more concerned about Islam than communism. It was almost obsessive fear, leading to a mentality on our part that you should use any stick to beat the dog-to stop the advance of Islamic fundamentalism. The stick was to be Iraq.”
After the success of Islamic Revolution in Iran, monarchs in the Gulf countries were also worried of Iran exporting Islamic revolution into their kingdoms. Saddam Hussein’s minority Sunni government was also wary of the Shia majority population at home. The concern of the Gulf countries and Iraq and the US quest for the ‘stick’ merged into a common interest. In the assessment of US officials, “Iraq provided requisite counter balance to Iranians and was wise to cultivate it”. To prevent Iran from exporting Islamic revolution into the Arab kingdoms, Iraq, backed by the US and the Gulf countries, attacked Iran claiming sovereign rights over Shatt el Arab.
During the Iran-Iraq War, Kuwait allied with Iraq. After the war, Iraq was extremely indebted to several Arab countries, including a $14 billion debt to Kuwait. Iraq hoped to repay its debts by raising the price of oil through OPEC oil production cuts, but instead, Kuwait increased production, lowered prices, to leverage a better resolution of Iraq-Kuwait border dispute.
After the revolution, immediate purge came down on Iran’s military. Many of the best Iranian military officers had been imprisoned or executed, while other had fled the country. Iranian military was in a state of confusion. Saddam intended to take advantage of the state of confusion in Iranian military. The Iran-Iraq War broke out on 20 September 1980 and ended on 20 August 1988. The outcome of the eight-year war was deepening distrust between Arab countries and Iran.
After the end of the Iran-Iraq War, the US made political and economic assessment of the Gulf countries. The assessment revealed that, “Iraq’s war weariness and heavy international debt of US$ 65 billion made it likely that Baghdad would concentrate on rebuilding its crippled economy and increasing its oil production rather than embark on foreign adventures. … Iraq would beholden to those countries that helped finance its fight against Iran, among them Kuwait and United Arab Emirates.” Contrary to the assessment, Iraq invaded Kuwait on 2 Aug 1990 and annexed the country as the 19th province of Iraq.
During the Iran-Iraq War, Kuwait allied with Iraq. After the war, Iraq was extremely indebted to several Arab countries, including a $14 billion debt to Kuwait. Iraq hoped to repay its debts by raising the price of oil through OPEC oil production cuts, but instead, Kuwait increased production, lowered prices, to leverage a better resolution of Iraq-Kuwait border dispute. Saddam Hussein also complained that Kuwait, taking the advantage of the Iran-Iraq War began slant drilling for oil into Iraqi reserves, and had built military outposts on Iraqi soil near Kuwait. “Iraq charged that it had performed a collective service for all Arabs by acting as a buffer against Iran and that therefore Kuwait and Saudi Arabia should negotiate or cancel Iraq's war debts.”
In July 1990, Iraq mobilised troops on Kuwait's borders as negotiations between them on war debt stalled. To assess the US position before the invasion, Saddam Hussein summoned April Glaspie, then the US ambassador in Iraq to a meeting on 25 July 1990. Saddam’s focus of the meeting was lowering oil price by the Gulf countries, especially Kuwait and UAE. The US also favoured low oil prices. Saddam needed reasonable price of oil to rebuild his country. He expressed concern that “the price at one stage had dropped to US$ 12 a barrel and a reduction in the modest Iraqi budget of US$ 6 billion to 7 billion is disastrous.” Saddam opined that US$ 25 per barrel was reasonable.
During the dialogue with the ambassador, Saddam expressed resolve to protect Iraqi interests. The US envoy gave Saddam a leading and provocative opinion. Ambassador April Glaspie’s opined, “… I know you need funds. We understand that and our opinion is that you should have the opportunity to rebuild your country. But we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.” The ambassador left Iraq on long leave, the day after she met Saddam Hussein and never came back.
More diplomatic provocation followed the meeting between Saddam Hussein and April Glaspie. John Kelly, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, told the Congressional Committee on 30 July 1990, two days before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait that, “We have no defence treaty with any of the [Gulf] countries. We have historically avoided taking position on border disputes or on internal OPEC deliberations…” Before making the statement to congressional committee, John Kelly along with three US delegates including April Glaspie met Saddam Hussein in February 1990. Joseph Wilson, Glaspie’s Deputy Chief of Mission, opined that Lee Hamilton asked a question to which he knew the answer or could have found the answer from Congressional Research Service. It was the wrong question to ask in a public session. “For those who point fingers at who lost Kuwait, to me that was the defining moment because the US Congress forced the US executive branch to say that we have no legal obligation to come to the defence of Kuwait in the event of an invasion by Iraq. That was far more than anything that April Glaspie might have said in her meeting with Saddam Hussein.”
Saddam Hussein read the US diplomatic incitements as a ‘green signal’. Iraq invaded Kuwait on 2 August 1990, creating new a geopolitical landscape for the Middle East.
* Commodore Mohammad Abdur Razzak, NUP, ndc, psc (retd) is a security analyst. He can be reached at [email protected]