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    Saddam, Iraq, And The Gulf War Essay

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    War, justifiable or not, is complete madness. It is hell. No matter what the cause, or what the reason is, war remains mankind’s greatest source of tragedy, the plague of mankind, and the plague of this country. Our country has existed for only 200 years, a relatively short time, and already we have been involved in over eleven major wars. Four have been fought in the last fifty years. We are a nation of freedom, but we are also a nation with a strong military presence.

    Our reasons for going to war have differed little from most nations. Political, social, and economic factors working alone or with each other lead us into all of our conflicts. A drive for independence brought on the Revolutionary War. A common fear of living in a divided society created the Civil War.

    The need to bring down an aggressive nation took the United States into the Korean War. And territorial disputes lay behind the Mexican-American and American Indian Wars. Like most countries, the United States, at different periods, has been victimized by the dark forces of war. Though reasons (or excuses) given to the American people to justify military action were given before most of our wars, not every war has been popular. Ever since the Revolutionary War up until the Vietnam War, and even through to the Gulf War, public support has sequentially increased or decreased.

    For example, less than half of the early colonists backed America’s war of independence. According to historians, more than one-third wanted to maintain their status as colonists. During the Spanish-American War, such a strong anti-war mood was being expressed by the American people that the Democratic party made condemning the war a major part of their election campaign. More recently, the Vietnam War divided the nation like no other conflict had since the Civil War. Yet, there have been some wars that have attained much support, and much has even given people pride and joy. How ironic and morbid that a war could give a person feelings of joy or pride.

    World War I and World War II were incredibly popular since people thought the basis of democracy was at stake. During both wars, people were so committed to winning the war, and had such a sense of self-sacrifice, our nation showed incredible unity for such a diverse country. Support for food and fuel rationing was overwhelming, high rates of enlisted volunteers, purchases of war bonds, and countless other types of voluntary actions were characteristic of the times. Most recently, the Persian Gulf War showed to be one of this country’s more popular wars, despite the fact that we, as a landmass, were never directly endangered. Thousands showed up for rallies to send off the troops. Tens of thousands of individuals and families across the nation sent packages of food, clothes, cassettes, CDs, suntan oil, and even cosmetics.

    Some wrote letters to unknown soldiers in the front line and gave them their best wishes. In fact, most public opinion polls showed that about 90 percent of all Americans approved of the Gulf War. This paper covers in detail the history of Iraq’s involvement in the events leading to the war in the Persian Gulf, the involvement of the United States, and the main events that took place in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. For centuries, the Middle East has been one of the most important, most argued about, and most fought over areas of the world. One reason for this is their strategic location.

    Since it lies at what many call the crossroads of three continents – Europe, Asia, and Africa – people of these continents often had to cross through the Middle East to establish military and trade routes. To protect these routes, other nations took the advantage of conquering and controlling a nearby Middle Eastern country. An addition to the Middle East being a very strategic area, it is also an area that has been plagued by hostility and opposition for centuries. Among the most recognized and most relevant of these is the Arab-Israeli conflict.

    On May 14, 1948, an announcement from Palestine shocked the world. David Ben Gurion, leader of the Jewish forces, announced the establishment of the nation of Israel. The Jews had decided to declare their independence before the UN officially granted it. By doing this, the Jews were able to postpone the UN decision to divide Palestine and had more control over Israel. The United States immediately recognized the new state. The Soviet Union and most other UN nations recognized it as well.

    Just as quickly, the members of the Arab League declared war on Israel. Armies from six Arab nations marched into Palestine. The resulting 1948 Arab-Israeli War lasted less than eight months. Even though the combined population of the Arab nations was over four times larger than that of Israel, the Israelis won an astounding victory.

    In the war, Israeli forces succeeded in capturing some of the land that the UN provided to the Arabs. In January 1949, Israel controlled 30 percent more land than the UN originally assigned to them. Thousands of Arabs that lived on this land became refugees or had to live under Israeli rule. The problem of what to do about these displaced Palestinians has been a weak point to any type of Middle Eastern peace ever since.

    Angry and humiliated over their defeat, many Arabs criticized the United States for recognizing and supporting Israel during the 1948 war. Thus begins the conflict. Convinced that the United States would continue to back and support Israel, several Arab nations turned to the Soviet Union for military and economic aid. The Soviets agreed and supplied them with weapons and money.

    In order to limit Soviet actions in this region, as well as assist Israel, the United States became more allied with Israel and more involved in Middle East affairs. When the Arabs raised oil prices in the 1970s, some Middle Eastern countries grew quite wealthy. Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, which Britain granted independence in 1961, benefited enormously from growing oil profits. The increase in wealth also increased tensions among the oil-producing nations themselves. For instance, both Iraq and its neighbor Iran wanted to control oil shipping in the Persian Gulf.

    This rivalry reopened an old Iraqi-Iranian dispute. Since the 1800s, Iraqis and Iranians had argued and fought over the Shatt al-Arab waterway on the northern edge of the Persian Gulf. Important to trade, the waterway was essential to the economics of both countries. In 1979, the dispute got out of hand, and each side threatened the other. On September 17, 1980, Iraq’s president, Saddam Hussein, claimed complete control of the Shatt al-Arab and ordered all Iranian ships to leave.

    Five days later, Iraqi troops invaded Iran and destroyed key Iranian oil installations. The Iranians counter-attacked, blowing up many Iraqi oil facilities. The eight-year war that followed was the bloodiest yet seen in the Middle East. An estimated one million people were killed in the conflict. Both sides launched missile attacks against one another, and both used chemical weapons on the battlefield. The Iraq-Iran war left a huge financial burden on Iraq.

    They had built up the largest military force in the Middle East and had spent a lot of money in the process, much of it borrowed. They spent over five hundred billion dollars creating their army and militant arsenal. By 1990, the country was heavily in debt, and Saddam Hussein needed money badly. He wanted to find a way to eliminate Iraq’s debts, expand the country’s economy, and gain control of the Persian Gulf, all at once. The strategy he chose to achieve these goals would soon put his people and the people of many other nations into another disastrous war.

    Saddam first attempted to raise Iraq’s income by increasing the price of oil. Early in 1990, he demanded that all OPEC members reduce their prices. But some of the members, notably Kuwait, refused to raise their prices for fear of losing customers. Without the support of OPEC, he could not raise his prices; thus, he could not make more money. Saddam became increasingly angry at Kuwait. He also wanted to decrease his war debts. He demanded that Kuwait cancel Iraq’s debt of billions of dollars.

    He said the Kuwaitis should do this in gratitude to Iraq for stopping the Iranians from overtaking Kuwait during the war. The Kuwaitis pointed out that Iran never tried to take Kuwait. They ignored Saddam’s demands and told Iraq to pay their debts. Saddam was now quite irritated with Kuwait. At an Arab conference, he again demanded money from the Kuwaitis. They very bluntly refused.

    “If they don’t give it to me,” he told an Arab diplomat, “I’m going to take it from them.” As he thought about it, Saddam realized that taking over Kuwait would benefit Iraq in a number of ways. It would give them access to the rich Kuwaiti oil wells, it would get him the money to get Iraq going once again, and it would increase his sales of oil. Most importantly to Saddam, it would give him power.

    At 2:00 A.M. on August 2, 1990, the powerful Iraqi army launched a sudden and massive attack on Kuwait. Thousands of Iraqi soldiers crossed over the border. They quickly overtook a small force of Kuwaiti border guards, Kuwait’s only defense. Iraq had penetrated deep into Kuwait, and by nightfall, had overtaken the capital, Kuwait City.

    This sudden move had definitely gotten the attention of the world, the United States in particular. The US, along with many other nations and the UN, imposed strong embargoes on Iraq, and the US even sent the aircraft carrier USS Independence to the Gulf. The US, France, and Britain froze all Iraqi money so as not to let Iraq make profits. The Soviet Union enforced their embargoes on Iraq, ironically.

    Saddam Hussein had not expected such huge international opposition to his actions, especially from nations like the US, France, and the Soviet Union. Leaving Kuwait, he thought, and giving in to the demands to pull out would only damage his image further. He was now seen as an aggressor, but if he took his troops out, he would be seen as weak and cowardly. This is exactly what Saddam did not want. On August 7, 1990, President Bush announced that he was ordering troops to Saudi Arabia.

    “This will not stand,” he told reporters at a press conference. “This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait.” Bush dubbed the defensive action Desert Shield.

    He immediately sent more than 50,000 US troops and put an additional 100,000 on hold. Within hours, F-15 fighter planes and paratroopers were on their way to the Middle East. Special radar-equipped planes called AWACs and huge B-52 bombers also arrived shortly. Countless other aircraft, carriers, and tanks were sent to the Middle East. The Arab League had now split into those against Iraq and those with him. President Bush again demanded Saddam Hussein back out of Kuwait and remove his troops.

    Saddam refused and told the world he would never leave Kuwait unless the Israelis withdrew from the territories they took in the 1967 and 1973 wars. Western and Arab officials recognized this announcement as an attempt by Saddam to lift his image with Arabs, who hated Israel. Saddam felt that linking the Israelis with his invasion of Kuwait would win the support of the Arabs. Most Arab nations, like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, dismissed this announcement.

    On August 17, 1990, the Iraqis acted on their plans against the nation of Kuwait. US, British, and other foreign citizens were not allowed to leave Iraq or Kuwait. An Iraqi spokesperson said that they would stay as long as Iraq remains threatened with an aggressive war. Saddam said he would free the foreigners if the United States got out of Saudi Arabia. Three days later, he started moving the citizens into industrial buildings and military sites.

    This, he said, was to discourage the bombing of these areas. This was a blatant violation of international war law to take hostages, but Saddam dismissed the fact that the citizens were hostages, rather they were his guests. In preparing US forces for war against Iraq, President Bush realized the United States could not attack without the UN’s consent. This was a very touchy topic, as many nations were involved, so their approval was very important. Early in November 1990, Bush sent James Baker on a sort of campaign throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

    His mission was to gain support for the Desert Storm effort among these countries. As a result of the campaign, the allied nations came up with an ultimatum for Iraq: get out of Kuwait by a given date or risk attack by the allies. Baker and the rest of the allied countries then went to the UN Security Council and presented their ideas. On November 29, the UN approved Resolution 678. This was an ultimatum for the Iraqis to leave Kuwait by midnight on January 15, 1991. Hours passed since midnight, and still the Allies did not attack as they said. The citizens of countries around the world were wondering if the ultimatum was a bluff. Maybe Saddam was right; the US was bluffing, and he had called it. Some people were angry, others relieved. Morning passed into afternoon, and many felt that there would be no Gulf War.

    But then, at about 7:00 PM, a bulletin came in from the White House that bombing had started at 4:50 that afternoon. The operation had been dubbed Operation Desert Storm. The liberation of Kuwait had begun. Desert Storm was the largest air assault in history. Its goal was to make it impossible for Iraq to attack Saudi Arabia and also weaken their army in preparation for a ground attack. Allied planes were assigned to targets like Iraqi airfields, missile sites, troop bunkers, army bases, weapons factories, and industrial factories. At the same time, they focused their attacks on communication and radar sites to blind the Iraqi army. Biological weapons factories, chemical labs, and other Iraqi targets were destroyed. These were all key strategic sites that had to be eliminated to decrease Allied casualties.

    With most of Iraq’s radar warning systems down and the Iraqi air force on the run, Allied bombers and attack planes were free to attack all of their targets without fear of being shot down. American bombers flew unchallenged through the sky, devastating targets all over. British tornado jets cruised low over Iraqi airfields, destroying hangars and demolishing runways, making them useless. American warships in the Persian Gulf launched over one hundred Tomahawk cruise missiles equipped with computerized cameras.

    These devices were pre-programmed with detailed maps of Iraqi terrain. With adequate yet deadly accuracy, the missiles found the launch sites, oil refineries, power stations, and other targets. It was now Saddam’s turn to act. After labeling Bush as the Satan of the White House, he began his attack on January 18, 1991.

    His attack shocked people around the world. Following through on his promise to strike out against Israel, he ordered a missile attack against the Israelis at about 2:00 AM. Detecting the incoming Scuds, the entire population of Tel-Aviv put on their gas masks. This was because of another threat by Saddam that he would burn half of Israel with chemical weapons.

    Suddenly, after only 20 minutes after the announcement, eight Scuds appeared over Israel. Two hit Tel Aviv, three hit a port city named Haifa, and the other two landed in open fields. The Scuds caused only fifteen injuries and no deaths; they were embarrassingly inaccurate. Many people around the world were outraged by this, calling him a barbarian and a madman. Many people were surprised that Israel did not retaliate against Iraq, as they are known for their quick counterattacks.

    They held back at the request of President Bush. He feared that if the Israelis joined the Allied effort, many of the Arab nations would quit. He compromised by promising to hunt down the Scud launchers in Iraq. He also promised to protect Israel from further Scud attacks by using the Patriot missiles. Meanwhile, the Allies continued their strategic bombings at the rate of thousands per day.

    Allied warplanes destroyed bridges, airfields, and military centers. Iraq’s two nuclear power plants were leveled. By early February 1991, the 4.5 million people of Baghdad had almost no electricity or running water. Hundreds of Iraqi tanks had become charred, smashed hunks of metal scattered around the desert. Most of Iraq’s military and industrial buildings were demolished.

    Tens of thousands of Iraqi military personnel were dead, while Allied fatalities numbered less than one hundred. Still, Saddam refused to surrender. On February 22, President Bush delivered a warning to the Iraqi dictator. Saddam had to begin withdrawing from Kuwait by the 22nd, or face the ground attack the Allies were preparing for.

    To nobody’s surprise, Saddam again refused the warning. The ground attack started at 8:00 PM on February 22, 1991. Bush determined that Iraq did not meet the conditions and asked General Normal Schwarzkopf to use all forces available, including ground forces, to eject the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. The overall plan of the Allied attack was to move troops northward into southern Iraq and cut off Kuwait from the rest of Iraq. Then the Allies would focus on defeating Iraqi forces in Kuwait.

    For weeks, the Allied commanders had kept their troops stationed in the Saudi desert just north of Kuwait. But at the last minute, the Allies shifted their forces to the west, south of Iraq. The Iraqis were not aware of these changes. They did not have informative aircraft surveying the Allied movements.

    General Schwarzkopf stationed 18,000 US Marines in plain sight in the Persian Gulf near the Kuwaiti coast. Thinking there would be an amphibious assault, the Iraqis pulled thousands of troops out of the desert and put them near the coast. They were taken completely by surprise when the huge mass of the Allied assault penetrated northward into Iraq. At the same time, farther west, French and American troops sneaked across southern and central Iraq. They were trapped.

    While the other troops were invading Iraq, a combined force of Americans, Saudis, Egyptians, and Syrians launched an assault into southern Kuwait. Hundreds of tanks moved in and opened fire on Iraqi desert positions. Over fifty thousand troops followed. Most of the Iraqis in the desert along the Kuwaiti-Saudi border were already wiped out from weeks of bombing raids.

    Day after day, hour after hour, air attacks pounded Iraqi bunkers and trenches. It was a living hell for those soldiers, and they knew they were defeated. All they wanted to do was to go home- the war did not matter any longer.

    As a result, the invasion of Kuwait was a success, and thousands of Iraqi soldiers decided to surrender rather than face certain death. All that was left now was clean up. Allies went on a search-and-kill mission to rid Kuwait of what was left of the Iraqi soldiers. The next day, newspapers around the world had this on their headlines in big, bold lettering: “KUWAIT FREED! War is over.”

    War, in the end, seems to be a glorious thing, especially in this Gulf War. Clearly, you had the aggressor, the bad guy, Saddam Hussein, and the good guy, George Bush. Things turned out like something out of a movie; the good guy wins easily, the bad guy loses with disgrace. Certainly, it felt like a movie to us all, with the extensive press coverage and abundance of video captured. In this, I feel we have taken war in the wrong way.

    War is not something to be looked at as great, or for that matter, funny. I remember the various video shots of missiles destructing buildings, night vision video of bewildered Iraqi soldiers falling over in death from an enemy they cannot even see or hear. It makes me cringe to think that these images are shown for our amusement, not for us to see the cruelty of war. It is true that Saddam is in fact a madman, but this does not label every single Iraqi citizen, or soldier, as one.

    We look at gruesome footage of a charred Iraqi body, frozen while sitting up in his burnt truck, and we laugh. I think we have to rethink exactly what we fought this war for, was it worth the death on both sides, and why we put such a low humanitarian priority on the lives of our opponents.

    Nicholas Singh
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