Gulf War

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The Gulf War, also known as: Persian Gulf War, War in the Gulf, Iraq-Kuwait Conflict, or Second Gulf War, was a conflict between Iraq and Kuwait (and its supporters) fought in the Persian Gulf in 1990-1991. The USA was a key party on Kuwait's side with its Operation Desert Storm.

The Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 was also called the Gulf War, esp. before 1990.

The Onset

In 1990 Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein, formulated a plan to raise oil prices and lower oil production in order to reduce the debt Iraq had incurred in fighting a recent war with Iran. Iraq's oil producing Gulf neighbours refused to cooperate with the plan, they also refused to forgive loans they had made to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War; the situation grew increasingly tense and culminated in Iraqi troops invading neighbouring Kuwait on August 2, 1990.

The UN Security Council responded immediately by issuing resolution 660 condemning the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and demanding a withdrawal of Iraqi troops. On August 6, 1990 resolution 661 was adopted effectively placing economic sanctions on Iraq. Many more resolutions were passed with largely no effect. On November 11, 1990 resolution 678 was passed, giving Iraq a withdrawal deadline of January 15, 1991 and authorizing "all necessary means to uphold and implement resolution 660".

In order to protect Persian Gulf oil production, of huge economic importance to the USA, the USA reacted immediately; on the day of the invasion the USA mobilised two naval battle groups (the Eisenhower and the Independence) to the area ([USNAVY1]). These units were in the area and ready by August 8, 1990. Mindful of a threatened Iraqi invasion of Saudi Arabia the President of the USA, George Bush, announced that the USA would help Saudi Arabia defend its border (USPRES1) - Operation Desert Shield. Troops were already in the area.

The January 15 deadline passed with no withdrawal on Iraq's part. On January 16, 1991 the president of the USA made a statement that "Operation Desert Storm forces were engaging targets in Kuwait and Iraq" [USPRES2] - war had begun.

The Coalition

A coalition of allied forces had been formed; supporters of the pre-invasion Kuwaiti government. The Allied coalition consisted of 34 countries, including 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]]. US troops represented 74% of 660,000 troops in the theater of war.

Air Campaign

There ensued an air campaign fought by coalition forces. All military targets in Kuwait and Baghdad were identified and assessed and, largely, bombed. The air operation was extensive and comprehensive, but the USA was mindful of its cultural and moral duties: allegedly targets were selected and prioritised so as to minimise civilian ("collateral") casualties and minimise damage to culturally sensitive sites (such as Mosques). Air superiority in the theatre was quickly achieved: coalition air forces now flew sorties largely unchallenged. After 38 days the air campaign gave way to a ground campaign.

Ground Campaign

On the February 23 the President of the USA directed General Norman Schwarzkopf to "use all forces available including ground forces to eject the Iraqi army from Kuwait" [USPRES3]. Operation Desert Sabre, a ground campaign, had begun. The liberation of Kuwait would soon follow.

The following day Schwarzkopf commanded forces across the border and deep into Kuwait and Iraq. The Iraqi forces were weakened and demoralised by the extensive air campaign. Schwarzkopf's ground forces acheived their objectives with astonishing speed. Within 100 hours (4 days) the Iraqi forces had been expelled from Kuwait, Kuwait had been liberated, and the Iraqi Republican Guard lay in tatters.


Gulf War casualties numbers are particularly controversial. Coalition military casualties (deaths) seems to be around 378, with US forces suffering 148 battle related and 145 nonbattle related deaths of that total. The number of coalition wounded seems to have been less than 1000. Coalition and Israeli civilian casualties: ?

Iraqi casualty numbers are highly disputed. Some claim as low as 1500 military killed, some 200,000. Many scholars believe a number around 25,000 to 75,000. The number of military wounded is equally unknown. 71,000 Iraqis were taken as prisoners of war by US troops.

Estimates of Iraqi civilian death range from 100 to 35,000 although Iraq claims 1.2 million have died from diseases related to the subsequent embargo.


The conclusion of the war saw Iraq expelled from Kuwait and coalition troops withdrawn from Iraq. Saddam Hussein remained in power; however UN weapons inspections, no-fly zones and embargoes were put in place. The weapons inspection were only partly successful, as Iraq often interferred with the inspectors. No-fly zones where put in place to help protect Shiite and Khurdish rebels in Iraq and have resulted in the last ten years in more sorties over Iraq than were flown during the war. While most of these flights have been peaceful, numerous antiaircraft weapons have been fired at Allied aircraft and numerous retaliatory strikes have been made.

Embargos on Iraq have become controversial because of the increased disease and poor economy in Iraq. Iraq blames numerous deaths on the embargo despite its softening with the Food-for-Oil program.

The Technology

Precision guided munitions (PGMS, such as the USAF guided missile AGM-130) were heralded as key in allowing military strikes to be made with the minimum of civilian casualties. Specific buildings in downtown Baghdad could be bombed whilst journalists in their hotels watched cruise missiles fly by.

GPS units were key in enabling units to navigate across the desert undetected by enemy troops.


Scud is a low technology rocket bomb that was used by Iraq as a terror weapon during the war. Some bombs caused extensive casualties, others caused little damage. Iraq launched this missiles into both Saudi Arabia and Israel. Concerns were raised of possible chemical or biological warheads on these rockets but if they existed they were not used. Coalition efforts to eliminate Scud launchers or to knock down Scuds in flight with the Patriot missile defense were far less effective than military leaders claimed at the time.

Satellite communication


Three Kings




UN Security Council resolution 660


UN Security Council resolution 661


UN Security Council resolution 678



President Addresses the Nation, 1990-08-08


Presidential statement, 1991-01-16


President Addresses the Nation, 1991-02-23