Why did Saddam invade Kuwait

Beginning of “endless wars” in the Middle East

Relations between Iraq and Kuwait were more than tense even before the invasion. Iraq, which was heavily indebted at the time, accused Kuwait of exceeding OPEC production quotas and thus causing prices to plummet. Iraq also accused the small oil state of producing oil from an Iraqi oil field since 1980. At the end of July, Baghdad had 30,000 men deployed on the common border. A few days later there were already 100,000 men, 300 tanks and 300 artillery pieces.

On August 2, the news agencies reported the first border fighting. "We confirmed that there is an offensive on the Kuwaiti border," said a Kuwaiti diplomat at the time. Just a few hours later, 350 Iraqi tanks entered Kuwait City, and Kuwait asked the international community for help. This reacted with sometimes severe sanctions. A few days after the start of the invasion, the Washington Post quoted a US intelligence document that Iraqi President Hussein must be overthrown. Everything was denied.

International pressure too high

The Iraqi head of state hardly expected the vehemence of the reactions to the invasion. The fact that the UN Security Council passed a resolution on November 29, 1990, in which Iraq was given a deadline of January 15 and threatened with "all necessary means" if it was not met, was considered a sensation. The Soviet Union and the United States held out the prospect of war in Iraq. But the community apparently underestimated Hussein's will to go to war. In a speech he proclaimed the “mother of all battles”.

Five months after the invasion of Kuwait, "Operation Desert Storm" began against Iraq. On January 16, the United States-led force bombed Iraqi positions in Kuwait. The war ended quickly, and the poorly motivated and overwhelmed Iraqi army quickly withdrew. After 41 days of bitter fighting, Iraq accepted a ceasefire and Kuwait was liberated. The country was occupied for seven months and hundreds of people had died. As a result, the UN Security Council set the common land and sea borders of Iraq and Kuwait in a resolution.

The two neighboring countries grew closer together under international pressure. On August 2, 2004, they established diplomatic relations with one another. However, Kuwait did not send an ambassador to the neighboring country until 2008; the Iraqi ambassador for Kuwait was not appointed until March 2010. Baghdad and Kuwait City then worked together to exchange the remains of victims of the Gulf War. Iraq also returned archives and documents seized in Kuwait.

"Mother of all battles"

Hussein's “mother of all battles” statement is interpreted differently by some experts today than it was 29 years ago. He was referring to the start of further “endless wars” by the USA in the Middle East and was reacting to the “new world order” previously announced by then US President George W. Bush senior. The United States would only celebrate Pyrrhic victories, one of many interpretations of the Saddam statement.

Former US diplomat and ex-CIA employee Bruce Riedel recently wrote in a post that US combat operations in the Middle East prior to the summer of 1990 were "generally temporary and short-term." Only the invasion of Iraq into Kuwait led to a turning point that resembles a point of no return.

The ex-security advisor described his perceptions about the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on the website of the US think tank Brookings, which describes itself as an independent research body. He himself was in Baghdad and Kuwait as a CIA employee in June 1990. Riedel could not remember, however, that anyone had even rudimentarily mentioned the risk that Iraq might invade Kuwait. "Our focus was on Saddam's threats to 'burn' Israel."

Impossible to get out again

It was not until mid-July, when Iraq was still sending verbal threatening gestures towards Kuwait, that the CIA noticed Iraqi preparations along the Kuwaiti border. “We told the President (George Bush, Sr.) that Kuwait thought Iraq was bluffing; we didn't think so, ”said Riedel. Bush reacted to this and, with his national security advisor Brent Scowcroft, founded an international coalition with dozen states to fight Iraq.

After the liberation of Kuwait, Bush "wisely did not invade Iraq," said the former diplomat. Nevertheless, August 1990 was a "turning point" for the Americans. Bush senior reacted quickly and well, but the withdrawal did not go optimally. The fact that Bush's son, George W. Bush, the United States invaded Iraq more than ten years later, was "described as the worst decision in American foreign policy of all time," said Riedel. The then US president even ignored warnings from Scowcroft, who advised Bush against an invasion in a guest commentary for "The Wall Street Journal".

But the US president didn't listen and fired intelligence officials who said Iraq had nothing to do with the September 11, 2001 attack. US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were also unable to usher in a trend reversal. They had tried to get out of Iraq, but were withdrawn by the terrorist militia Islamic State (IS). US President Donald Trump also talked about ending the "endless wars", but actually deployed more troops. Riedel: "Washington has found that getting in is easy and getting off is apparently impossible."