Iraq is a sprawling nation of eighteen million people in an area slightly larger than California. With a one-million-man army, the fourth largest in the world, Iraq represented a major conventional power at the beginning of the Persian Gulf conflict, buttressed by the might of unconventional weapons and a brutal dictator who promised "the Mother of All Battles."
In 1988, during the last major battle of the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam Hussein's troops killed 65,000 Iranians. Favored in that war by the U.S. government as the "lesser of two evils," Hussein was shipped extraordinary amounts of sophisticated military equipment--supplied mostly by the USSR, Great Britain, and France--which comprised the arsenal targeted at Coalition forces in the Gulf War.
The precipating event leading to the Gulf War came in February 1990 when Hussein told members of the Arab Cooperation Council he expected $30 billion to cover the Gulf states' share of costs from the Iran-Iraq war.
After a July 1990 meeting with Hussein, U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie reported Iraq would not use force against Kuwait. Despite assurances from Hussein, Iraqi troops invaded and occupied Kuwait on August 2. President George Bush declared the invasion as an act of aggression and deployed extra warships to the Gulf.
The United Nations condemned Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and demanded its immediate withdrawal. In a test of its post-cold-war strength, the UN sought to build an international coalition to liberate Kuwait and to regain its leadership role against an aggressor nation. Coalition members crossed all geographic and political boundaries, even gaining the support of the Arab League to send Arab troops to Saudi Arabia.
In August 1990, General Norman Schwarzkopt was named commander of Operation Desert Shield, the code name for the defensive phase of the Gulf War. Days later, a naval blockade of Iraq was mounted and all shipments of Iraqi oil were halted. In reaction, the Iraqi government announced that citizens of aggressor countries would be sent to vital military installation to be used as human shields.
At the start of the New Year, the Defense Department imposed censorship on war coverage by the 1,400 authorized reporters who had descended upon Saudi Arabia. To provide information without jeopardizing soldier safety, the military instituted the controversial tactic of organized pool reporting. President Bush arranged for Secretary of State James Baker and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz to meet in Geneva six days before the January 15 U.N. deadline. The meeting ended in stalemate, prompting the U.S. Congress to grant President Bush the authority to wage war to enforce U.N. resolutions against Iraq.
Operation Desert Storm officially began at 3 a.m. Bagdhad time on January 17 with air strikes at early-warning radar control stations throughout Iraq. The goal of the strategic bombing campaign was to bring chaos to Iraq's ability to wage war. The first twenty-four hours of precision air bombing saw more targets obliterated than those targeted in the 1942-43 bombing offensive in Europe, and by war's end, more bomb tonnage had been dropped on Iraq than had been dropped by U.S. forces during all of World War II. At the height of battle, some 500,000 American troops had been deployed to the Gulf. After six weeks of bombing, half of Iraq's frontline army had deserted. The Allied ground assault met little resistance, and on February 27, 1991, Kuwait was liberated. But the decision to end the war was controversial. Military strategists had to weigh the consequences of realizing their objectives of the war mission against the possibility that Americans would turn against the conflict if prolonged. The U.S. decision to accept the terms of cease-fire is still being debated today.
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