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Iraq Issues

In July 1979 Iraqi President al-Bakr retired and was succeeded by General Saddam Hussein, believed to have been the true holder of power in Iraq for years.

The 1980-8 war between Iraq and Iran followed a series of disputes between them, particularly over the Shatt al-Arab, the waterway through which the Euphrates and the Tigris flow into the Gulf. Iraq had also tried to stir up unrest among the Arabs in Iran’s Khuzestan province; similarly, Iran wooed the Shias of Iraq; in this, neither had much success.

Iraq and Iran Conflicts

Iraq’s ruler, Saddam Hussein Takriti, invaded Iran in the mistaken belief that its army was too shaken by the Shah’s fall to offer much resistance. By 1982 the invaders had been pushed back to the frontier in most sectors. Saddam sued for peace, but the Iranian rulers said, they would fight on until he was brought down. They had blocked Basra, Iraq’s only port; Iraq could export oil by pipeline, but all its imports had to come in by costly road transport. Although Saddam obtained subsidies from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, Iraq’s economy was hard hit.

Iran’s ruling proclaimed a holy war (Jihad) and used ‘human sea’ tactics, sending forward wave after wave of men, and often children, to be mown down. (Iraq’s war dead exceeded 250,000, but Iran’s were three times as many.) By 1986 the Iranian forces had crossed the Shatt near its mouth, capturing Fao.

This ‘Gulf war’ spread to the Gulf itself in 1984, when Iraq began air attacks on Kharg Island, Iran’s main oil terminal. Iran then attacked ships using Kuwaiti ports, refusing to regard them as neutral. The ‘tanker war’ escalated; as Kuwait had no export pipelines, its l exports were particularly imperiled. In 1987 the United States took over some Kuwaiti tankers and provided escorts for them. By then British, French and other mine’sweepers were in the Gulf; the 75 warships there included Soviet ones, protecting Soviet tankers chartered by Kuwait. Iran had threatened to close the Gulf to all shipping - using missiles deployed near the Hormuz strait - but the maritime powers’ angry reactions deterred it.

In 1988, United Nations pressure on Iran secured a ceasefire, to Saddam’s relief. In 1990, after making a second disastrous mistake by underestimating the reactions .to his swoop on Kuwait, he had to appease Iran He pulled his troops out of the small areas in Iran which they still held, and agreed to share control of the Shatt, abandoning his primary war aim of obtaining full control of the waterway Thus, his eight-year war had left an impoverished Iraq with no gains of any kind.

Iraq was also left with a large army and a frustrated, dictatorial and still ambitious ruler. Its weaker Arab neighbours eyed it anxiously It became known that Iraq was producing poison gas at Samarra (it had used gas against Iran and its own Kurds), and it was detected Trying to buy components for long-range ‘super-guns’ and for nuclear weapons. Soon Saddam was pressing KuWait to hand over some border areas and oilfields.

In 1961 Iraq - then ruled by General Qasim, who had seized power in 1958 — had asserted a claim to the whole of Kuwait. The other Arab states opposed this claim (Kuwait ‘ever been part of an independent Iraq). The British force sent to protect Kuwait in 1961 soon replaced by an Arab League force, which remained there until Iraq renounced its oar n 1963.

In August 1990, Saddams army attacked and overran Kuwait, and he announced its annexation . The UN Security Council ordered Iraq to withdraw, imposed a trade embargo and other sanctions, and authorized the use of ‘all necessary means’ to make Iraq withdraw if it had not done so by mid-January 1991. The Arab League approved the sending of troops to protect Saudi Arabia, in response to urgent Saudi appeals.

Under the trade embargo, the pipelines carrying Iraqi oil across Turkish and Saudi territory were shut, and the Saudis clearly risked a retaliatory attack. An American-led coalition mustered air, ground and naval forces in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf They came from America, Britain, Canada, France, the USSR and 20 other countries; among these, notably, were seven Arab states (including Egypt and Syria) and four other Muslim states (including Bangladesh and Pakistan).

When the January 1991 deadline arrived, air attacks on Iraq began. In February, Kuwait was liberated in four days by American, British, French, Egyptian, Syrian, Saudi and other Arab forces. The fleeing Iraqi troops carried off all the loot they could, an set many of Kuwait’s oilfields on fire; it took nine months to extinguish these fires.

During this brief ‘second ,Gulf war’, Saddam fired Scud missiles into Israel as well a into Saudi Arabia. Israel did not hit back; it thus defeated his plan to drag it into the war so that he could pose as the champion of Arab grievances against Israel diverting attention from his aggression against an Arab state. Among the Arabs, only Jordan, Sudan, Yemen and the PLO had hailed his swoop on Kuwait; and all of these except Sudan switched to condemning it when they felt the effects of other Arab states’ anger.

Defeated, Iraq had to admit a UN monitoring commission whose task was to discover and destroy in stocks of, and capacity for making, nuclear, biological or chemical ‘weapons of mass destruction’ (WMD5). The ban on Iraqi oil exports, imposed in 1990, was to be maintained until the commission completed its work. However, Iraq was offered the opportunity to sell a limited amount of oil, provided that part of the proceeds went to victims of its aggression against Kuwait and that the rest went to buy food, to be distributed under UN supervision. After protesting for several years that these conditions were unacceptably humiliating, Iraq accepted them in 1996.

Other restraints on Iraq after the 1991 conflict included the imposition of ‘no-fly zones’ on its air force. The northern zone was created to prevent air attacks on the Kurdish area near the Turkish frontier, and the southern covered the Shia region south of Baghdad.

The Iraqis repeatedly tried to obstruct the UN commission, but its inspection teams worked on patiently through 1998, when Iraq refused to co-operate further. Bombing of military targets by the US and Britain through 2003 did not bring Iraq into full compliance with UN requirements, though home progress was made in 2002. The US, Britain and Spain then sought UN Security Council agreement for military action but were opposed by most other members, including Russia, France and Germany which favored a greater inspection effort.

Without UN approval but aided by a coalition of the willing’, the US invaded . March 2003 quickly routing the Iraqi army and seizing Baghdad (Saddam Hussein was not captured until December). Investigation over the next year found no remaining WMDs.

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