The U-2 in Desert Storm Chapter 1 Behind the Invasion



The Dragon Lady Meets the Challenge
The U-2 in Desert Storm

Chapter 1 Behind the Invasion


At 0100* on 2 August 1990, Saddam Hussein's Iraqi army swarmed across the common border with Kuwait. Caught unaware and vastly outnumbered, Kuwaiti forces were not on alert and offered little resistance. By 0700 Iraq had captured Kuwait City and driven the Kuwaiti emir and his government into exile. By nightfall, most of Kuwait's air force had fled to Saudi Arabia, those military members who remained were either dead or prisoners of war, and Iraq occupied the entire country. Saddam's army then massed 100,000 troops at the Kuwaiti-Saudi Arabian border, poised for a strike against the poorly defended Saudi oil fields. Within two days Iraq had 200,000 men in Kuwait and more than 1,000,000 reserves and reservists at home ready to mobilize.

*All times are local times, which are Zulu + 3.

The invasion not only caught the Kuwaitis off-guard, it surprised world leaders from Riyadh to Washington. Saudi Arabia's King Fahd Bin Abdel Aziz told his people, "They took the whole world by surprise when the Iraqi forces stormed the brotherly state of Kuwait in the most sinister aggression witnessed by the Arab nation in its history." Given the history of Iraqi-Kuwaiti relations and Saddam Hussein's ruthlessness and unpredictability, the surprise is that the invasion was unexpected.

For six centuries, until World War I, both Iraq and Kuwait were part of the Ottoman Empire. The Empire was already crumbling when the Ottoman Turks joined the Germans against the Allies in World War I. The victorious Allies lost little time partitioning the Empire after the war. Kuwait became a British protectorate. In 1922, trying to end bickering between the Middle Eastern states, British High Commissioner Sir Percy Cox redrew the map of the area. To satisfy Iraqi demands for territory Cox gave Iraq lands that had traditionally belonged to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. To compensate Saudi Arabia for its loss, Cox carved off another piece of Kuwait for its western neighbor. The arrangement left Iraq unsatisfied, Saudi Arabia-furious, and tiny Kuwait licking its wounds.2

A few years later, in 1938, drillers discovered oil in the Kuwaiti desert, but exploitation did not begin until 1946, following World War II. Oil production quickly transformed Kuwait from a poverty-ridden, backward state into a modern nation. By 1961, Great Britain believed the tiny country could survive on its own and declared Kuwait free and independent on 19 June 1961.3 Six days later Iraq, covetous of Kuwait's oil and deep water port, claimed the newly independent country as part of Iraq and amassed troops along the common border to enforce the claim. Kuwait's emir asked Great Britain for help and the British returned to protect Kuwait. Kuwait then joined the Arab League, which denied Iraq's claim. Iraq withdrew its army, but did not withdraw its claim for another two years.4

Under the protective wing of the Arab League and the watchful eye of Great Britain, Kuwait prospered during the 1960s and 70s. Oil-generated wealth provided jobs, homes, education, and medical care for all Kuwaitis. Kuwaitis became so wealthy they shunned menial labor and hired "third country nationals," including other Arabic peoples, to do most of the unpleasant work. Kuwait became the envy of the Arab world.

Iraq, meanwhile, had also developed its huge oil reserves. Instead of using its new-found wealth to build houses, roads, schools, and hospitals, however, Iraq bought guns, planes, and tanks. From 1961 to 1968, internal dissension, including coups, counter-coups, and war against the dissident Kurds, occupied Iraq. In 1968 the Baath Party seized control of the government. Family and tribal ties molded the party's leadership into a close-knit unit. The party's top leaders, including Saddam Hussein, were almost all military men.5

A failed coup attempt shortly after the Baath Party came to power gave Saddam an opportunity to display his "talents." He directed a series of purges from 1968 to 1973 resulting in mock trials and executions. Other opponents of the party were assassinated without benefit of even a mock trial. Intimidated survivors quickly acquiesced to the Baath Party's demands. In 1970 the party issued a provisional constitution that consolidated extensive governmental powers into the hands of party leaders.6

As governmental power concentrated into the hands of the Baath Party, the party's hands most often belonged to two men: Ahmad Hasan al Bakr and Saddam Hussein. Bakr, the leader, had worked for more than ten years to gain the army's support and to bring the party legitimacy. Hussein, by 1969 the power behind the Baath Party, was more adept at clandestine activities, often outmaneuvering or simply assassinating the opposition. As Bakr became increasing ill during the 1970s, he relied more frequently on Hussein. On 16 July 1979, Bakr resigned and Saddam Hussein replaced him as president of Iraq, commander of the military, Secretary General of the Baath Party Regional Command, and chairman of the party's Revolutionary Command Council.7

Relations between Iraq and neighboring Iran, meanwhile, deteriorated. In 1969 the shah abrogated the 1937 treaty that set the border between the two countries. The Iraqis retaliated by sending aid to anti-shah rebels. The shah then resumed aid to the Kurdish rebels in Iraq. After Iran occupied islands in the Persian Gulf that had been under the sovereignty of the United Arab Emirates, Saddam and the Iraqis turned their attention to Bubiyan and Warbah, two Kuwaiti islands guarding Iraq's 26-mile coastline and only port. Saddam demanded that Kuwait either sell or lease the islands to Iraq. When Kuwait refused, Iraqi troops occupied As Samitah, a border town in northeast Kuwait in March 1973. When Saudi Arabia and the Arab League came to Kuwait's aid, Saddam's forces withdrew. In 1975 Saddam and the shah signed a treaty that settled their border dispute and Iraq relinquished all claims to Bubiyan and Warbah.8

Following the truce with Iran, Saddam initiated economic reforms to strengthen Iraq and solidify his hold on the country. A state sponsored industrial modernization plan increased Iraq's manufacturing output and tied the industrial sector to Saddam's central government. Other programs gave the average Iraqi greater access to education and land, improved his social mobility, and increased his income by redistributing part of the nation's wealth. The changes also converted many former enemies of Saddam and his party to loyal supporters. A quadrupling of oil prices in 1973 helped finance the reforms. For the first time in modern history, Iraqi factions had united in a national community. Saddam Hussein believed Iraq was ready to become a leader in the Arab world.9

Unfortunately for Saddam, as he prepared to assume his new position in the Arab community, the community drastically changed. In February 1979, a radical Shiah Islamic cleric, Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini, whom Saddam had expelled from Iraq a few months earlier, overthrew the shah and took control of Iran. Khomeini immediately began converting the country into a fundamentalist Muslim nation. Shiite Muslims in Iraq, who included more than half the country's people but with little political power, cheered Khomeini's success and the purges that followed. The Iranian revolution offered the impoverished sharecropping peasants and slum-dwelling Iraqi Shiites hope, but posed both internal and external threats to Saddam.10

The internal threat appeared quickly. In July 1979, after bloody riots in two Iraqi cities, Saddam discovered Ad Dawah, a secret Shiite group with ties to Iran, had incited the rioters. A few months later, in April 1980, Ad Dawah attempted to assassinate Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi foreign minister. The group then apparently tried to kill the Iraqi Minister of Culture and Information. Saddam arrested Ad Dawah members or supporters and deported thousands of Iranian-born Shiites. When Iraqi troops captured the presumed leader of Ad Dawah and his sister, Saddam executed them both. The threat to his own government and the apparent weakness of Iran following Khomeini's government and military purges convinced Saddam the time was right to reassert his claim to the Shatt al Arab waterway-that divided the two countries and other areas along the border.11

On 22 September 1980, without warning, Iraqi jet fighters struck Iranian airfields near Teheran and other bases throughout the country. Protected by reinforced hangars, the Iranian aircraft survived the attack and immediately retaliated against Iraqi cities. But Iraqi ground forces met little resistance as they drove nearly fifty miles into Iran. Besides conventional weapons, Iraq used mustard gas and nerve gas on the Iranians, inflicting about 10,000 casualties. Slowly Iran regrouped and repelled the invaders. By 1984 the two sides were essentially at a stalemate, but the fighting continued until August 1988.12 **Saddam also used chemical weapons to help subdue the Kurds in 1988.

Despite suffering several hundred thousand casualties, the Iraqi Army grew larger and stronger during the war. Kuwait, fearing a Khomeini-led fundamentalist Islamic revolution throughout the Middle East if Iran won, had lent Saddam between twelve and fifteen billion dollars to modernize his military and fight Iran. By August 1990 Iraq's army, with 900 thousand troops in uniform and another million in civilian reserves, was the fourth largest in the world. It was well-equipped with 5,700 tanks, including Soviet- made T-55s and T-62s, and 3,700 artillery pieces. The Iraqi Air Force, the sixth largest in the world, possessed 950 combat aircraft, including MIG-21s and MIG-23s. 13

In 1990 Iraq had a formidable fighting force; but the war had left a forty billion-dollar debt. Unable to defeat Iran, Saddam again turned covetous eyes toward Kuwait. In July 1990 he accused Kuwait of ruining Iraq's economy by overproducing oil and demanded the Kuwaitis decrease production. He also claimed the Kuwaitis were "slant" drilling in the Rumaila oilfield near the Iraq-Kuwait border and stealing Iraqi oil. Saddam also insisted that Kuwait lease Bubiyan and Warbah to Iraq and forgive the billions in war loans. To emphasize his demands, Saddam moved about 100,000 troops to the Kuwaiti border. 14

Intense negotiations sought to avoid armed conflict. Saudi, Jordanian, and Egyptian leaders flew to Baghdad to reason with Saddam. He reassured them that he would not invade Kuwait. Saudi Arabia's King Fahd arranged a meeting at Jeddah with Saddam and other Arab heads of state. The Iraqi delegation left in anger when Kuwait did not meet Iraq's unreasonable demands. Still, King Fahd, the Kuwaitis, and much of the world were surprised a few days later, on 2 August 1990, when Saddam Hussein ordered his army across the border into Kuwait. 15    

Notes Chapter 1

l.Speech, King Fahd to Saudi Arabia, 9 Aug 90.

2.Jean P. Sasson, The Rape of Kuwait (New York: Knightsbridge Publishing Co., 1991), 1-8.

3.Ibid, 9.


5.Helen C. Metz, ea., Iraq: a country study (Washington DC: Library of Congress, 1990), 57-58.


7.Ibid, 58-59.

8.Ibid, 60-61.

9.Ibid, 62.

10.Ibid 63.

11.Ibid, 232.

12.Ibid, 232-238.

13.Richard P. Hallion, Storm Over Iraq: Air Power and the Gulf War (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992), 128; Iraq, 233-235; The Rape of Kuwait, 12-13.

14.Rape of Kuwait, 12-13.

15.Ibid, 13-14.



The Dragon Lady Meets the Challenge
The U-2 in Desert Storm