This January marks the 26th anniversary of the beginning of the Persian Gulf War, a conflict that displaced millions and would go on to set the pace of Middle Eastern dynamics in the twenty-first century. Here are 10 important things to know about the Gulf War.
- The conflict began on August 2, 1990, when Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein ordered the invasion of neighboring Kuwait by bombing their capital of Kuwait City and deploying 100,000 soldiers into the country. While Hussein demanded access to the country’s oil reserves, he also claimed to be supporting a popular revolution against Kuwait’s monarchy.
- The invasion was widely met with international criticism, drawing comments and sanctions from U.S. President George H.W. Bush and U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Hours after the invasion, the U.N. met in an emergency session, calling for Iraq’s immediate withdrawal from Kuwait, and imposing a worldwide ban on trade with Iraq.
- Standing opposed to Saddam Hussein was the Allied Coalition, consisting of 39 countries and 670,000 troops, over 60 percent of them from the U.S. Their initiative, Operation Desert Storm, began in January 1991, marking the beginning of international involvement.
- Much of the Allied Coalition’s concern centered on their fear that Iraq might invade Saudi Arabia in an attempt to take control of their oil reserves – had Hussein garnered control of these fields, he would have controlled the majority of the world’s oil supply.
- The U.S. Department of Defense estimated that the Gulf War cost more than $61 billion. The United States suffered 383 fatalities, while more than 10,000 Iraqis lost their lives in the fighting. Operation Desert Storm included the largest armored assault since World War II, as well as a battlefield that was the most well-prepared in the history of warfare.
- Estimates on the number of civilians killed during the conflict vary widely. During the war, Iraq downplayed this figure to maintain morale and dismiss the effectiveness of the Allied Coalition’s offensives. It is now generally agreed that roughly 3,000 Iraqi civilians lost their lives as a result of the war.
- Although a ceasefire was declared by President Bush on February 28, 1991, the economic sanctions imposed by the U.N. at the time of the invasion remained in place. A study released in 1995 indicated that as many 576,000 children may have died since the end of the war, with malnutrition running high and poised to increase.
- Just weeks after the ceasefire, in March 1991, uprisings against the Iraqi government erupted among Shi’a rebels in the south and northern Kurdish regions. The conflict was marked by extreme violence and mass executions of civilians, with victims burned alive, tortured, raped and murdered, often buried in mass graves – thousands more were “disappeared” after Saddam Hussein’s forces retook control of the country.
- By April 1991, the uprisings had been suppressed and Saddam Hussein remained in control of Iraq. At this time, almost a million refugees had spilled across the border into Iran, and 500,000 had fled north to Turkey. UNHCF mounted a massive airlift of humanitarian aid and supplies to Iran, but the need far exceeded provisions. In September, the organization launched a $35 million initiative to supply roofs for the homes of 350,000 displaced Iraqis.
- It is estimated that as many as five million people from 30 different countries were displaced as a result of the Gulf War. Countries throughout the world, as of June 1991, had donated an estimated $1.35 billion in aid to support the refugees of one of the largest migrations in human history.
Although brief, the Persian Gulf War in 1991 impacted the lives of millions throughout the region and cost billions in aid. The conflict went on to set the stage for Middle Eastern relations in the new millennium, acting as a precursor to the War in Iraq that began in 2003.
– Emily Marshall