Jan. 17 marks the 26th anniversary of the First Persian Gulf War in which the United States, led by former President George H.W. Bush, launched an operation against the Iraqi government of President Saddam Hussein in a bid to foil his invasion of Iraq’s oil-rich but weak neighbor Kuwait, which Saddam claimed was historically part of Iraq.
The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 was indirectly a bid to push Kuwait to reduce its oil production that was hurting Iraqi oil income, which Saddam urgently needed to make up for more than eight years of war with Iran that had ended just few years earlier.
Beyond its evident and catastrophic effect on Iraq and its people, the first Gulf War marked the beginning of a new world order, where the U.S. was emboldened by the fall of the Soviet Union.
The first Gulf War was the beginning of Washington’s expansion east as alliances between regional governments, most importantly military-capable Iraq, and the Soviet Union collapsed.
While he received support from the U.S. for his war with Iran in the period between 1980 and 1988, Saddam was never a Washington ally but in fact had his loyalty in Moscow, at least before the fall of the Soviet Union.
Despite Moscow’s strategic alliances with both Iraq and Iran prior to their war, the Soviet Union stood with Baghdad against Tehran for much of that war.
After initially having a policy of “strict neutrality” to the Iraqi-Iranian conflict, Moscow was afraid of losing its alliance with Iraq to the U.S., hence switching its policy to a massive military support and arms sales to Saddam until the conflict’s end in August 1988.
With the then highly-expected decline of Moscow in 1991, Washington seized the opportunity to not only undermine the strongest non-U.S. ally in the Middle East but also pushed for a loyal and U.S. militarized Persian Gulf.
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It was seen as the last blow to Moscow’s interests in the region as most of the Middle East was ruled by pro-Western leaders.
In February 1991, the U.S. and Kuwait signed a formal 10-year defense pact signed by that was renewed for another 10 years in 2002. The pact saw the deployment of 24,000 U.S. troops in Kuwait, which has 10 percent of the entire world's known oil reserves.
In the aftermath of the Gulf War, thousands of U.S. troops were also deployed in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain and dozens U.S. military bases were established or expanded.
Moreover, Saddam and Iraq, with a major military power, did not only threaten U.S. economic and political interests in the region but also constituted a threat to Israel, Washington's true ally in the region.
Since 1948 until the fall of Saddam in 2003, Baghdad was in a continuous state of war with Israel. Iraq sent armies to fight Israel in 1948 and 1967. Iraq also sent troops to provide support for Syria's armed forces in its war with Israel in 1973. During the Persian Gulf war in 1991, Iraq fired 40 Soviet-made Scud missiles at Israel.
Prior to the Gulf war, Iraq was the second largest oil producer in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia. Saddam was pushing for the nationalizing of all Iraqi war and turning his back to U.S. and Western buyers.
The undermining of the Iraqi government through the devastating strict economic sanctions effectively reordered the economic and political powers in the region, making all the Arab Gulf nations U.S.-aligned and crowning its key ally in the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia, as the most powerful Arab country.
The Iraqi decline was also the last step in decades-long efforts by the U.S. and Israel to neutralize all governments and armies in the region.
Away from the geopolitics of one of the most volatile regions in the world, the Gulf war brought devastation to the Iraqi people not through military means but by economic sanctions that saw the country descend into humanitarian and social crisis until the fall of Saddam in 2003 with a U.S. invasion.
''We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that,' Denis J. Halliday, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Iraq for part of the sanctions era, said in 1998. He was speaking of the systematic regime of economic sanctions the U.N. Security Council imposed against Iraq for 13 years post-Gulf War.
The U.S. military turned Iraq into a true living hell and bombed the country with no regard to civilians. | Photo: Reuters
Initial sanctions against Iraq were approved in August 1990 four days after the Iraqi government invasion of Kuwait.By the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the U.N. had expanded its sanctions against the country making it more dire.
It virtually limited all trade activities with the outside world except for medicine "in humanitarian circumstances" foodstuffs, which were strictly regulated. The sanctions were fully in force for 13 years until the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
According to a UNICEF report released in 2003, more than 500,000 Iraqi children died as a result of the lack of medicne in the country as a result of the 13-year sanctions. Meanwhile, in that same period, one-third all Iraqi children under the age of five became chronically malnourished
The U.N’s report also said typhoid fever, cholera epidemics appeared in the country due to lack of clean water.
The conclusion was the collective punishment by the world powers, led by the United States, of the Iraqi people and children for the political and military maneuvers of a long-time leader who was in most cases acting in his own capacity regardless of his people.
But the victims of those economic and political policies were the very Iraqis who Bush the father, and after his son George W. Bush, claimed they wanted to free from the “dictator” Saddam.
In fact, while many seek to make a distinction between the Gulf War and the U.S. invasion of Iraq some 13 years later, the two are are significantly intertwined.
While Bush the father opted not to intervene in Iraq and said the regime would fall on its own after its loss and the continued sanctions, the idea of an intervention and a regime change never really left the corderos of the White House and the U.S. Congress until it was realized in 2003.
"It is true that after the end of the  war there was a lot of talk about 'Why didn't you finish the job?' " Brent Scowcroft, who served as President George H.W. Bush's national security adviser, said in 2011. "And that continued until the second Gulf war. But we don't hear it anymore."
Even conservative defense analysts in the U.S. see the two wars as connected. Ivan Eland, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty, says the first Gulf War never really ended.
The Iraq War Never Ended
“[I]n fact the first war never ended and merely escalated into the second,” Eland, who opposes the U.S. Iraq invasion, wrote in an article Monday marking the anniversary of the Desert Storm operation.
“In between the two events, the war took the form of an allied no-fly zone, whereupon the fully demonized dictator Saddam didn’t even have control over his own country’s airspace and received periodic bombings.”
If anything the Gulf War in one way or another gave rise to global terrorism. Osama bin Laden, the late leader of al-Qaida and a former U.S. ally during the Soviet-Afghan war, had said the deployment of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia was one of the motives behind the Spet. 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S.,
Moreover, the 2003 Iraq invasion set in motion the recent rise of the Islamic State group, arguably one of the most notorious terrorist groups in modern history,
The “victorious” First Gulf War saw an emboldened U.S. escalating its decades-long imperialist policies in the Middle East in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union, while at the same time undermining a population for more than 13 years, some would argue until now, with harsh sanctions and two wars.