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The Gulf War

KC‑9.3.I.C (KC)
Unit 9: Learning Objective C
WOR (Theme)
In 1991, the United States led a UN coalition to liberate Kuwait from Iraq.


  • In August 1990, Iraq invaded the country of Kuwait to its southeast in a bid to gain more control over the lucrative oil supply of the Middle East.
  • In response, the United States and the UN Security Council demanded that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein withdraw Iraqi troops from Kuwait, but Hussein refused.
  • Over the course of six weeks in January and February 1991, a United States-led coalition of 34 nations began an intensive bombing campaign against strategic Iraqi locations, culminating with a four-day ground campaign against Iraqi forces known as Operation Desert Storm.
  • At the end of February, Hussein signed a cease-fire agreement and released Kuwait. After the war, Iraq was required to submit to inspections to ensure it possessed no chemical or other weapons of mass destruction.

Iraqi aggression, oil, and power

The Gulf War started on August 2, 1990 when the forces of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded oil-rich Kuwait. Hussein hoped that Kuwait's oil reserves would help to pay off the massive debt Iraq had accrued in its recent war with Iran, as well as give Iraq significant bargaining power as the gatekeeper to Middle Eastern oil.start superscript, 1, end superscript
Map showing Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.
Map of the Persian Gulf region. Map adapted from Wikimedia Commons.
US officials worried that the invasion of Kuwait might be Iraq's first step in a larger effort to consolidate its power over other nations in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia. With about one million soldiers in its armed forces, the Iraq Army was the world’s fourth largest military force—in part, ironically, because the United States had furnished weapons to Iraq to aid in its fight against Iran. (The United States and Iran had been on bad terms since 1979, when Islamic fundamentalists had ousted the pro-American government in Iran and taken American embassy workers hostage.)squared
Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait posed a geopolitical oil crisis. If Saddam Hussein gained control of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, he would have control over twenty percent of world oil reserves and become the world’s dominant oil power. As President George H.W. Bush explained, ''Our jobs, our way of life, our own freedom and the freedom of friendly countries around the world would all suffer if control of the world's great oil reserves fell into the hands of Saddam Hussein.''cubed
The United States and United Nations Security Council immediately condemned the invasion. The Security Council passed resolutions placing economic sanctions on Iraq and set a deadline of January 15, 1991 for Iraq to withdraw forces from Kuwait.start superscript, 4, end superscript

The Gulf War

The response to the invasion of Kuwait took place in two stages:

Operation Desert Shield (August 1990 - January 17, 1991)

Five days after Iraq invaded Kuwait, President Bush commenced Operation Desert Shield. Building a 34-nation coalition in the United Nations and enhancing US troop strength in the region to more than 500,000, the president explained Operation Desert Shield as “a line in the sand”—both to protect Saudi Arabia and liberate Kuwait.start superscript, 5, end superscript

Operation Desert Storm (January 17 - February 28, 1991)

Operation Desert Storm was the combat phase of the conflict. It began with a five-week bombing campaign of some 2,000 sorties a day that employed "smart bombs"—bombs able to find their target with pinpoint accuracy—against a broad range of strategic Iraqi targets. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell, and General Norman Schwarzkopf orchestrated the US-led attack.start superscript, 6, end superscript
Photograph of US Air Force fighter jets flying in formation, with burning oil wells smoking in the background.
US Air Force war planes flying over burning oil wells during Operation Desert Storm, 1991. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Iraq, in turn, launched largely-ineffective short-range "Scud" missiles at civilian and military targets in Saudi Arabia and Israel.start superscript, 7, end superscript
The Gulf War was the first American conflict shown on live television (though footage from the Vietnam War was shown on TV, video coverage of events lagged by several days). CNN aired live images of bombs exploding and other events of the war onto people’s home television sets.start superscript, 8, end superscript

The end of the Gulf War

After the four-day ground campaign, by February 28, Iraqi forces fled Kuwait (having set fire to hundreds of oil wells). President Bush declared a ceasefire, and the Gulf War was over. Kuwait had been liberated.start superscript, 9, end superscript
Saddam Hussein was allowed to remain in power in Iraq, though Iraq was subsequently required to submit to searches for weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). President Bush had built the UN coalition around removing Iraq from Kuwait, not around the ouster of Saddam Hussein, and the decision to allow Hussein to remain in power proved controversial.start superscript, 10, end superscript
The Gulf War was hardly the end of United States involvement in the Middle East. Rather, it signaled that at the end of the twentieth century, the foreign policy of the United States was becoming ever-more enmeshed in the politics of the Middle East.start superscript, 11, end superscript
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a second war in Iraq began in 2003 after US intelligence agencies and spy agencies around the world asserted that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.start superscript, 12, end superscript

What do you think?

Was the United States led effort to oust Iraq from Kuwait a prudent one?
What did the United States hope to accomplish in the Gulf War?
What might the consequences have been if Iraq had been allowed to annex Kuwait?

Want to join the conversation?

  • leafers seed style avatar for user chaffinwesley
    when did saudi arabia ask the us for help
    (6 votes)
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  • starky ultimate style avatar for user Ballisticyoda
    I thought America invaded Kuwait because if Iraq took over the oil in Kuwait it would cut off oil supplies in America. I didn't know that they did it on the thought of other countries as well. As President George H.W. Bush explained,like the text says

    ''Our jobs, our way of life, our own freedom and the freedom of friendly countries around the world would all suffer if control of the world's great oil reserves fell into the hands of Saddam Hussein.''

    Or was this something Bush said to justify the defense of Kuwait as not just selfishly for the US?
    (2 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user AlexObviously
    It states, ''terrorist attacked of September 11'' however, two years later a second war began in 2003 in Iraq,so therefore what is it implying, exactly?
    (1 vote)
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    • leaf orange style avatar for user jasonberning
      It does kind of leave one with many questions the way that was put. So I will answer in a way that hopefully will be most helpful.
      1. As a result of 911, the United States took a much stronger stance and began a war on terrorism.
      2. Hussein turns away UN inspectors.
      3. President George W. Bush (not his father, President George H.W. Bush) delivers his "Axis of Evil" speech which names three nations that are likely to harbor terrorists and give them WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction).
      4. Intelligence reports from multiple sources say that Iraq is building WMDs.
      5. President George W. Bush decides to invade and overthrow the Hussein controlled Iraqi government.
      When the troops arrived and had toppled the government, they found that in fact, Hussein had no WMDs and in fact was not as close to being able to produce them as was let on. This decision to invade Iraq has been debated many times over about whether we should have gone. Some people said that it was wrong to attack just because we expected to be attacked, others say that Hussein needed to go and make sure that we and others are made safer.
      (3 votes)
  • mr pink red style avatar for user Karen
    Was Iraq's only source of weapons from the United States?
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user nsmiles12
    Why did the United States need more than 500,000 troops in the region?
    (1 vote)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded the independent nation of Kuwait. Within 5 days the United States began to deploy troops to the region. Ultimately, in response to United Nations Resolution 678, a coalition of 41 countries mobilized a force of almost 1 million soldiers, 700,000 of whom were U.S. troops. You ask why? Because it could be done, that's why. The level of force was as much about scaring the Iranians as it was about defeating the Iraqis.
      (1 vote)
  • starky seed style avatar for user yoboijaydis
    Was the United States led effort to oust Iraq from Kuwait a prudent one?
    (1 vote)
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  • leafers tree style avatar for user Leafy!!!!!!
    Why did the US want oil exactly? What were the economic benefits of it at this time?
    (0 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      Transportation and industry in America run on the fuels derived from fossil fuels. In fact, transportation and industry all over the world require that oil be pumped out of the ground and refined into fuels. If a group of major suppliers to the world market were cut off from shipping their oil out, the entire world (not just the USA and the suppliers) would experience a major setback. It was about the world economy, and about the profits reaped by US headquartered petroleum companies and their stockholders.
      (2 votes)
  • hopper jumping style avatar for user LEGENDARY_L Gaming
    Hey guys, if you really want to help a brother out, upvote this comment 10 times and I will be sure to upvote ALL of you if possible. Thanks. #Neverstoplosing
    (0 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Annabelle
    Why was it called operation desert storm, did I miss something, or do other people have this question? Well I actually know why this happened but I could help other people if they needed it.
    (0 votes)
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  • area 52 purple style avatar for user takundb3479
    why is Iran still called persia and did it fight iraq
    (0 votes)
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