The First Gulf War, 1990–91
On 2 August 1990 Iraq invaded its rival oil-exporting neighbour Kuwait. The invasion was widely condemned, and four days later the United Nations (UN) Security Council unanimously approved a trade embargo against Iraq. A blockade of Iraq’s access to the sea followed within weeks, as the United States assembled a large multinational task force in the Persian Gulf, while another was formed in Saudi Arabia.
By the end of 1990 the coalition force numbered some 40,000 troops from 30 countries, although the United States remained the dominant partner in the coalition. In November 1990 the UN Security Council set 15 January 1991 as the deadline for an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. Iraq failed to comply, and on 17 January full-scale war erupted when coalition forces began an air bombardment of Iraqi targets. Within four days, coalition forces destroyed the Iraqi invading forces and drove the remnants out of Kuwait, although the Iraqis retained significant military strength intact in Iraq. The air bombardment continued without respite until the war ended 43 days later.
On 24 February 1991, after more than a month of air attacks, the coalition’s ground forces moved against Iraqi positions in Kuwait and in Iraq itself. The magnitude and decisiveness of these strikes destroyed what was left of Iraq’s capacity to resist. After two days of air strikes, Baghdad radio announced that Iraq’s armed forces had been ordered to withdraw from Kuwait to the positions they had occupied before August 1990. Two days after this order, the coalition ceased hostilities and declared victory. Coalition losses amounted to 166 killed, many by “friendly fire”. At least 100,000 Iraqis had been killed.