The Making of the Gulf War: Origins of Kuwait's Long-Standing Territorial Dispute with Iraq

By Entessar, Nader | The Middle East Journal, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

The Making of the Gulf War: Origins of Kuwait's Long-Standing Territorial Dispute with Iraq


Entessar, Nader, The Middle East Journal


The Making of the Gulf War: Origins of Kuwait's Long-Standing Territorial Dispute with Iraq, by H. Rahman. Berkshire, UK: Ithaca Press, 1997. xv + 327 pages. Appends. to p. 352. Bibl. to p. 359. Index to p. 378. $45.

Reviewed by.,Nar Enusar

There were numerous reasons for Iraq's August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, such as President Saddam Husayn's regional ambitions, Kuwait's alleged overproduction of oil at Iraq's expense, and border and territorial disputes. Iraq's invasion and occupation of Kuwait and the resulting Gulf War have received wide coverage, both in popular and scholarly publications. However, there are few detailed works on the historical border disputes between Iraq and Kuwait. This book, which is written by a senior research officer at the Research and Documents Division of the Diwan Amiri in Qatar, provides a balanced and thorough historical account of the territorial disputes between these two Persian Gulf neighbors. The author has relied on extensive primary documents from the India Office Library and Records and the Public Record Office in London, as well as secondary published work, to challenge Iraq's territorial claims to Kuwaiti territory.

Rahman traces the genesis of the Iraq-Kuwait boundary dispute to the beginning of the 20th century, when the Ottoman Empire established military outposts in Safwan, Umm Qasr and Bubiyan Island, thereby extending its reach to the northern Gulf region. The extension of Ottoman authority to these areas alarmed Sheikh Mubarak of Kuwait and caused him to declare that these areas, as well as the island of Warba, belonged to Kuwait. Subsequent negotiations between Britain-which had turned Kuwait into a protectorate-and Ottoman authorities led to recognition of Kuwait's ownership of the Bubiyan and Warba islands. After the First World War, Britain recognized Kuwait's sovereignty over Safwan and Umm Qasr, although Kuwait did not occupy those two places. As Rahman notes, this left the door open for future Iraqi challenges to Kuwait-Iraq boundary demarcations.

Iraq's emergence as an independent state in 1932 added a new dimension to the simmering territorial disputes between the two sides. In a September 1938 memorandum to the British government, Iraq claimed sovereignty over Kuwait. The basis of this claim was that, upon achieving independence, Iraq had inherited sovereignty over the Ottoman vilayet of Basra and its subordinate areas, including Kuwait. One of the major arguments in Rahman's book is that Kuwait had never been part of the Basra administration.

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