Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

War in the Gulf (1990-1991): The Iraq-Kuwait Conflict and Its Implications

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

War in the Gulf (1990-1991): The Iraq-Kuwait Conflict and Its Implications

Article excerpt

War in the Gulf (1990-1991): The Iraq-Kuwait Conflict and Its Implications

The Gulf war began with Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990 (Aug. 1 in the U.S.). It ended with a U.S.-led military coalition expelling Iraq from Kuwait in Jan./Feb. 1991. Those are the bare bones of War in the Gulf by eminent retired professor/author Majid Khadduri and writer/journalist Edmund Ghareeb, Khadduri's son-in-law. Khadduri for decades was professor and distinguished research professor at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), in Washington, DC.

But "bare bones" vastly understates the really astonishing depth, detail and scholarship poured into Parts I (Origins of the Gulf War), II (Immediate Causes), III (Stages of the War), and IV (Responsibilities for the War) of this book. The fact that both authors, Iraqi-born Khadduri and Lebanese-born Ghareeb, are equally at home in English and Arabic, have ready access to documents in both languages, and also to many Middle East officials enabled them to look deeply into every aspect of their broad subject.

For example, on a point of Middle East history about which I always knew I was not fully informed, I learned from the book the circumstances of Britain's taking the Shaikh of Kuwait "under its protection" in 1899 which, of course, was the genesis of the current Iraq-Kuwait dispute. I knew that in that period Kuwait had been a part of the Ottoman Turkish district of Basra, the rest of which later became part of Iraq. I had always understood that imperial Britain took over Kuwait to thwart Germany from having a proper outlet on the Arabian Gulf for its rumored Berlin-to-Baghdad railway.

But that was only part of the story. In fact, according to Khadduri and Ghareeb, the Shaikh of Kuwait was also keenly interested in the connection, and Britain was uneasy about Russian as well as German ambitions in the Gulf area.

War in the Gulfs examination of the Kuwait-British tie illustrates the comprehensiveness of this volume. The authors clarify another point of particular interest to Middle East specialists, especially U.S. diplomats and journalists. Were U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad April Glaspie's remarks to Iraqi President Saddam Hussain on July 25, 1990, when she saw him for the first time since her arrival in Iraq, so soft and polite that he might have misread what President Bush was likely to do if Iraq seized Kuwait? Or was the Iraqi president ready to go for broke no matter what the consequences? Khadduri and Ghareeb provide every relevant detail and then, in their calm, detached style, leave readers to make up their own minds.

The authors refute media speculation of the time that President George Bush was ready to accept Iraq's aggression and that it was only his previously scheduled meeting immediately after the Iraqi invasion with visiting British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Colorado that put steel into his backbone. Khadduri and Ghareeb show that the president had already made up his mind that Iraq had to leave Kuwait, and that Bush's "slow to get cranked up" temperament led to the speculation that he had been uncertain about what to do.

Khadduri and Ghareeb examine whether the Gulf war was inevitable. Their conclusion is a reasoned no. …

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