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Kuwait: Persian Gulf War, 1991
Country Study > Chapter 9 > Regional and National Security Considerations > Historical Overview > Persian Gulf War, 1991


Despite its huge losses in the Iran-Iraq War, Iraq was unchallenged as the most powerful military presence in the gulf area. Reviving Iraq's old territorial claims against Kuwait, Saddam Husayn called for the annexation of Bubiyan and Warbah islands at the mouth of the Shatt al Arab to give Iraq a clear passage to the gulf. He also accused Kuwait of illegally siphoning off oil from Ar Rumaylah field, one of the world's largest oil pools, which the two countries shared. Saddam Husayn threatened to use force against Arab oil producers, including Kuwait and the UAE, that exceeded their oil quotas, charging them with colluding with the United States to strangle the Iraqi economy by flooding the market with low-priced oil.

Although Iraq had accompanied its threats by moving troops to the border area, the world was largely taken by surprise when, on August 2, 1990, the Iraqi army invaded and occupied Kuwait. A force of about 120,000 soldiers and approximately 2,000 tanks and other armored vehicles met little resistance. The Kuwaiti army was not on the alert, and those troops at their posts could not mount an effective defense. Some aircraft operating from southern Kuwait attacked Iraqi armored columns before their air base was overrun, and they sought refuge in Saudi Arabia. Of the 20,000 Kuwaiti troops, many were killed or captured, although up to 7,000 escaped into Saudi Arabia, along with about forty tanks.

Having completed the occupation of Kuwait, the Iraqi armored and mechanized divisions and the elite Republican Guard advanced south toward Kuwait's border with Saudi Arabia. Intelligence sources indicated that the Iraqis were positioning themselves for a subsequent drive toward the Saudi oil fields and shipping terminals, possibly continuing toward the other gulf states.

In the first of a series of resolutions condemning Iraq, the United Nations (UN) Security Council on August 2 called for Iraq's unconditional and immediate withdrawal from Kuwait. In the ensuing months, a coalition force of more than 600,000 ground, sea, and air force personnel deployed to defend Saudi Arabia and to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait. Command of the force was divided: commander in chief of the United States Central Command, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, headed United States, British, and French units; his Saudi counterpart, Lieutenant General Khalid ibn Sultan ibn Abd al Aziz Al Saud, commanded units from twentyfour non-Western countries, including troops from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Kuwait, and the other gulf states. In addition to 20,000 Saudi troops and 7,000 Kuwaiti troops, an estimated 3,000 personnel from the other GCC states took part in the land forces of the coalition offensive, known as Operation Desert Storm.

When the massive coalition ground assault of Operation Desert Storm got under way on February 24, 1991, troops of the Persian Gulf states formed part of two Arab task forces. The first, Joint Forces Command North, consisting of Egyptian, Saudi, Syrian, and Kuwaiti troops, deployed on Kuwait's western border. Joint Forces Command East deployed along the gulf immediately south of Kuwait and consisted of about five brigades (each well below the strength of a regular Western brigade) from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar. The main attack was a sweeping movement by United States, British, and French forces in the west designed to cut the links between the Iraqi forces in Kuwait and their bases in Iraq. The Saudis and Kuwaitis on the western border of Kuwait, composed of about four brigades organized as the Khalid Division, together with an Egyptian regiment, breached Iraqi defenses after allied bombing and engineer operations blasted passages. Iraqi troops, although in strong positions, surrendered or streamed to the north. Units of Joint Forces Command East advanced up the coastal road, capturing the city of Kuwait on the third day of the offensive after light fighting and the surrender of thousands of Iraqi soldiers.

Data as of January 1993

Last Updated: January 1993

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Kuwait was first published in 1993. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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