bARABie – Hard Hitting Facts



In order to lessen its dependence on Soviet arms, Iraq tried to diversify its sources of armaments by turning to Western Europe and even to the United States. Perhaps a broader reason for the redirection of Iraq’s foreign policy was Hussein’s perception of the Middle East situation after the downfall of the Shah of Iran and Egypt’s isolation in the Arab world which followed the Camp David accords and the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.

After the overthrow of the Shah, Hussein hoped to fill the power vacuum and to assume Arab leadership. Since the creation of the Israeli state in 1948, the only other leadership in the Middle East was provided by Syria and also by Iran until the fall of the Shah in 1979. Iraq’s credentials for Arab leadership were quite impressive: a rich oil-producing country with a solid industrial and agricultural base, a literate population, a well-equipped army and a pan-Arab ideology.

First, Hussein sought to link together the Arab world in this post-colonial era and to make Islam a common bond among the Arab countries. As charismatic leader of the Arab world, he hoped to replace Assad or Mubarak in the struggle for pan-Arabism. Hussein sought to control Middle Eastern resources in an area where 6 percent of the people control 50 percent of the wealth.

Second, no border settlement had ever been reached between Iraq and Kuwait. Iraq’s southern border with Kuwait dates back to an agreement with Turkey in 1913 which was never ratified. Kuwait was the administrative subdistrict of the Iraqi province of Basra. Iraq was declared independent in 1932 and came under the control of the Hashemite family who also ruled Jordan. In 1961 Kuwait was given its independence. Iraqi troops invaded but left soon after British troops returned in 1961. Again in 1973, Iraqi troops crossed into Kuwait but again withdrew after occupying a Kuwaiti fort for a short time. Much of the disputed area included the Neutral Zone which consisted of 2,000 square miles was negotiated in 1969. Both nations agreed not to lay claim to this oil-rich area.

Third, Iraq had claims to Kuwaiti oil during the Iran-Iraq War. Iraq spent $150 billion and close to one million lives were lost. During the 1980-88 war, Kuwait had increased its oil production by one million barrels per day in violation of OPEC. Kuwait robbed Iraq of part of this pool of oil, thus depressing the price of oil by increased production.

Fourth, Kuwait drilled laterally into the Rumaila oilfield of which 90 percent is located within Iraqi territory. Prior to the invasion Kuwait had extracted approximately ten million barrels of oil from Rumaila. This was 0.5 percent of its total production of 2 million barrels per day and amounted to approximately $2.4 billion during the eight year war.

Fifth, Kuwait violated OPEC quotas. At the Baghdad summit on May 30, 1990, Iraq claimed that the Gulf countries in early 1990 produced more than the OPEC limits as agreed upon. Oil prices dropped as much as $7 per barrel, although the OPEC countries agreed upon $18 per barrel. Hussein claimed that each one dollar drop in a barrel amounted to a loss of $1 billion per year.

Sixth, Iraq sought access to the Persian Gulf. In 1973 Iraq pressed Kuwait to lease the uninhabited islands of Warba and Bubiyan. Iraq had only 15 miles of shoreline which it was unable to use because of marshy land. In addition, a northeast Kuwaiti Gulf estuary fell 10 miles short of Basra. Even Kuwait had subsidized the digging of a deep water port for Iraq.

Seventh, Kuwait claimed that it had floated a “loan” of $17 billion to Iraq in the eight year Iran-Iraq War. Hussein believed that in this process he had protected Kuwait from an Iranian invasion. In 1988, he proposed to meet with Kuwaitis. When they refused to negotiate, Hussein attempted to bring in Saudi Arabia as a mediator but negotiations collapsed.

Eighth, Kuwait refused to negotiate with Iraq On three occasions in the latter part of the Iran-Iraq War, Jordan’s King Hussein attempted to resolve the oil dispute and $17 billion loan. Each time it failed. King Hussein was finally told: “It is in Iraq’s interest to have this as part of their national debt.” King Hussein then flew to Kuwait to ask the Sabahs to soften their position toward Iraq, but this mission ended in a failure. In May 1990 Saddam Hussein not only asked for the forgiveness of the $17 billion but for an additional $30 billion from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. At the July 1990 meeting, Kuwaiti foreign minister Sabah began making sarcastic remarks about the 100,000 Iraqis who were lined up at the Kuwaiti border. At the next day’s meeting, the Kuwaitis offered Iraqi vice-president Ibrahim $500,000. Neither the border dispute nor the disputed oil field issue was discussed.



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