In the United States of America, it is almost beyond the bounds of acceptable discourse to address the question, why did Saddam Hussein invade Kuwait in 1990? Even to ask the question, one risks the appearance of supporting a repressive dictatorship, and to the extent that the question is entertained at all, the simplistic answer proffered by political leaders is that Saddam Hussein is an aggressive tyrant, bent on territorial acquisition and the subjugation of other nations. He is a modern day Hitler. The same answer is utilized to explain why Iraq invaded Iran in 1980. This standard answer is easy to accept, in part, because of the well-documented brutality of Saddam's regime, including human rights violations committed by his government against the Iraqi people, and especially the Kurds.
In spite of partial truths imbedded in this standard explanation, it smacks of propaganda. Much more needs to be understood by the American public before it allows its government to wage war against Iraq. The history of Iraq, Kuwait, Britain, and the United States reveals that the reasons for the Iraqi invasions of Kuwait and Iran are far more complex and interesting than the standard answer allows. Over a period of decades, and especially in recent years, Britain and the U.S. have consciously manipulated tensions in the region and have masterfully set into motion sequences of events leading to the Iraqi invasions. The purpose of these manipulations was to increase power and control over middle eastern governments and their oil resources by elite U.S. and British interests.
This short historical outline is far from comprehensive, and even the references are sketchy. The main purpose of this essay is to offer student peace activists, and others who might be unfamiliar with Middle Eastern history, a few key talking points and an historical context from which to support their efforts to block the drive toward war. This outline is organized by historical chronology into sections. Much of the beginning of this essay relies heavily on a single reference, Iraq and Kuwait: A History Suppressed, by Ralph Schoenman . Relevant web site addresses are sprinkled throughout and are provided for readers who seek a greater depth of understanding than this short outline alone provides.
The ancient civilizations of Sumer and Babylon originated in Mesopotamia (the Greek word for "between rivers"), near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is now Iraq. Modern day Kuwait began in the eighteenth century as a small village on the Persian Gulf. "Kuwait," the word for "small human settlement," was so named by Iraqi rulers of that era. Throughout the nineteenth century and up to World War I, Kuwait was a "Qadha," a district within the Basra Province, and it was an integral part of Iraq under the administrative rule of the Ottoman Empire.
As the victors of World War I, France and Britain dismantled the Ottoman Empire and the Arab nation for their own colonial purposes. The Iraq Petroleum Company was created in 1920 with 95% of the shares going to Britain, France, and the U.S. In order to weaken Arab nationalism, Britain blocked Iraqi access to the Persian Gulf by severing the territorial entity, "Kuwait" from the rest of Iraq in 1921 and 1922. This new British colony, Kuwait, was given artificial boundaries with no basis in history or geography. King Faisal I of the new Iraqi state ruled under British military oversight, but his administration never accepted the amputation of the Kuwait district and the denial of Iraqi access to the Persian Gulf. Attempts by Faisal to build a railway to Kuwait and port facilities on the Gulf were vetoed by Britain. These and other similar British colonial policies made Kuwait a focus of the Arab national movement in Iraq, and a symbol of Iraqi humiliation at the hands of the British.
Resistance to the British imposed separation of Kuwait from Iraq continued through the...
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