Persian Gulf Wars

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Persian Gulf Wars

Persian Gulf Wars, two conflicts involving Iraq and U.S.-led coalitions in the late 20th and early 21st cent.

The First Persian Gulf War, also known as the Gulf War, Jan.–Feb., 1991, was an armed conflict between Iraq and a coalition of 39 nations including the United States, Britain, Egypt, France, and Saudi Arabia; 28 nations contributed troops. It was a result of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990; Iraq then annexed Kuwait, which it had long claimed. Iraqi president Saddam Hussein declared that the invasion was a response to overproduction of oil in Kuwait, which had cost Iraq an estimated $14 billion a year when oil prices fell. Hussein also accused Kuwait of illegally pumping oil from Iraq's Rumaila oil field.

The UN Security Council called for Iraq to withdraw and subsequently embargoed most trade with Iraq. On Aug. 7, U.S. troops moved into Saudi Arabia to protect Saudi oil fields. On Nov. 29, the United Nations set Jan. 15, 1991, as the deadline for a peaceful withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait. When Saddam Hussein refused to comply, Operation Desert Storm was launched on Jan. 18, 1991, under the leadership of U.S. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf.

The U.S.-led coalition began a massive air war to destroy Iraq's forces and military and civil infrastructure. Iraq called for terrorist attacks against the coalition and launched Scud missiles at Israel (in an unsuccessful attempt to widen the war and break up the coalition) and at Saudi Arabia. The main coalition forces invaded Kuwait and S Iraq on Feb. 24 and, over the next four days, encircled and defeated the Iraqis and liberated Kuwait. When U.S. President George H. W. Bush declared a cease-fire on Feb. 28, most of the Iraqi forces in Kuwait had either surrendered or fled.

Although the war was a decisive military victory for the coalition, Kuwait and Iraq suffered enormous property damage, and Saddam Hussein was not removed from power. In fact, Hussein was free to turn his attention to suppressing internal Shiite and Kurd revolts, which the U.S.-led coalition did not support, in part because of concerns over the possible breakup of Iraq if the revolts were successful. Coalition peace terms were agreed to by Iraq, but every effort was made by the Iraqis to frustrate implementation of the terms, particularly UN weapons inspections.

In 1993 the United States, France, and Britain launched several air and cruise-missile strikes against Iraq in response to provocations, including an alleged Iraqi plan to assassinate former President George H. W. Bush. An Iraqi troop buildup near Kuwait in 1994 led the United States to send forces to Kuwait and nearby areas. Continued resistance to weapons inspections led to bombing raids against Iraq, and trade sanctions imposed on Iraq remained in place, albeit with an emphasis on military-related goods until the second Gulf conflict. See also Gulf War Syndrome.

The Second Persian Gulf War, also known as the Iraq War, Mar.–Apr., 2003, was a largely U.S.-British invasion of Iraq. In many ways the final, delayed campaign of the First Persian Gulf War, it arose in part because the Iraqi government failed to cooperate fully with UN weapons inspections in the years following the first conflict.

The election of George W. Bush to the U.S. presidency returned to government many officials from his father's administration who had favored removing Saddam Hussein from power in the first war. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the United States moved toward a doctrine of first-strike, pre-emptive war to eliminate threats to national security. As early as Oct., 2001, U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld publicly suggested that military action against Iraq was possible, and in November President Bush asked Rumsfeld to undertake a war-plan review. In Jan., 2002, President Bush accused Iraq. along with North Korea and Iran, as being part of “an axis of evil,” and with the Taliban forced from power in Afghanistan in early 2002, the administration's attention turned to Iraq.

Accusing Iraq of failing to abide by the terms of the 1991 cease-fire (by developing and possessing weapons of mass destruction and by refusing to cooperate with UN weapons inspections) and of supporting terrorism, the president and other officials suggested that the “war on terrorism” might be expanded to include Iraq and became more forceful in their denunciations of Iraq for resisting UN arms inspections, called for “regime change” in Iraq, and leaked news of military planning for war. President Bush also called on the United Nations to act forcefully against Iraq or risk becoming “irrelevant.” As a result, Iraq announced in Sept., 2002, that UN inspectors could return, but Iraqi slowness to agree on inspection terms and U.S. insistence on stricter conditions for Iraqi compliance stalled the inspectors' return.

In October, Congress approved the use of force against Iraq, and in November the Security Council passed a resolution offering Iraq a “final opportunity” to cooperate on arms inspections. A strict inspections timetable was established, and active Iraqi compliance insisted on. Inspections resumed in late November. A December declaration by Iraq that it had no weapons of mass destruction was generally regarded as incomplete and uninformative, but by Jan., 2003, UN inspectors had found no evidence of forbidden weapons programs. However, they also indicated that Iraq was not actively cooperating with their efforts to determine if previously known or suspected weapons had been destroyed and weapons programs had been ended.

Despite much international opposition, including increasingly rancorous objections from France, Germany, and Russia, the United States and Britain continued their military buildup in areas near Iraq, insisting that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction. Turkey, which the allies hoped to use as a base for a northern front in Iraq, refused to allow use of its territory, but most Anglo-American forces were in place in Kuwait and other locations by March. After failing to win the explicit UN Security Council approval desired by Britain (because Britons were otherwise largely opposed to war), President Bush issued an ultimatum to Iraqi president Hussein on Mar. 17, and two days later the war began with an air strike against Hussein and the Iraqi leadership. Ground forces (almost exclusively Anglo-American and significantly smaller than the large international force assembled in the first war) began invading the following day, surging primarily toward Baghdad, the southern oil fields, and port facilities; a northern front was opened by Kurdish and airborne Anglo-American forces late in March.

By mid-April, 2003, Hussein's army and government had collapsed, he himself had disappeared, and the allies were largely in control of the major Iraqi cities. The allies gradually turned their attention to the rebuilding of Iraq and the establishment of a new Iraqi government, but progress toward that end was hampered by lawlessness, especially in Baghdad, where widespread looting initially had been tolerated by U.S. forces.

On May 1, President Bush declared victory in the war against Iraq. No weapons of mass destruction were found, leading to charges that U.S. and British leaders had exaggerated the Iraqi biological and chemical threat in order to justify the war. Much of the intelligence used to justify the war subsequently was criticized as faulty by U.S. and British investigative bodies. Hussein finally was captured in Dec., 2003. In 2004, he was transferred to Iraqi legal custody; tried and convicted of crimes against humanity, he was executed in 2006. In the aftermath of the war, U.S.-led occupation forces and, later, Iraqi security forces, struggled for several years with Iraqi and Islamic insurgencies and sectarian violence that military and civilian planners had failed to foresee (see Iraq). In Aug., 2010, U.S. combat operations in Iraq officially ended; the last U.S. troops, which had remained mainly in support and training capacities, were withdrawn in Dec., 2011.


For the first conflict, see M. R. Gordon and B. E. Trainor, The Generals' War (1995). For the second conflict, see W. Murray and R. H. Scales, Jr., The Iraq War: A Military History (2003); B. Woodward, Plan of Attack (2004), State of Denial (2006), and The War Within (2008); T. E. Ricks, The Gamble (2009); T. H. Anderson, Bush's Wars (2011); P. R. Pillar, Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform (2011); M. R. Gordon and B. E. Trainor, Cobra II (2006) and The Endgame (2013).

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