a memorial for all wars: the Polynational War Memorial


First Gulf War

Also called: Iraq vs UN led Coalition

Years: 1990-1991
Battle deaths: 22,848 [1]
Onesided violence: 1,098 [2]

Nation(s) involved and/or conflict territory [note]
United States, Iraq, United Kingdom, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Philippines, Argentina

Published prior to 2013 | Updated: 2017-06-04 20:34:33
Other common names for the conflict include the Gulf War, War in the Gulf, Iraq-Kuwait Conflict, UN-Iraq conflict, Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Desert Sabre, 1990 Gulf War (for the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait), 1991 Gulf War (1990-1991), the Second Gulf War (to distinguish it from the Iran-Iraq war) and Gulf War Sr. and First Gulf War (to distinguish it from the 2003 invasion of Iraq). In Iraq, the war is often colloquially called simply Um M’aârak ("the Mother of All Battles").

Prior to World War I, under the Anglo-Ottoman Convention of 1913, Kuwait was considered to be an autonomous caza within Ottoman Iraq. Following the war, Kuwait fell under British rule and later became an independent emirate. However, Iraqi officials did not accept the legitimacy of Kuwaiti independence or the authority of the Kuwaiti Emir. Iraq never acknowledged Kuwait’s right to be an independent nation and in the 1960s, the United Kingdom deployed troops to Kuwait to deter an Iraqi annexation.

During the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, Kuwait was allied with Iraq, largely due to desiring Iraqi protection from Islamic Iran. After the war, Iraq was extremely indebted to several Arab countries, including a $14 billion debt to Kuwait. Iraq hoped to repay its debts by raising the price of oil through OPEC oil production cuts, but instead, Kuwait increased production, lowering prices, in an attempt to leverage a better resolution of their border dispute. In addition, greatly antagonizing Iraq, Kuwait had taken advantage of the Iran-Iraq War and had begun illegal slant drilling for oil into Iraqi reserves, and had built military outposts on Iraqi soil near Kuwait. Furthermore, Iraq charged that it had performed a collective service for all Arabs by acting as a buffer against Iran and that therefore Kuwait and Saudi Arabia should negotiate or cancel Iraq’s war debts. Hussein’s primary two-fold justification blended the assertion of Kuwaiti territory being an Iraqi province arbitrarily cut off by imperialism, and the use of annexation as retaliation for "economic warfare" Kuwait had waged through slant drilling into Iraq’s oil supplies while under Iraqi protection.

The war with Iran had also seen the destruction of almost all of Iraq’s port facilities on the Persian Gulf cutting off Iraq’s main trade outlet. Many in Iraq, expecting a resumption of war with Iran in the future, felt that Iraq security could only be guaranteed by controlling more of the Gulf Coast, including more secure ports. Kuwait thus made a tempting target.

Former Iraqi President Saddam HusseinIdeologically, the invasion of Kuwait was justified through calls to Arab nationalism. Kuwait was described as a natural part of Iraq carved off by British imperialism. The annexation of Kuwait was described as a step on the way to greater Arab union. Other reasons were given as well. Iraqi president Saddam Hussein presented it as a way to restore the empire of Babylon in addition to the Arab nationalist rhetoric. The invasion was also closely tied to other events in the Middle East. The First Intifada by the Palestinians was raging, and most Arab states, including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, were dependent on western alliances. Saddam thus presented himself as the one Arab statesman willing to stand up to Israel and the U.S.


Data Sources

[1] Battle deaths: UCDP Battle-Related Deaths Dataset v. 5-2016 (link) (1989-2015) #176
Low: 22,805 High: 27,261

[2] UCDP One-sided Violence Dataset v. 1.4-2015 (1989-2014) (link) including actors: Government of Iraq
Low: 1,098 High: 4,303

More about sources


NOTE! Nation data for this war may be inconlusive or incomplete. In most cases it reflects which nations were involved with troops in this war, but in some it may instead reflect the contested territory.



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