A War of Words Turns Into a Clash of Arms and Kuwait Is Overrun


The plunge came suddenly: An unexpected tirade. A follow-up thrust. Accusations of thievery. With these words of July, Saddam Hussein sent the oil-rich Persian Gulf toppling toward conflict.

For a time, it seemed that appeasement would satisfy; concessions slowed the descent. But they proved too precarious a ledge. On Thursday, as Kuwait clung to conciliation, Iraq pushed, and the Middle East fell to war.

Iraqis will not forget the saying that cutting necks is better than cutting means of living. . . . O God almighty, be witness that we have warned them.

--Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, July 17

He mentioned no names, but his intent could not be mistaken. A dispute over oil revenues offered tiny Kuwait as a scapegoat for postwar Iraqi poverty. Now Hussein, quiescent since the end of his epic clash with Iran, was sounding his battle cry anew.

A shaken Kuwait, with an army one-fiftieth the size of its neighbor to the north, watched as its leaders huddled in desperation in a seven-hour emergency session.

Attempts . . . to dump additional crude on the oil market are a premeditated and deliberate plan aimed at weakening Iraq and undermining its economy and security . . . Things have developed to a level which we can no longer ignore.

--Iraqi Foreign Minister Tarik Aziz, July 18

Iraq was making its case: Not only had Kuwait, by gluttonous overproduction, deprived Iraq of $14 billion in oil revenues, it had "stolen" $2.4 billion more from Iraq's Rumaila field, located in disputed territory along the joint border. These were acts of war, Iraq said. It vowed it would paid back.

The Kuwaiti rulers are implementing an imperialist scheme . . . paving the way for their main aim to call for foreign powers to intervene in the region as they did before.

--Iraqi government spokesman, July 21

A military weakling, Kuwait had called for help. Iraq acted the victim, hoping to influence the Arab neighbors who sought desperately to defuse the war talk.

There was also deeper purpose. With a crucial OPEC meeting just five days away, Iraq was making clear it was determined to have its way. Thirty thousand troops newly massed along the disputed border underlined the message: Unless Kuwait agreed to slash production, the consequences would be severe.

Kuwait wanted and still wants to meet with our brothers in Iraq. . . . We will consider what happened a cloud which soon will go.

--Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheik Saad al

Abdullah al Sabah, July 25

A desperate Kuwait offered to deal, and, miraculously, the cloud of war appeared to lift. With Kuwait pronouncing itself "open to suggestions" over oil prices, Iraq even called a halt to its propaganda attack. The oil ministers in Geneva voted unanimous approval for all Iraq had asked for.

But the deeper bilateral dispute remained unresolved. Iraq demanded that Kuwait make amends: repayment of the full $2.4 billion in "stolen oil." Kuwait made clear its resistance, calling for a show of American military support. With negotiations postponed by the stalemate, Hussein tightened the screws.

Iraq attends the Jidda meeting to regain its rights and not to hear new talk about "fraternity and solidarity" which yields nothing.

--Iraqi Government newspaper Al Jumhuriya, July 31

At last, the two countries were to meet face to face, but the signs were far from auspicious. As many as 100,000 battle-hardened Iraqi troops now lined the southern border. And even before the session began, Iraq made clear that it expected capitulation.

After a single session, Iraq walked out, complaining of a lack of "seriousness" on the other side. Throughout the oil-rich region, the atmosphere suddenly grew grim. The precipice was within sight.

Our armed forces will close in an iron rank against those who try to challenge us and will make Iraq and Kuwait a graveyard for those who launch any aggression .

--Official Baghdad Radio, Aug. 2.

War. Under cover of darkness Iraqi forces swept across the desert, controlling all of Kuwait within hours. Now Hussein had what he wanted. He dared the world to take it away.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World