Gulf War - History, Summary, Causes

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : Feb 23, 2023, 10:32

The Gulf War is an international conflict that erupted in 1990 after Iraq, under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussain, invaded its neighbouring country Kuwait. The United Nations condemned the invasion, and when the Iraqi forces did not withdraw despite warnings, it led to the involvement of the United States and 34 other member nations. After the World War and the end of the Cold War, this was one of the biggest global military activities that many feared could lead to another worldwide catastrophe.

This article will explore the reasons behind the Gulf War and India's role in this conflict.

What led to the Gulf War?

On August 2, 1990, under the dictator Saddam Hussein, Iraq invaded Kuwait, its neighbouring country, which is 25 times smaller in size. The invasion of Kuwait was due to multiple reasons such as:

  • First, Hussein claimed Kuwait was always part of Iraq's territory
  • Second, Iraq owed a considerable amount of debt to Kuwait and other nations, which it accrued after its war with Iran
  • Third, Kuwait had massive oil reserves, which Hussain hoped would help pay off its debt to Kuwait and other countries
  • Fourth, it would bolster Iraq's bargaining power as the gatekeeper to Middle Eastern oil
  • Finally, Hussein also tried to link this invasion to showcase its support to the Palestinian cause

This invasion disturbed the geopolitical situation in the Middle East, and many feared that Saddam Hussein would try to gain control of Saudi Arabia's oil reserve after invading Kuwait. The United States and the United Nations Security Council thus condemned this invasion. They passed economic sanctions on Iraq with a deadline of January 15, 1991, for Iraqi forces to withdraw from Kuwait.

Operation Desert Storm

With Iraq showing no intention to back off despite UN warnings, a US-led coalition force comprising 34 nations assembled in Saudi Arabia. The coalition nations included the US, the UK, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, France, Canada, Syria, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, the UAE, Thailand, Qatar, Bangladesh, Italy, Netherlands, Australia, Niger, Sweden, Philippines, Senegal, Argentina, Spain, Belgium, Bahrain, Poland, South Korea, Norway, Singapore, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, and New Zealand.

On January 17, 1991, Operation Desert Storm commenced with a five-week bombardment on Iraq's oil refineries, air defences, and other infrastructure. Iraq, in response, launched its short-range Scud missiles on civilian and military targets in Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Desert Storm was a naval and aerial assault, while Operation Desert Shield was a ground assault that commenced in February. Having suffered significant casualties, Hussein signed a ceasefire agreement, and the war officially ended on February 28, 1991.

India's role during the Gulf War

India was one of the first nations to recognize Baghdad's Baathist regime. This and other cordial actions led to Iraq having a pro-India stance, which was crucial in that era, given that the rest of the regions gravitated towards Pakistan.

When the Gulf war started, India, led by PM Chandra Shekhar, maintained a non-aligned stance. Between August 13 to October 20, 1990, India helped evacuate over 1,75,000 of its nationals from war-torn Kuwait, one of the biggest evacuations by the Indian Government. This feat was mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest evacuation by any civilian airliner and was depicted in the 2016 Bollywood movie 'Airlift'.

The Gulf War was a resounding success from the US perspective. However, like any war, everyone involved had to pay a heavy price.

With its defeat, Iraq had to accept several restrictions on its military advances and was barred from possessing any nuclear or chemical weapons of mass destruction. Iraq lost between 25,000 - 50,000 troops and 3000 civilians. The US-led coalition, too, suffered from a loss of 3000+ troops, Kuwait reporting the death of over 4000 soldiers and 1000+ civilians. Saudi Arabia and Israel too lost civilians due to the Scud missile attacks, and this offence was highly condemned due to its impact on military and civilian lives.

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FAQs on Gulf War

Q.1) What is the main reason for the Gulf War?

The Gulf War is an international conflict that erupted after Iraq invaded Kuwait under the dictator, Saddam Hussain, claiming it as their province. Despite warnings from the United Nations and its allies, the war began when Iraq continued to occupy and invade Kuwait.

Q.2) Who won the Gulf War?

The United States won Gulf War 1 in 1991 by limiting its objective to "liberating Kuwait"

Q.3) When did the Gulf War take place?

The Gulf war began on January 16, 1991, and ended with the Iraqi defeat and retreat from Kuwait on February 28, 1991.

Q.4) How many countries were part of the Gulf War?

Although geographically, the Gulf War converged between Iraq and Kuwait, the United States and 34 member nations of the United Nations collectively fought the Iraqi invasion. The campaign was also known as Operation Desert Storm, which ended with Iraq withdrawing and handing back all the territories it had captured to Kuwait.