Lines in the Sand: A History of the Gulf War
Transcript of Meeting Between Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie
July 25, 1990 - Presidential Palace - Baghdad
U.S. Ambassador Glaspie - I have direct instructions from President Bush to improve our relations with Iraq. We have considerable sympathy for your quest for higher oil prices, the immediate cause of your confrontation with Kuwait. (pause) As you know, I lived here for years and admire your extraordinary efforts to rebuild your country. We know you need funds. We understand that, and our opinion is that you should have the opportunity to rebuild your country. (pause) We can see that you have deployed massive numbers of troops in the south. Normally that would be none of our business, but when this happens in the context of your threat s against Kuwait, then it would be reasonable for us to be concerned. For this reason, I have received an instruction to ask you, in the spirit of friendship - not confrontation - regarding your intentions: Why are your troops massed so very close to Kuwait's borders?
Saddam Hussein - As you know, for years now I have made every effort to reach a settlement on our dispute with Kuwait. There is to be a meeting in two days; I am prepared to give negotiations only this one more brief chance. (pause) When we meet (with the Kuwaitis) and we see there is hope, then nothing will happen. But if we are unable to find a solution, then it will be natural that Iraq will not accept death.
U.S. Ambassador Glaspie - What solutions would be acceptable?
Saddam Hussein - If we could keep the whole of the Shatt al Arab - our strategic goal in our war with Iran - we will make concessions (to the Kuwaitis). But, if we are forced to choose between keeping half of the Shatt and the whole of Iraq then we will give up all of the Shatt to defend our claims on Kuwait to keep the whole of Iraq in the shape we wish it to be. (pause) What is the United States' opinion on this?
* U.S. Ambassador Glaspie - The United States is committed to maintaining a peaceful and prosperous state of affairs for the nations of the Gulf, including your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary Baker has directed me to emphasize the desire to arrive at a diplomatic solution to this crisis and avoid a potential military confrontation. Would you not agree that the people of Iraq have seen enough bloodshed in recent years?
Saddam Hussein - You are of course correct; we saw far too much destruction in our war against the Ayatollah’s regime, enough to quench the most fervent warrior’s bloodlust. The Iraqi people do not wish for conflict, especially against brother Arabs, but we will not sit idle while Kuwait slits our throat.
U.S. Ambassador Glaspie - The United States has no desire to see that happen, but again we must stress the need to fully explore all options for a peaceful resolution.
Saddam Hussein - The people of Iraq are fully in agreement with you. We have been exploring these options and will continue to do so in the interests of preserving peace.
*And here we have the POD: In OTL Ambassador Glaspie said:
“We have no opinion on your Arab - Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary (of State James) Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960's, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America.”
Saddam smiled at this and the exchange concluded shortly thereafter. Her response gave him confidence that the United States would not intervene with any move he made on Kuwait; satisfied with this fortuitous turn of events he would launch the invasion of Kuwait a few days later on August 2, 1990.
Some hours later, Saddam sat alone in the meeting room deep in thought. The meeting with Glaspie has been unexpectedly, frustratingly fruitless. He had hoped for a clear indicator from the ambassador concerning U.S. intentions about Kuwait, but she had been all too vague on the issue. Committed to peace in the Gulf, but wishing to explore diplomatic options…if anything he was less able to gauge their potential reaction to a move on Kuwait than before. One thing unnerved him though: the Westerners weren’t willing to write off Kuwait as a local Arab issue, which meant the possibility of intervention and confrontation. There had been no promises, no ultimatums, but the possibility remained nonetheless. War with the Ayatollah and his fanatics was supposed to have been a swift, simple affair leaving Iraq as the new undisputed master of the Gulf, but things had gotten out of control and forced the country to fight for its life for the better part of a decade against the Persian onslaught. Iraq had shed its blood and expended its treasure to serve as a tireless bastion defending the Gulf from the depredations of Iran, only to endure a new assault from gutless bill collectors asking for repayment for the privilege of Iraq’s protection. No, the slights against his nation would not be endured…but he could not risk the uncertainty, the possibility that it could all come undone again. Iraq had stood alone during the Gulf War, and if it was to be victorious in the coming conflict it needed to learn who its friends were and gather them close. Enemies hiding behind smiling masks were everywhere, lying in wait just across his borders and sending their spies and saboteurs to arrange his downfall. Constant vigilance was needed to survive.
He broke off his musings and glanced down at a map of the region. There, beckoning to the southeast lay the shining jewel of Kuwait. It would be such a simple matter to swallow up the domain of the impertinent sheiks, to stamp out Al-Sabah and his ilk. But his eyes continued to wander off the coast to the light blue of the Gulf. The Americans were out there in their ships, threatening to spoil everything just with their presence. Oh, they had been friendly enough during the war with keeping his ammunition boxes topped off, but only because it had served their interests. Iran-Contra had shown how fickle their interests could be, and he had every intention of avoiding a conflict with them. It was an impossible dilemma: Iraq needed the treasures of Kuwait and stabilization of the oil prices or the country would tear itself apart, but he was no longer certain that the Americans would sit idly by to let him act with impunity. However…maybe it wasn’t entirely impossible. The Americans had a marked aversion to prolonged bloodshed; the word Vietnam still hung like a specter over their military despite their lightning victories in Grenada and Panama. They would sue for peace if enough of their sons fell on the battlefield, he had no doubt of that. And if there was one thing the Iraqi army had excelled at during their years of conflict it was to dig in and make the enemy bleed itself white in useless assaults against their positions. He had to present them with a situation where they would avoid a conflict altogether, a situation they would see as hopeless to even bother with. Something where he could deny them their lightning victory…yes…it was certainly possible. His eyes started sweeping south, taking in the names of cities and provinces. Yes, he had to think on a larger scale to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Americans. Iraq could play the Great Game, could show the world that it was a force to be reckoned with. The victory and adoration so richly deserved would finally be his for the taking.
For now though, he had to play his hand carefully. In fact, he chuckled quietly to himself, he needed a better hand. It would take some time to arrange but with each passing moment he saw the future laid out for him to examine. It could work…he would make it work. He called out for an advisor waiting patiently just outside the door.
“Yes, your Excellency?”
“Contact my generals. I’m suspending plans for offensive operations against Kuwait for the time being. Recall our top officers from the field for an emergency planning session in Baghdad as soon as possible. Also, we shall need to arrange to receive some more guests in the near future. Iraq must thank her friends who have stood firm with her during this time of crisis.”
Excerpt from Mother of All Battles: A New Look at the Arabian War
By Simon Anderson Naval Institute Press 1995
Though Iraq’s armies remained stationed on Kuwait’s border as July turned to August and then September, the region slowly allowed itself to relax in the wake of Saddam’s series of threats. They convinced themselves that the shouts and gesticulations from Baghdad were merely posturing for the sake of maintaining his image among the Iraqi people. They understood that the strongman had to appear confident and in control, and so they tolerated his bellowing and saber rattling. Kuwait especially chose to ignore the endless fields of tanks, trucks and tents sitting within visual range of their border posts, assuming that they would find a compromise to the crisis in a meeting room as they had hoped all along. Talks with Saddam during the closing months of 1990 seemed to reinforce this belief; there were still outbursts of nationalistic fury from the dictator but the presence of his troops appeared as a point of leverage to showcase Iraq’s strength in the negotiations. Units slowly stood down from alert and returned home, some officials joked that Saddam was trying to found the Saddam Hussein Military City to imitate Saudi Arabia. However relaxed things appeared at first glance, behind the scenes Saddam was anything but idle. The meeting with Ambassador Glaspie had left him ultimately unsure of the United States’ intentions should he invade Kuwait, but he found himself low on alternative options. Influenced by overproduction from Kuwait and the UAE, the price of oil continued to hover around the $13 mark by the close of 1990. Just as he had feared, the membership of OPEC was taking independent stances on production and conferences were doing nothing to alleviate the stress to the Iraqi economy. Iraq needed money to ultimately rebuild, but a series of meetings arranged between Iraqi and Kuwaiti officials devolved into each side repeating its demands, each hoping to wear down the other into acquiescence. The meetings were ultimately a moot point, a public show of diplomatic spirit encouraged by Saddam while he continued to prepare.
Throughout the closing months of 1990 Hussein invited a number of foreign dignitaries to meet in Baghdad, ostensibly to discuss the ongoing negotiations over the Rumaila oilfield dispute. In a series of private sessions carefully kept secret from the prying eyes of the media, he set out to gauge the true relations of his neighbors and their potential reactions to a move on Kuwait. Of the meetings conducted, he found continued potential support from King Hussein of Jordan, though the King was notably averse to attach his country to any sort of military option. Yasser Arafat of the PLO proved to be a more productive interview, with the elderly leader praising Saddam’s threats against Israel, particularly his ‘burn half the country’ speech made earlier in the year. Arafat too was tiring of the continued foot dragging of Arab nations in arriving at a suitable peace settlement and the creation of a Palestinian state, if anything they seemed more set on appeasement of the Israelis and leaving the PLO to wither on its own. He agreed that a confrontation was coming, and that a significant restructuring was needed in order to successfully advance the PLO’s cause. Hussein and Arafat discussed a series of potential options that the PLO could undertake, and ways the Iraqi government could provide material and logistical support. They adjourned confident in their assigned roles, with Arafat returning to the West Bank to make preparations with his group.
It was the meeting with the newly minted President of a unified Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, that would prove to have the greatest consequences for the Arabian peninsula. Saleh had been too young to take part in the Yemeni Civil War of 1962-1970, but had still served in the North Yemeni military during its infrequent border clashes with the Marxist People’s Republic of South Yemen. With the country’s surprisingly amicable unification in early 1990, he found himself in charge of a country with a substantial military thanks to the efforts of the Soviet Union and a people just learning to truly live side by side one another again. Like most Yemenis, he carried a deep seated hatred of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its efforts supporting the opposing royalist regime during the civil war. He had openly supported Saddam and his demands concerning Kuwait, the debt payments and the levels of oil production. The overproduction of states like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE had played similar havoc with the Yemeni economy, and Saleh was eager for a change in the status quo. While initially reluctant at the meeting when presented with Saddam’s goals, he tacitly signed on with the Iraqi president’s plans for a chance to share the coming glory of a new era. Yemen would no longer be looked down upon or manipulated by the kingdom of the Sauds, the newly joined people of Yemen would be able to unite against a traditional outward foe, and would be promised numerous benefits and privileges for making useful contributions to the coming campaign. Saleh’s agreement proved to be the coup of Saddam’s private diplomatic efforts, significantly allaying whatever doubts he may have courted concerning what he felt was the now inevitable showdown with the Kuwaitis.
Months of effort and preparation reached their culmination in the morning hours of March 1, 1991. At 0200 hours local time, Kuwaiti border posts awoke to a barrage of shells from positions across the border they had long come to ignore as part of the landscape. The token forces of the Kuwaiti army in defensive positions were swiftly overrun by columns of T-72 tanks and BMP-2 armored personnel carriers filled with shock troops of the Iraqi Army’s elite Republican Guard divisions. Overhead, transport helicopters and gunships swept by speeding towards Kuwait City with commando teams on board to help prepare the way for additional waves of troops. Off the coast, Iraqi marines and special naval forces landed at the coastal Dasman Palace of the Emir and began engaging the palace’s personal security detail. Despite the speed and ferocity of the assault, they failed to capture Emir Jaber Al-Sabah, who had fled with most of the royal family in a convoy of luxury cars south to Saudi Arabia. In a move to preserve the honor of the Emir’s family, Al-Sabah’s youngest brother Fahad Al-Sabah remained behind to direct resistance activities; he was killed in the gun battle with the landed marines later that morning while defending the palace.
By late afternoon on March 1, the main Iraqi thrust into Kuwait had reached and occupied Kuwait City, linking up successfully with airborne forces that had arrived earlier that morning to take control of the airports and government facilities. Despite some isolated instances of resistance, the invasion was relatively light in terms of combat casualties, with most Kuwaiti forces too stunned by the unexpected assault to mount an effective defensive strategy. Some troops fought back where they could, others surrendered, but most fled south to the assumed protection of Saudi Arabia, with reported instances of jets taking off from nearby highways as their airbases were being overrun. As the people of Kuwait woke to the sounds of thunder and the sudden discovery of new overlords, a few journalists on the scene noted that aside from scattered checkpoints throughout the city and a lockdown on the airports and government facilities, the occupation had surprisingly few troops on the ground to keep order within the city. What they couldn’t immediately see was that the majority of Republican Guard units were continuing to push south towards the Saudi border, leaving skeleton forces behind to keep the peace until follow-on units could take responsibility.
Forward elements of the Republican Guard’s 1st Hammurabi Armored Division reached the Kuwaiti-Saudi border by 1800 hours on March 2, throwing back one last defensive position by Kuwaiti Chieftain tanks just north of the line. To the shock and dismay of the already panicky Saudi border guards, the Iraqi T-72s opened fire on the border posts on the move, rapidly obliterating what few defensive structures were in place before continuing to roll south on the coastal highway. By nightfall, Iraqi forces had arrived at the gates of the sleepy little coastal town of Al Khafji, pushing a frantic exodus of fleeing Kuwaiti and Saudi troops before their guns. The darkness of the desert night was illuminated by the pyres of flaming vehicles, as well as the headlights of Iraqi mechanized troops hurrying to keep pace with their tanker brethren.
Hundreds of miles to the south, the violation of the Saudi border was the signal that poised Yemeni forces had been waiting for. For the past several months, the Yemeni army had slowly drawn up plans and prepared for the word from Iraq to proceed with their part of the plan. In a series of well publicized press releases, Yemeni troops had positioned themselves close to the Saudi border in a declared effort to drill with mountain campaigning among the hills of western Yemen. Given the relative stability on the Kuwaiti border and the stated openness of the Yemeni military, Saudi officials issued alerts to forces along the southern border to be on their guard but took no further precautions. As Saudi troops listened to the rolling thunder of Yemeni troops maneuvering and firing barrages at hillsides, they gradually relaxed and went back to business as usual. This sense of security came to a crashing halt in the early morning hours of March 3 as M-60 and T-62 tanks swept across the porous southern border into Saudi Arabia, attacking along two highways towards the towns of Najran and Jizan. The specter of war had turned its eye upon the House of Saud, and as dawn broke on March 3 they found themselves under attack from both north and south.