Iraq, a rich West Asian country, with a little over fifteen million inhabitants, blessed with extensive oil fields, was top-level military power when, on September 17, 1980, Saddam Hussein, Iraqi president, decided to take up arms against Iran, a neighbouring country. His objective was to take over Chatt el Arab, the Iranian Khuzestan and destroy the Islamic revolution, which had been put in place on April 1, 1979, by Ayatollah Khomeini.
Iran, with her forty-five million inhabitants, though no longer as strong as she used to be under the Shah, put up a stiff resistance, which surprised the Iraqis who had believed their offensive would be a “blitz”. The conflict turned out to be a war of trenches that lasted for eight long years, during which Iraqi oil proceeds were drained, her economy destabilized and her population plunged into poverty.
As concerns the death toll, lives of Iraqi combatants claimed by this bloody war were in hundreds of thousands (and a similar figure on the Iranian side). A UN-supervised treaty was signed on August 20, 1990, between the belligerents.
Meanwhile, on August 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein, not patient to wait at least for the ceasefire to be signed, launched yet another invasion. His victim this time was Kuwait, another neighbouring country with 1 700 000 inhabitants. His intention was to annex Kuwait so as to grab her oil wealth and also to gain greater maritime access to the Arabian-Persian Gulf.
The Kuwaiti army was weak and could not resist Iraqi troops, who in no time had occupied the country. The UN condemned the invasion and issued an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein. He refused to obey and instead took Kuwait-based Westerners hostage with the intention of using them as “shields’’ …
Many countries mobilised against Iraq and, in accordance with a UN resolution, Operation Desert Storm was launched on January 17, 1991, at 1a.m.. It started with strategic air strikes on Iraq, which destroyed her air fleet, nuclear installations, chemical and electrical facilities as well as a considerable portion of the road infrastructure.
The coalition later on launched a giant ground attack against the Iraqi army whose air support had been disabled. The 700 000 Iraqi soldiers, who were mostly reservists, came under heavy fire from the 700 000-man international coalition force.
Though the Iraqi army did not use any of her notorious chemical weapons it launched a number of Scud missiles against Saudi Arabia and Israel, most of which were destroyed in the air before touching the ground. Iraqi tanks were bombarded by Coalition airmen. It didn’t take long before the Iraqis started surrendering en masse, while heavy columns of others who saw Bassorah road as a safer means to flee were killed, sometimes in large numbers, by ’’fuel-air explosives’’.
On January 26, 1991, Kuwait was liberated by British troops, while American and French forces, who had progressed into Iraq, were barely 300 km away from Baghdad.
What remained of the Iraqi army pulled out of Kuwaiti territory, after which a ceasefire was declared and went into effect on January 28, 1991, at 9 a.m.
French Participation in the Gulf War
Since August 1990, within the framework of a UN-assigned mission, the French National Navy has had to deploy over thirty vessels – aircraft carriers, cruisers, helicopter carriers – close to 7000 marines and three marine commandos, with the task of implementing the embargo and carrying out the transportation of men and equipment.
In September 1990, attack helicopters units were in Saudi Arabia.
In January 1991, the French aviation participated in the strategic air strikes.
In February 1991, the Daguet Division was on site with 14 000 men: legionnaires, parachutists, marines, bigors and infantrymen, participating directly in the ground offensive which culminated in the liberation of Kuwait.
Guerre du Golfe - 1991 -
Soldats français en action
During this war, France mobilised close to 20 000 men.
The action of the Daguet Division made it possible to destroy or seize more than 100 military vehicles including armoured cars, 60 cannons and howitzers, various weapons (mortars, bombs, RPG 7, machineguns, attack guns), hundreds of tonnes of munitions of all kinds, as well as destroy the As Salman airbase entirely.
Loss in human lives
The Gulf War claimed the lives of 235 Coalition men. This figure does not include the wounded and other soldiers who died after returning home due to the so-called ‘’Gulf syndrome’’, which was believed to have affected several tens of thousands of combatants.
On the Iraqi side, it was an utter bloodbath – about 150 000 killed and 300 000 wounded, excluding tens of thousands of civilian victims.
Convinced their reason was a genuine one, and that the cause they fought for was a just one, the international Coalition, which enjoyed the sweeping support of a carefully nurtured media, made the unfortunate Iraqi army to pay dearly for their ‘sin’ of having invaded Kuwait and for Saddam Hussein’s unbridled expansionist policies.