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Iraq War Timeline, Part 1: 1973-1993

Before and After the First Gulf War


March 20, 1973: Iraq launches a limited military offensive on Kuwait along the two nations’ 99-mile border in an attempt to control the Persian Gulf islands of Warba and Bubiyan. The islands are strategically located around the Iraqi oil port of Umm Qasr. Kuwaiti radio says an Iraqi military unit occupied a Kuwaiti police station at Sameta, two miles inside the Kuwaiti border, with Iraqi shelling of a border post near Umm Qasar. Saddam Hussein is vice president of Iraq at the time.

April 4, 1973: Iraq pulls back its forces from Kuwaiti territory.

June 30, 1973: An attempted assassination of Iraqi President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr and Vice President Saddam Hussein fails.

July 16, 1979: Iraqi President al-Bakr resigns. Saddam Hussein assumes absolute power and executes scores of potential rivals.

July 25, 1990: Saddam Hussein summons April Glaspie, the American ambassador to Baghdad, to a meeting “to hold comprehensive political discussions,” Hussein told her, and to send “a message to President Bush.” During the meeting, Glaspie says, according to a transcript in The New York Times: “[W]e have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait. I was in the American Embassy in Kuwait during the late 60's. The instruction we had during this period was that we should express no opinion on this issue and that the issue is not associated with America. James Baker has directed our official spokesmen to emphasize this instruction. We hope you can solve this problem using any suitable methods via Klibi or via [Egyptian] President [Hosni] Mubarak. All that we hope is that these issues are solved quickly. With regard to all of this, can I ask you to see how the issue appears to us? […]

“Frankly, we can only see that you have deployed massive troops in the south. Normally that would not be any of our business. But when this happens in the context of what you said on your national day, then when we read the details in the two letters of the Foreign Minister, then when we see the Iraqi point of view that the measures taken by the U.A.E. and Kuwait is, in the final analysis, parallel to military aggression against Iraq, then it would be reasonable for me to be concerned. And for this reason, I received an instruction to ask you, in the spirit of friendship—not in the spirit of confrontation—regarding your intentions.”

Glaspie’s comments have been variously interpreted as raising concerns or giving Saddam Hussein a tacit green light to deal with Kuwait as he will.

August 2, 1990: Saddam Hussein launches invasion of Kuwait. Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait is virtually complete within 48 hours of the invasion.

August 7, 1990: After a secret trip by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, where Cheney secures agreements to base American military forces on Saudi soil and let U.S. Navy ships pass through the Suez Canal, President George H.W. Bush orders U.S. troops deployed in Saudi Arabia and begins building a multi-national coalition to defend the Saudi regime. The deployment is dubbed Operation Desert Shield.

January 17, 1991: Operation Desert Shield becomes Operation Desert Storm as President Bush orders an air assault on Kuwait and Iraq, beginning at 3 a.m. Iraqi time. The air war lasts 38 days. Iraq launches seven Scud missiles at Israel and other Scuds at Daharan, Saudi Arabia, headquarters of the American forces.

February 23, 1991: Iraq ignites some 700 oil wells in Kuwait.

February 24, 1991: After 38 days of air assaults, Allied forces launch ground offensive. Kuwait is cleared of Iraqi forces within 100 hours.

February 28, 1991: At 8:01 a.m. Iraqi time, allies declare a cease-fire. President Bush, on advice from Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, refuses to pursue Iraqi forces beyond a certain point in Southern Iraq, or to unseat Saddam Hussein. Bush encourages Kurds in the north of Iraq and Shiites in the south to rebel and unseat Hussein. Rebellions follow.

March 25, 1991: Bush administration officials concede that Hussein is close to crushing the Shiite rebellion in the south of Iraq.

March 28, 1991: Hussein’s offensive against Kurds in the north of the country gains. The New York Times reports that “the official Iraqi press said Government forces had captured the city, Kirkuk, the most important site in Kurdish hands. Kurdish rebels would not confirm that Kirkuk had fallen, but the Baghdad television showed what it said was footage of an Iraqi official touring the city.”

April 9, 1992: A military court in Jordan sentences Ahmad Chalabi, in absentia, to 22 years in prison for embezzling money from a Jordanian bank he had managed. In 2002 and 2003, Chalabi would emerge as the Bush administration’s choice—and particularly Vice President Dick Cheney’s choice—to be the Iraqi president following the downfall of Saddam Hussein.

August 1992: President Bush declares a “no-fly” zone for Iraqi aircraft in southern Iraq, adding to a similar no-fly zone declared over the Kurdish north of Iraq in 1991. The policy is aimed at protecting Kurds and Shiits in the two regions from being attacked from the air by Saddam’s forces. But it applies only to fixed-wing aircraft. Saddam continues to attack rebellious Shiites in the South with helicopter gunships. By then, at any rate, Hussein had crushed the Kurdish and Shiite rebellions Bush had encouraged, but not defended.

August 14, 1992: Speaking at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney says Bush was right not to invade Iraq and seek the ouster of Saddam Hussein: “The question in my mind,” Cheney says, “is how many additional American casualties is Saddam worth? And the answer is not very damned many. So I think we got it right, both when we decided to expel him from Kuwait, but also when the president made the decision that we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq.”

April 14, 1993: Ex-President George Bush travels to Kuwait. Kuwaiti authorities say they’ve foiled an attempt to assassinate Bush, and blame the attempt on Iraqi agents.

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