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What You Should Know About the Iraq War


Updated August 24, 2010

The other day, I was having a conversation with a group of young people (by "young," I mean between the ages of 18 and 23), and it became apparent that they had no clue about why the U.S. had a military presence in Iraq.

Some of them thought it was because Iraq was responsible for 9/11. Wrong. Some thought it was because Iraq was hiding Bin Laden (also wrong). One young man said it was all about oil (almost right).

What was the war in Iraq all about? Why did the United States get involved? What's going to happen next? Why can't I get a date on Saturday night? In this article I hope to answer these questions (well, all except the last one).

Before the War

Iraq has been around for a long, long time. Throughout its long history, Iraq has been the center of the Akkadian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Hellenistic, Parthian, Sassanid and Abbasid empires, and part of the Achaemenid, Roman, Rashidun, Umayyad, Mongol, Safavid, Afsharid, Ottoman and British empires.

During World War I, Iraq made the mistake of siding with Germany, and we all know how that little fracas turned out. As a result, Iraq fell under British control following the war. Iraq then proceeded to go through many changes in government, through the unique political method known as the "coup d'etat," until finally, in 1979, Saddam Hussein took power as Iraqi President after knocking down his close friend and the leader of his party (Ahmed Hasan Al-Bakr) and killing and arresting his opposition.

The U.S. kind of liked Saddam. After all, Saddam hated Iran, and we were rather upset with Iran, as a result of the Iranian hostage incident. As a result, the U.S. gladly sold Saddam millions of dollars worth of U.S. weapons, so Saddam could make Iranian life uncomfortable. We didn't even squeal when Iraq killed thousands of Iranians with chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war in 1980. The U.S. didn't even seem to care very much when Saddam built the Al Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center in 1977. After all, Iraq was on "our side," right? However, in 1981, Israeli aircraft bombed the facility, in order to prevent the country from using the reactor for the creation of nuclear weapons.

Things Change as Iraq gets Froggy

In 1990, Saddam found his checking account severely overdrawn because of the expenses of his war with Iran. At the same time, Kuwait began selling oil like crazy, which kept oil prices down. Saddam didn't much like this. He also claimed that Kuwait was "slant drilling" under the border, stealing Iraqi oil. Of course, Kuwait denied this.

In August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Upon successfully occupying Kuwait, Hussein declared that Kuwait had ceased to exist and it was to be part of Iraq, against heavy objections from many countries and the United Nations.

The U.S. responded by organizing a coalition of many countries, and began massively building up forces in Saudi Arabia, and other surrounding countries. Operation "Desert Shield" had begun. The U.S. told Saddam to immediately withdraw from Kuwait, or else. This didn't seem to bother Saddam very much. After all, the U.S. had a habit of waiving their fist in the air, but rarely followed through. Plus, Iraq had the 4th largest Army in the World. He wasn't worried.

The First Gulf War Begins

However, this time Saddam was wrong. Operation "Desert Storm" began with massive air attacks by United States and coalition forces. Iraq responded by launching SCUD missile attacks against Israel and Saudi Arabia. Hussein hoped that by attacking Israel, the Israeli military would be drawn into the war, which he believed would tear apart the coalition by causing other Arab countries to support Iraq. However, Hussein's gamble failed, as Israel reluctantly accepted a U.S. demand to remain out of the conflict to avoid inflaming tensions.

The "Air War" against Iraq lasted only 100 days. The Iraqi armed forces were quickly destroyed by devastating air attacks, and Hussein ordered his forces to withdraw from Kuwait. However, like a spoiled child, Hussein ordered his forces to set fire to Kuwaiti oil wells on their way out of town (it took years for the Kuwaitis to get all the fires put out).

By the time the ground forces entered Kuwait, the war was pretty much over, and the Iraqi forces were on the run. Shortly after coalition forces entered Iraq, Saddam surrendered, agreeing to several cease-fire terms demanded by the U.N. The war was over.

Broken Promises

It didn't take Iraq long to start going back on promises made. Part of the cease-fire agreement required Iraq to account for all Kuwaiti prisoners of war. I was deployed to Kuwait six months after the cease-fire began, and the Kuwaitis I met were all very much upset because not one prisoner of war had yet been returned. However, this didn't seem to bother the U.S. very much. After all, they weren't our people being held.

However, in 1993, the CIA discovered a plan orchrastrated by Saddam to assassinate former President George H. W. Bush. As a result of this and other violations, in December 1998, President Clinton launched Operation "Desert Fox." It was a major flare-up in the Iraq disarmament crisis. The stated goal of the cruise missile and bombing attacks was to disrupt Saddam's ability to maintain his grip on power. Clinton administration officials said the aim of the mission was to "degrade" Iraq's ability to manufacture and use weapons of mass destruction, not to eliminate it.

The main targets of the bombing included weapons research and development installations, air defense systems, weapon and supply depots, and the barracks and command headquarters of Saddam's elite Republican Guard. Also, one of Saddam's lavish presidential palaces came under attack. Iraqi anti-air batteries, unable to hone in on the American and British jets, began to blanket the sky with near random bursts of flak fire. The air strikes continued unabated however, and cruise missile barrages launched by naval vessels added to the bombs dropped by the planes. By the fourth night, most of the specified targets had been damaged or destroyed and the Operation was deemed a success.

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