The Persian Gulf War: Timeline, Summary & Facts

Instructor: Julia Maypole

Julia has a master's degree in world history and has taught college history and other humanities courses.

This lesson will examine the events that led to the Persian Gulf War and provide an overview of the war itself. Then we will briefly touch on the war's conclusion and its cease fire concessions.

Introduction to the Conflict

Given its current state of chaos and violence, it's hard to imagine that during the late 1980s the United States (U.S.) recognized Iraq as a stable force in a Middle East region otherwise dominated by revolution and religious conflict. However, that all changed on August 2, 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, sparking the Persian Gulf War (also known as the First Gulf War and Operation Desert Storm). Why did they do that, you ask? Well, let's find out!

Iraq V. Iran and A Refusal to Repay Debts

Saddam Hussein was the president of Iraq from 1979 to 2003, and to put it simply, he was a pretty bad guy. Among the many 'bad guy' accusations leveled against him during and after his reign of power, Hussein frequently used torture and imprisonment to control and dominate the Iraqi people. Shortly after assuming the presidency, Hussein spent the next eight years pouring his people and billions of dollars (mostly borrowed) into a costly war with Iran. In 1988, when the devastating war was finally over, Hussein faced massive debts and in typical bad-guy fashion, paying back money he had borrowed was not at the top of his to-do list.

One of his biggest creditors (like, in the billions biggest) was the tiny Middle Eastern country of Kuwait. As Kuwait ramped up its pressure for repayment, Hussein began a series of unsubstantiated counterattack speeches accusing Kuwait of stealing neighboring Iraq's oil through slant drilling and production manipulation to undercut oil prices on the global market. Despite the escalating forcefulness of his speeches, no one really took Hussein's threats seriously until on August 2, 1990, when (in a decidedly non-neighborly move) Iraq invaded its neighbor Kuwait.

Global Coalition and Swift Victory

Not surprisingly, the rest of the world reacted quickly and openly condemned the action. President of the United States, George Bush, Sr., famously stated, 'this invasion will not stand,' and he stayed true to his word. On August 8, 1990, Iraq formally annexed Kuwait, and the U.S. responded by mobilizing troops into Saudi Arabia to protect them and the rest of the region from a possible expansion of Iraqi aggression.

Over the coming months, a series of escalating, yet subsequently ignored, U.N. resolutions and sanctions were placed against Iraq to motivate them out of Kuwait. Eventually, a final warning was announced on November 29, 1990, stating that if Iraq did not leave Kuwait by January 15, 1991, they were going to be in super-duper big trouble. When January 15 came and went with no reversal by Iraq, a U.S.-led coalition made up of 34 countries (including England, France, and Australia) launched their attack, and the Persian Gulf War began.

Tomahawk Missile Fired from the Deck of the USS Missouri
Tomahawk Missile Fired off Deck of USS Missouri

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