Gulf Wars

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Editor: Thomas Riggs
Date: 2013
St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Event overview
Pages: 4
Content Level: (Level 4)

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Gulf Wars

Located in the Middle East along the borders of Kuwait and Iran, Iraq is about twice the size of Idaho. Historically a part of the Ottoman Empire, Iraq became a British protectorate following World War II. By 1958 the country had become a nominal republic, but Iraq was actually ruled by a series of strongmen such as Saddam Hussein. Within Iraq attention was focused on civil war for most of the 1980s. In August 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait and declared it a province of Iraq. The importance of the Kuwaiti oil fields and the proximity of Saudi Arabia, a strong American ally and an important player in the global oil industry, made it imperative for American interests that Iraq be promptly expelled from Kuwait.

The first Gulf War is still considered a marvel of modern technology as a result of sophisticated weaponry and technological advances in how news was brought to the masses through the use of satellites, cellular phones, and new filming techniques. Throughout the Gulf War viewers were instantly transported to the deserts of Iraq and were able to witness reporters dodging Tomahawk missiles. They saw firsthand what it looked like Page 573  |  Top of Articlewhen U.S. Patriot missiles intercepted Iraqi Scud missiles. Only two decades earlier, journalists had been forced to ship reports and videos from Vietnam by plane.

The military was also extremely different in 1990. During the Vietnam War the majority of recruits had been drafted or had signed up only because enlisting gave them a choice of military branches. The military was often rotated in and out for tours that lasted no longer than a year. By the first Gulf War, the draft had been abolished, and forces consisted of an all-volunteer military. Military officials contended that the U.S. military had become more professional and highly trained.

A new government was installed in Iraq in 2005 under a new constitution. After being convicted of multiple crimes against humanity, including the murder of 148 Shi'ites in 1982, Saddam Hussein was executed by hanging on December 30, 2006. The American presence in Iraq was reduced drastically in 2009, and the United States pulled out in mid-December 2011 as part of President Barack Obama's efforts to bring the wars in the Middle East to a close. In 2012, along with other key terrorists, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, was imprisoned in Guantánamo, awaiting trial by a military tribunal.


Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990. President George H. W. Bush announced that the invasion would not be tolerated, and King Fahd of Saudi Arabia formally asked the United States for assistance in protecting Saudi oil fields. On August 7 Operation Desert Shield commenced, and the first American forces arrived in Kuwait the same day. Those forces consisted of two F-15 squadrons, Maritime Pre-positioned Squadrons 2 and 3 (rerouted from Diego Garcia and Guam), two carrier battle groups, the 82nd Airborne Division, and the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) unit. Operation Desert Storm and the air phase of the war began on January 17.

The war was carried out in a massive show of coordinated force. All forces, which numbered 12,000 troops, were under the command of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. The troops were equipped with 700 tanks, 1,400 armored fighting vehicles, and 600 artillery pieces. U.S. troops were reinforced by 32,000 Arab forces and 400 tanks. Hundreds of planes were scattered across airfields in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar. The U.S. Navy had blockaded the area, and aircraft carriers and long-range bombers were put in place.

At the end of October, Bush doubled the forces but did not make an official announcement until November 8. On November 29 the United Nations (UN) Security Council authorized ejecting Iraq from Kuwait by “all means necessary.” On December 6 the XVIII Airborne Corps, consisting of an airborne division, an air assault division, two heavy divisions, an armored cavalry regiment, and combat support services, arrived in the Persian Gulf.

In January 1991 the U.S. Congress authorized the use of force in the Persian Gulf with bipartisan support for the president's efforts. Three days later, the UN demanded that Iraq withdraw from Kuwait. The situation heated up over the course of the month. Air attacks focused on Baghdad, and the Allied forces launched an Apache strike on January 17. The following day, Israeli aircraft suffered heavy losses during an attack on an Iraqi missile site. That same day, the United States launched a major air attack from Turkey. There was much concern about the dangers involved in low-altitude airstrikes, and the British abandoned the strategy after suffering heavy losses. Schwarzkopf considered but ultimately abandoned an amphibious landing along the Kuwait/Iraq border.

By the end of January, Allied forces had recaptured Khafji. In February battleships began targeting airfields in Baghdad. On February 13 more than 200 civilians were killed in an airstrike. One week later Bush demanded that Iraq withdraw from Kuwait by noon on February 23. By that date Army Special Forces had infiltrated deep within Iraq, and a major ground attack began the following day. The Iraqi counterattack left twenty-eight Americans dead and another ninety-eight wounded. On February 26 the Iraqis fled Kuwait City. On March 2 the 24th Infantry Division met the Hammurabi Division in battle, and Americans destroyed 600 Iraqi vehicles. A permanent ceasefire led to the release of most American prisoners of war (POWs) on March 5.

With the war at an end, the UN Security Council voted to allow Saddam Hussein to retain power in Iraq. In June participants in the Gulf War were honored in a victory parade in Washington, D.C. Some $50 billion in sophisticated weaponry was sold to Middle Eastern nations after the war, setting the stage for future hostilities. While former President Bush was visiting Kuwait in April 1993, fourteen terrorists were arrested in an assassination attempt. President Bill Clinton responded by ordering a retaliatory strike against Iraq.


In the 1950s television became a major part of the political scene. By the 1960s, amid acceleration of the war in Vietnam, television had become the major source of news for most Americans. Well aware of the importance of the still relatively new medium, government officials quickly learned to put a “media spin” on political events. Because the media had shown the harsh realities of war, politicians blamed the media rather than themselves when public opinion turned away from support of an American presence in Vietnam and began demanding that the war be brought to an end.

Lessons learned from Vietnam became extremely important in coverage of the first Gulf War, and the government was determined to control what the media conveyed to the public. Instead of providing free access to journalists, the media were placed in press pools and kept away from the front lines in what many Americans believed to be a clear violation of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of the press. Communications expert Bosah Ebo contends that the media became boosters for the official government position on the Gulf War and insists that a new generation raised on video violence in games such as Mortal Kombat perceived of news of the war as entertainment rather than as harsh reality. The media cemented that notion by comparing missile attacks to fireworks on the Fourth of July or lit-up Christmas trees. The Kuwaiti government even hired a public relations firm to promote the image of Iraq as barbaric.


With Saddam Hussein still in power in Iraq, efforts to resist what officials saw as outside interference continued in the years following the first Gulf War. The peace agreement had stipulated that all weapons of mass destruction be destroyed, but Iraqis refused to cooperate with UN inspectors. By the summer of Page 574  |  Top of Article1998, officials had ceased even the semblance of cooperation. Citing a long history of abuses by Iraq and calling for the ousting of Saddam Hussein, Congress passed the Iraq Liberation Act, and Clinton signed it on October 31, 1998. In December the president ordered four days of air strikes against Iraq. UN weapons inspectors refused to return to Iraq. By that time it seemed likely that there would be a second war in the Persian Gulf. The likelihood of that occurrence increased drastically with the election of George W. Bush in 2000.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the subsequent passage of the USA Patriot Act gave Bush extended authority to act against Iraq and other nations that harbored terrorists. In his State of the Union Address in January 2002, Bush identified Iraq as an “axis of evil” and warned Congress and the American people that he would take a proactive stance on fighting terror. He ordered Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to work out a strategy for possible war in Iraq and began holding regular briefings with General Tommy Franks, who held responsibility for U.S. military forces in the Middle East, on ways to bring down Hussein.

Allegedly convinced that Iraq was harboring large stores of nuclear and chemical weapons, on October 10, 2002, Bush sought and won permission from Congress to use force against Iraq. The following month, the UN Security Council agreed that Iraq's refusal to cooperate with weapons inspectors constituted an international peace threat and resolved to head off another war. Within seventeen days of adopting UN Resolution 1441, UN MOVIC teams arrived in Baghdad. Even when faced with invasion, Iraq continued to refuse to cooperate with weapons inspectors. By January 1, 2003, 25,000 American troops were on their way to the Persian Gulf.

The War in Iraq did not sit well with some Americans, who saw an enormous difference in attacking Iraq after the evasion of Kuwait and attacking Iraq as a sovereign nation. Tens of thousands of protestors around the world also took to the streets to protest the invasion. Former allies agreed, and many of them refused to participate in the new attack on Iraq. Both France and Russia warned that they would veto authorization of force.

By March 5 more than 200,000 American troops, five carrier groups, and 1,000 aircraft were in place or on their way to the Middle East. On March 17 Bush issued an ultimatum instructing Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq or face invasion. Operation Iraqi Freedom officially launched on March 19 with the bombing of Baghdad. Throughout the second Gulf War, counterinsurgency efforts created major problems for U.S. forces. The marines mitigated those efforts to some extent by forming alliances with local tribes. By 2003 Saddam Hussein's regime had collapsed.


By the early twenty-first century, the U.S. news media had evolved into what many saw as a mixture of real news and entertainment. Musicians were particularly adamant about not joining what they saw as the whitewashing of war. During a 2003 concert in London, Natalie Maines, lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, the highest-selling female group in U.S. history, announced that she was ashamed that George W. Bush was from Texas. The conservative country music community responded by boycotting the Dixie Chicks, who subsequently received death threats. The rock, rap, and hip-hop communities, on the other hand, tended to be largely supportive of critiques of the war and the Bush administration. When Bruce Springsteen called for a Bush impeachment, his next album, Devils & Dust, went to the top of the Billboard charts. Green Day's American Idiot, a scathing indictment of Bush and the war, netted the group the Grammy for Best Rock Album, six MTV Music Awards, and a Broadway rock opera. When Eminem called Bush a “monster,” his album Encore sold more than five million copies in the United States. When Pearl Jam's World Wide Suicide accused Bush of “writing checks that others pay,” it reached number one on Billboard's modern rock chart.

Journalists paid a heavy price for their coverage of the War in Iraq. By 2009, 255 journalists had been killed, and the majority of those were local journalists. While many were killed covering battles, most journalists were murdered by insurgents and bounty hunters. A few were killed by friendly fire. The war also took a heavy financial toll on the media. American networks spent from $5 million to $10 million a year on coverage. By 2009 only CNN and the BBC maintained a full presence in Iraq.

A plethora of memoirs and journalistic accounts chronicled the War in Iraq, but there was no fiction that was considered definitive. A number of movies dealt with the war. The best known of those was Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, an examination of an elite American bomb squad. The film won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture of 2008. Turtles Can Fly (2004), which was shot in Iraq after the ousting of Saddam Hussein, depicts Kurdish refugees on the eve of the American invasion of Iraq. The War Tapes (2006) uses footage shot by National Guard troops serving in Iraq. The Ground Truth (2006) follows all stages of the War in Iraq. The documentary No End in Sight (2007) consists of interviews with critics of the decision to go to war in Iraq.

Elizabeth Rholetter Purdy


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Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX2735801176