(PERSIAN GULF WARS to 1991 – continued)

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PERSIAN GULF WARS to 1991 (6 of 8)

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Operation Desert Storm Begins

In the early morning of 17 January 1991, Iraqi time, Operation Desert Shield (the defense of Saudi Arabia) became Operation Desert Storm. In Baghdad all was quiet until dogs began barking. Then the air raid began, watched across the world on television – an introduction to laser guided bombs. There were 1,700 planes in the first, around-the clock assault, many of them flying from the Incirlik airbase near Adana, Turkey. The US military had feared that 1 in 5 of its aircraft might be lost, but only one was lost.

In the air war, US pilots flew alongside pilots from Britain, France, Italy, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Targeted were airbases, nuclear, chemical and biological facilities, missile sites, bridges and communications facilities. The main goal of the air war was to make the Iraqi military dysfunctional by cutting off communications – analogous to severing one's spinal cord so that the mind could not direct instructions to the body.

In targeting communication, Saddam's palace was bombed – the attitude of the US military being that if Saddam Hussein died in the process so be it. But Saddam was hiding in a residential area, and care was being taken by the UN forces to avoid civilian casualties.

Saddam Hussein declared that the "Mother of All Battles" had begun. Impotent against the Allied airforce, he resorted to the terrorism of the desperate – as Hitler had done in sending rockets against Britain. Saddam Hussein fired Scud missiles toward Saudi Arabia and Israel, with little accuracy pretended. And Saddam struck back at the allies by dumping millions of gallons of crude oil into the waters off the Kuwaiti shore in the Persian Gulf.

Listening to Secretary of Defense Cheney

Listening to US Secretary of Defense Cheney Enlarged photo of Schwarzkopf listening to Secretary of Defense Cheney

Israel was eager to retaliate against Iraq's missile attacks, but President George H W Bush promised Israel that the US would do everything possible to stop the Scud missile attacks. Israel held back from attacking Iraq, which Allied strategists had feared would break off Muslim states from the coalition.

General Schwarzkopf was concerned about the safety of Israelis, but he was opposed to aircraft looking for the mobile Scud launchers, easily hidden by the Iraqis. Altitude made it difficult for pilots to distinguish between Scud missiles launchers and other kinds of trucks. What were described on television as strikes against Scud launchers were not Scud launchers.

British airmen made low level flights over Iraqi airfields, looking for mobile Scud launchers. But it was Special Forces units from Britain that performed effectively against the Scuds. Moving about in vehicles through the hills and valleys of Iraq's western desert, they destroyed radar sites, communications cables and destroyed Scud convoys, driving the Scud launchers farther from Israel.

The Scud launches continued, the US throwing up Patriot missiles against incoming Scuds. And in Washington an exuberant Bush boasted joyously that 41 Scuds had been engaged and 41 downed.

The war was hopeless for Saddam Hussein. On 30January an Iraqi force of 700 men and 45 tanks moved 10 miles across the border into Khafji, an abandoned coastal oil town in Saudi Arabia, and two other Iraqi battalions drove short distances into Saudi Arabia about 45 miles farther west. They battled US Marines, with eleven or twelve Marines killed, – seven of them by "friendly fire." Saudis and Qatari (mainly Pakistani mercenaries) participated in driving the Iraqis back to Kuwait. At Khafji, 400 Iraqis surrendered after holding the town only 36 hours.

US intelligence officers collected data on the Iraqi attacks, and they saw weaknesses in Iraqi training. The Iraqis, they concluded, would be less formidable than earlier imagined.

On 1 February, Iraq began setting fire to Kuwaiti oil wells, to be described as the world's worst man-made environmental disaster.

Saddam had long before lost the most important of wars – the diplomatic war – but King Hussein of Jordan was still on his side. On February 6, King Hussein denounced the Allied cause as an effort by outsiders to destroy Iraq and carve up the Arab world. Japan, meanwhile, had recently angered Iraq by contributing a large sum of money to the Allied war effort.

It was around 6 February that Allied forces were secretly moving westward across Saudi territory in preparation for a surprise flanking attack. The Iraqis were expecting an attack north into Kuwait nearer the coast and an amphibious landing.

On 13 February the US bombed a military installation that, unknown to the Allies, was being used as a bomb shelter for civilians. More than 200 Iraqi civilians were killed. Iraq charged that the US had intentionally attacked an air raid shelter. Many Iraqis accepted their government's claim, seeing the attack as nothing more than bloodlust by the Satanic US military.

The Allied air campaign, meanwhile, was not targeting Iraqi soldiers. It was targeting supply stores and equipment, and Iraqi soldiers were staying away from their equipment and supplies to avoid getting killed.

The Allied Offensive Beings

In mid-February, Saddam Hussein was expecting the Allied offensive to begin soon, and he announced that he was ready to withdraw from Kuwait if Israel returned the territories it had been occupying since the 1960s. Gorbachev attempted a peace proposal to end the war before the Allies launched their assault. Iraq was in agreement with the proposal, which was for an unconditional Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait; the Soviet Union committed to maintaining Iraq's state structure and borders; the end of all sanctions against Iraq; and no punitive actions against Saddam Hussein.

The Iraqis were carrying out last minute executions of Kuwaities. On the 22 February, President Bush gave Iraq 24 hours to begin withdrawing from Kuwait. Iraq spoke of the new Soviet peace plan and denounced Bush's ultimatum as shameful. Bush and the Allies rejected the Soviet plan. (By December there would be no Soviet Union to do any guaranteeing.)

The Bush administration began urging General Schwarzkopf to begin his assault. It took time for the supplies needed to arrive, and Schwarzkopf had long been complaining that he was not ready. Bush's Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, had a problem with Schwarzkopf's continuing requests for delays. From Washington, General Powell called Schwarzkopf, who lost his temper, telling Powell, in Powell's words, that "If you do not care about the lives of young people, well I do." Powell exploded, shouting back that he cared as much but that there was "a limit." Powell calmed down and told Schwarzkopf "Look Norm, we got a problem, we'll work our way through." About thirty minutes later, Schwarzkopf called back and said "Weather's fine. We can go."

The assault began in full on 24 February. Schwarzkopf found that Saddam's frontline units were pretty much shattered. Iraq's frontline units melted away. These troops surrendered in droves. The Iraqis had artillery with accuracy capabilities but were fired with innaccuracy. Iraqi tank units were no match against Allied tank units.

The Iraqis began setting fire to more oil facilities in Kuwait, and on the 25th the Iraqis fired a Scud missile into Saudi Arabia that struck the US barracks in Dhahran, killing twenty-eight.


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