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There's a couple of other things I think I should point out that generated a general feeling of animosity between the two countries immediately prior to the invasion. First, the Iraqi currency was being circulated in a black market that went through Kuwait City. Kuwaitis were getting Iraqi dinars at a very cheap rate and they were using them to come to Iraq for lavish vacations in Iraq's luxury hotels. There were a lot of Iraqi prostitutes, women who had lost their brothers, husbands, and sons in the war with Iran, who were essentially making a living through prostitution. As Iraqis were suffering and facing a declining standard of living, they would see the Kuwaitis in their beautiful white dishdashas and their Rolex watches and gold jewelry, driving around in Mercedes. So there was this sort of growing resentment among the Iraqis that was directed not just against their own government, but also against the Kuwaitis. I don't think that that means that the Iraqis wanted to go in and invade Kuwait, and loot and pillage in general, but there was this sort of resentment going against the rich Gulf states.
Do you think Iraq's invasion of Kuwait is part of a growing animosity between the rich and poor states in the Mideast?
Definitely. And this divide between rich and poor is something that can explain the alliances that you have now in the Arab world. The richer countries formed the Gulf Cooperative Council, which is essentially a club of rich countries that denied Iraq and Yemen entry, even though Iraq is a major oil producer. And so, in response to the GCC, Iraq led a movement to form the Arab Cooperative Council, which includes Jordan, Egypt, and Yemen. So there's a division between countries that export oil and have capital surpluses and countries that export labor and have labor surpluses with capital shortages. It's a growing division within the region.
What was Iraq's goal in taking over Kuwait?
I don't actually think that Iraq intended to keep Kuwait. I think it intended to go in to loot. In other words, teach the rulers a lesson and then withdraw, taking the islands and taking the Rumailah oil field. Once the Americans deployed half a million people, Saddam raised the stakes and brought in the Palestinian issue and changed the whole equation. But you don't destroy a country that you intend to keep. Think about it. It doesn't make sense. They went; they completely desecrated all the buildings; they looted and brought things back to Iraq. They didn't go there and move into Kuwait. They have not behaved as though they wanted to keep Kuwait. Why would you go and destroy a country that you want to keep?
I find the idea of one country taking over another just to loot it a little old-fashioned, don't you? Not wholly believable. I'm trying to think of a precedent over the last 300 years where that's happened, but I can't. Once a country moves in, it usually plans to stay.
I can't think of a precedent, either. But then there's very few Kuwaits in the world. There are very few little pockets of unimaginable opulence like that in the world. Kuwait was pretty unique that way, except for the United Arab Emirates, which is even more wealthy. The point is, there were these financial reasons behind the invasion itself.
Let's go on to Saddam himself. What do you make of him and the way President Bush and the American media have depicted him as another Hitler or Stalin?
Well, Saddam Hussein is probably one of the more violent modern leaders, just in terms of the recorded and well-known instances of brutality and so on. Not just the Kurdish thing, but personal acts of violence that he himself has committed. But he is not unique in this regard. I haven't heard either the administration or the media mention the fact that Syria's Assad, who's now an ally of the United States, in one attack killed 20,000 unarmed civilians in the town of Hamah in 1982. I don't think there's a comparable instance in Iraq of that many people being killed by their own government.
I think that President Bush has personalized this whole conflict. He's said he has no quarrel with the Iraqi people, but only with Saddam Hussein. And Saddam Hussein does so dominate the political landscape of Iraq that it is, to some extent, he and his regime and not so much the Iraqi people that are confronting the Americans in this conflict. But this sort of characterization of the problem is very dangerous. By focusing so much on Saddam Hussein, you dehumanize the Iraqi people. You run the risk of forgetting that it's the civilians that are going to pay the highest cost for this conflict, and have already paid a tremendous cost for having Saddam Hussein as their leader. When you focus so much on this one personality, you get away from what the horror of war really is, and what it's going to mean.
I guess that's why a lot of military advisors thought this would be a quick war. Just a few well-placed missiles.