The US Military Intervention in Iraq in 1991

The US military intervention in Iraq in 1991 was a response to the Persian Gulf War or the Gulf War in 1990-1991 and was triggered by the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in August 1990 which subsequently led to a humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Kuwait. The invasion of Kuwait was followed by Kuwait’s occupation by the Iraqi forces and the humanitarian crisis until the subsequent US military intervention in Iraq led to the liberation of Kuwait from the Iraqi forces and creation of humanitarian areas in Iraq for the protection of Shias and Kurds. Although hindsight is a hundred percent, or so the old adage goes, it can be argued even today that the decision to intervene in Iraq was the correct decision to take considering the human rights of Kuwaiti people that were at stake as well as the upholding of the principle of state sovereignty. Here, a brief discussion is provided on the reasons why the 1991 Iraq intervention is justified.

There are two viewpoints on the American intervention in Iraq: one that argues that American intervention was driven by self-interest (Hudson, 1996); and the second that argues that American intervention was driven by humanitarian purposes and for purposes of promoting the ideals of peace and democracy (Bouchet, 2015). Based on the evidence presented here, it is argued that the second viewpoint is more appropriate in explaining the American intervention in Iraq and that the intervention was justified on the grounds of humanitarian intervention.

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The invasion of Kuwait was ordered by the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein reportedly for the reasons of expansion and control over Kuwait’s vast oil reserves. The Persian Gulf war which was precipitated by Iraqi actions was the first major international crisis in the post Cold War era (Hudson, 1996). The subsequent military intervention of Iraq in 1991 may have been questioned on the basis that America was trying to establish its hegemony in the Middle East and one of the reasons why the Americans took this action was to gain control of Kuwait’s oil reserves. Indeed, the actions of Bush administration in the Middle East, including the Iraqi intervention in 1991, were followed by the Clinton administration in eliminating weapons of mass destruction in Middle East (Bouchet, 2015). However, another point of view is that American policies in the Middle East in this period of time should be seen in the context of American efforts to ensure global peace and stability in the post Cold War period and encouraging democratic ideals in Middle East (Bremmer, 2015).

When justifying the American intervention in Iraq it is also important to note that this intervention took place under the international law. In particular, there were multiple UN Security Council Resolutions that were adopted to provide sanctions on Iraq and make it incumbent on Iraqi forces to leave Kuwait. An example of this is UNSCR 661/662. Another example is the Security Council resolution 678, which authorised member states to use all means necessary to evict Iraq from the territory of Kuwait. It was on 25th February 1991 that Iraq was expelled from Kuwait after the American intervention which was authorised by the UN Security Council. It is noteworthy that the actions of the American forces were authorised by the Security Council for humanitarian intervention.

At contemporary time, American intervention in Iraq appears even more appropriate considering how the concept of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) has become more prevalent and important in international law. The principle of Responsibility to Protect was recognised by the World Summit Outcome Document in 2005 which emphasises on protection of people from crimes against humanity (Cohen, 2012). It is under the concept of Responsibility to Protect that the intervention of American forces in Iraq in 1991 becomes even more justifiable in 2021 because this intervention was done for humanitarian purposes. In particular, the Security Council passed Resolution 688 for permitting the state parties led by the United States to intervene in the crisis caused against ethnic minorities of Shias and Kurds (Cockayne & Malone, 2010). The intervention led to the development of refugee areas for displaced Kurds in northern Iraq so that humanitarian aid could be provided to them (Shraga, 2011, p. 21).

Indeed, Security Council’s Resolution 688 is one of the first such attempts by this body to allow intervention for the purpose of humanitarian reasons. It deserves to be noted that the intervention was necessitated also by the gravity of the crisis which saw 2 million Kurds flee from their homes in the wake of genocide against minorities by Saddam Hussein’s forces. The Security Council allowed these actions under the UN Charter. There are some countering voices that argue that the intervention was driven by the American interests in the Middle East region and its interest in creating hegemony in the Middle East; for instance, it has been argued that Washington pursued its triple goals of Israel, anti-communism and oil in the Middle East through such actions (Hudson, 1996). It has also been argued that American actions were in response to the need of preventing the rise of any other hegemonic than itself in the Middle East (Fakiolas & Fakiolas, 2007). Although such arguments are also presented in literature, they can be countered by what happened on ground in the aftermath of the Kuwait invasion and the subsequent humanitarian crisis in which millions of Kurds were caught. On ground what was seen was that the American intervention led to the minimization of the humanitarian crisis in the region, pushed Iraqi forces out of Kuwait and ensured the restoration of peace in the region. This was achieved only because of the intervention of the American led forces in Iraq. For this reason, in hindsight, this action by American forces is justified even today.

To conclude, the Iraq intervention by necessitated by the actions of Iraq in Kuwait and against its Kurdish and Shia populations in Iraq. From a humanitarian perspective, this was justified even under the Responsibility to Protect concept.

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Bouchet, N., 2015. Democracy promotion as US foreign policy: Bill Clinton and democratic enlargement. London : Routledge.

Bremmer, I., 2015. Superpower: Three choices for America’s role in the world. London : Penguin Books Limited.

Cockayne, J. & Malone, D., 2010. The Security Council and the 1991 and 2001 wars in Iraq. In: V. Lowe, A. Roberts, J. Welsh & D. Zaum, eds. The United Nations Security Council and War: The Evolution of Thought and Practice since 1945. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cohen, R., 2012. From sovereign responsibility to R2P. In: W. Knight & F. Egerton, eds. The Routledge Handbook of the Responsibility to Protect. Oxon: Routledge.

Dalacoura, K., 2005. US democracy promotion in the Arab Middle East since 11 September 2001: a critique. International affairs, 81(5), pp. 963-979.

Fakiolas, E. T. & Fakiolas, T., 2007. Pax- Americana or Multilateralism? Reflecting on the United States’ Grand Strategic Vision of Hegemony in the Wake of the 11 September Attack. Mediterranean Quarterly, 18(4), p. 65–66.

Hudson, M. C., 1996. To play the hegemon: Fifty years of US policy toward the middle east. The Middle East Journal , pp. 329-343.

Shraga, D., 2011. The Security Council and Human Rights: From Discretion to Promote to Obligation to Protect. In: B. Fassbender, ed. Securing Human Rights?: Achievements and Challenges of the UN Security Council . Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 8-35.

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