'In 1980, Iraq started an eight-year war with neighboring Iran. That prolonged battle left Iraq in dire economic straits. So Hussein borrowed money from his Arab neighbors, including Kuwait. When Kuwait began to call in those debts and pump oil from a disputed border field, Hussein responded by flexing his muscles, again' explains CNN. The reasons Saddam decided to invade Kuwait are a bit more complicated than this, which I will explain later. I remember watching CNN from campus with my brother - we were the only Iraqis (Iraqi Americans) on campus, and I remember thinking how bizarre it was that we were living in a country that was bombing the country we were born in. It was very sad, but in the end there was no choice but to see Baghdad bombed, and it was televised, and many Arab states participated in the 'liberation' of Kuwait, the '19th province of Iraq' as Saddam Hussein so astutely observed. The bombing was intense: 40+ days/nights of heavy bombing by the US and its allies.
My mother's aunt, a sweet 70-something-year old woman who was blind and had asthma, lived with my aunt (my mom's sister) for many years in Baghdad. We called her 'Amma' which means 'aunt' in Arabic, and we loved her - my cousins who lived with her regarded her as a second mother. Their household was one of our favorites to stay with every summer we visited Iraq in the 70s. Immediately after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the UN imposed economic sanctions against Iraq, and no 'dual use' medicines were allowed to be sold to Iraq. I don't know how asthma medicine can be converted to a weapon, but it was on the long list of medicines that were considered to be 'dual use' and were therefore prohibited by the sanctions. By the time the coalition started bombing Iraq, Amma had run out of her asthma medicine, and in late January, 1991, she died as a result. One of my cousins, who eventually moved to the US, told me that during the intense bombing he and one of his brothers had to take Amma's body to Nejef and bury her there. He told me that it was the saddest experience of his life.
Back to why Iraq invaded Kuwait. After the war with Iran, Iraq was $40 billion in debt, and Iraq was desperate for money. In 1989 Kuwait started selling oil 20% beyond their OPEC quota. This extra oil on the market caused a drop in the price of oil on the world market, and as a result, Iraq lost about one-third of its oil income. In the following months, Iraq's Oil Minister demanded that Kuwait reduce its oil sales, but Kuwait refused. In 1990 Saddam Hussein publicly threatened to invade Kuwait. The official response from the US was surprising. The American ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, states at a US State Department briefing that "there are no special defense or security commitments to Kuwait" - this was 6 days before Iraq invaded Kuwait.
The US relationship with Saddam Hussein's regime, the events that led to Gulf War I and the sanctions are well explained and chronicled in the excellent documentary, Hidden Wars of Desert Storm, which features former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, Phyllis Bennis, Dennis Haliday, Norman Schwartzkopf, and other officials and experts. It explains how the CIA helped Saddam and the Baath party come to power in Iraq. In 'Hidden Wars' an American Arms Trade analyst explains that 52 countries supplied arms to Iraq or Iran during their long war. 29 of those countries, including the US, supplied arms to BOTH sides. The documentary shows a clip of April Glaspie saying that there's no security agreement with Kuwait in August 1990, and the look on her face is rather odd, as if she was being forced to say this. I was surprised to learn that the US apparently lied to the Saudis about satellite photos which allegedly showed that Iraqi troops were massed at the Saudi border in order to receive a Saudi invitation to allow US troops into their country. An investigative reporter says in the documentary that these photos do not exist, and the St. Petersburg Times along with ABC ran stories in January 1991 that also questioned the buildup of Iraqi troops at the Saudi border. A sinister-looking James Baker (former Secretary of State) is shown at the UN meeting at which members voted on whether force should be used to force Iraq out of Kuwait, and Phyllis Bennis explains that three days after Yemem voted 'No' on the use of force, the US cut its entire aid budget to Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world. Hidden Wars goes on to discuss the uprising in southern Iraq and the lack of support for the uprising from the US. The documentary spends a great deal of time on sanctions and their devastating impact on ordinary Iraqis during the following decade. Sanctions made Saddam stronger, and the documentary explains how. The remainder of Hidden Wars discusses the use of depleted uranium and its horrible effects on Iraqis and US soldiers and their families. I believe that this documentary is so good that I've added a link to hiddenwars.com on my side bar.
To learn more about the impact sanctions had on Iraq click here.