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Anxiety evoked by memories of invasion

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

Most members of the generation who witnessed late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990 consider it an unforgettable day, and deservedly so. It always evokes a disquieting anxiety that haunts the Arab Gulf region, particularly in Kuwait itself, albeit it being a discussion theme that is better avoided during dinner sessions.

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Could another invasion recur and shock the region and the entire world on a hot summer night? Well, the fear is currently not of Iraq itself to be the initiator, but rather of it being a passageway or arena exploited by other sides for the same. Under the current circumstances, an invasion is hardly expected. However, nothing can be categorically ruled out, and therefore countries are building their military capabilities and preparing their forces for an anticipated day that no one wishes to come, but hazards are always hard to predict and anticipate.

On the 32nd anniversary of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and returning to the key question – which many intend to ignore – on the likelihood of a recurring invasion either on the short term or within a decade, I would opine that, although the possibility is very remote, but it can never be entirely out of the question. Hence, it is better to live according to the maxim of preparing for the worst scenario while hoping for the best one. At any rate, the prologue to Hussein’s invasion was not historically unprecedented. Back in 1961, former Iraqi President Abd al-Karim Qasim initiated a three-year international crisis that was directed against the then newly independent State of Kuwait.

The current Iraqi state is going through a transitional phase the results and fluctuations of which are hard to predict. At any rate, the Iraqi political arena remains partially governed by wise personalities who, in spite of their disputes, have managed to protect their country from a civil war similar to that which destroyed countries like Libya and Yemen. Thus, there is tangible hope that the national Iraqi sides will preserve their country from disintegration and foreign domination. Nevertheless, the prevalence of ever-growing armed militias is posing a serious danger to Baghdad as the country’s political center and threatening to drag Iraq to extremist policies or regional battles, as is the case in Lebanon brought about by Hezbollah.

Supporters of Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, protesting against a rival bloc's nomination for prime minister, continue their sit-in inside Iraq's parliament in the capital Baghdad's high-security Green Zone, on August 2, 2022. (AFP)
Supporters of Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, protesting against a rival bloc's nomination for prime minister, continue their sit-in inside Iraq's parliament in the capital Baghdad's high-security Green Zone, on August 2, 2022. (AFP)


Any threat to Kuwait is by default a threat to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the rest of the Arab Gulf countries since geography is a constant factor – regardless of the circumstances, as Hegel stated.

Kuwait’s options are more difficult than those in 1990, as back then everything was clear-cut and the entire world was split into two sides; one categorically opposing the invasion and the other supporting it. Nowadays, however, things are a bit different, as US’ active military presence has considerably diminished, and frightening countries, like Iran, are boosting their military capabilities and expansionist ambitions. Former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani liked to keep reminding GCC countries that Hussein proposed sharing the Gulf Region with Tehran in return for the latter’s approval of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, noting that Iran rejected that offer. Regardless of how authentic that story is, the current political drivers are different from those three decades ago. China the superpower has emerged as the major customer of the Gulf Region’s most important good; oil, and thus Beijing’s influence has partially replaced that of the US there. However, and unlike Washington, Beijing is not ready to intervene militarily to protect oil-producing countries from bullying and aggression. Hence, the US remains the most dominant country in the region with its protection and military bases that are present there, as they are present in Japan and Western Europe.

After all, Washington is still the key international player in the Arab Gulf region. It has a defense agreement with Kuwait that entails the deployment of 13,000 US troops, which acts as a deterrence against any external aggression or even any plans for it. Meanwhile, major international shifts are taking place, and they include the gradual US withdrawal, the comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran expected to be signed before the end of 2022 and that would set the latter free, and the growing dominance of China as a country that does not differentiate between aggressor and victim countries. These shifts are posing a challenge to the leaders of GCC in managing the future of their region.

This recalls the topic of options available to the Arab Gulf countries in general. The GCC was established in 1981 as a political and defensive apparatus in response to the Iraq-Iran war. During the remaining years of this decade, the best option the GCC countries have is to enhance their joint defensive strategies, which in turn would attract international cooperation and deter regional expansionist ambitions.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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