(January) Kuwait becomes a protectorate of Great Britain. Kuwaiti leader Sheikh Mubarak enters into an agreement stating that he and his successors would need the British government's consent to cede any territory, or receive agents or representatives of any foreign power. By effectively turning its foreign policy over to the British, Kuwait gains protection from Ottoman attempts to take control of its territory.
(December 2) Kuwait's borders are officially defined. Great Britain issues the Uqair Protocol of 1922, which recognizes Kuwait's boundaries with the Iraqis to their north and the Saudis to their west that were first established at the Anglo-Ottoman Convention of 1913. The Iraqis are not pleased because they are left with a small section of Persian Gulf coastline unsuitable for large harbors. There isn't much they can do about it, however, as Great Britain is the controlling power in the region.
(October 3) Iraq gains independence from Great Britain. The British Mandate of Mesopotamia, which gave Great Britain control of Iraqi territory in the wake of World War I, is dissolved and the Kingdom of Iraq is officially recognized as an independent state. Though still not happy with the original settlement, Iraq reaffirms its border with Kuwait as part of the independence process.
(June 19) Kuwait gains independence from Great Britain. Iraqi leader Abd al-Karim Qasim re-stakes his country's claim on Kuwait after independence, basing this assertion on Kuwait once having been subject to Iraqi authority as part of the Ottoman Empire (while conveniently ignoring Iraq's own previous double confirmation of their shared border). Fearing an Iraqi invasion, Kuwait requests assistance from Saudi Arabia and Great Britain, and war is prevented. Two years later the assassination of Qasim provides an opportunity for Iraq to reaffirm its border with Kuwait for a third time.
(April) The Islamic Republic of Iran is born. The Shah of Iran flees for his life in January; this allows the return of Ayatollah Khomeini in February, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is declared the following spring. Saddam Hussein becomes president of Iraq in July, setting the stage for an eight-year conflict between countries that share an 875-mile (1,410-km) border and similar ambitions to become the dominant player in the Persian Gulf region.
(September) Iraq invades Iran. Almost immediately upon coming to power, the revolutionary regime begins urging the suppressed Shia Muslim majority in Iraq to rise up against the Iraqi government. Not surprisingly, this doesn't sit well with Saddam, and neither do the series of border skirmishes that break out between the two countries. Ultimately concerned about his own political survival, Saddam directs his armed forces to invade Iran.
The war seesaws back and forth. Having initially achieved success, Saddam finds the tide turning against his forces by 1982. After making a tactical retreat, the Iraqi army stabilizes the situation, and the ensuing years feature a series of blunted attacks combined with strategic blunders that give neither side the upper hand. In the summer of 1987, Iraq accepts the provisions of a UN resolution to end the conflict, but it's only after Saddam uses chemical weapons against an Iranian Kurdish village one year later that Iran signs on.
(August 20) The Iran-Iraq War ends. One month short of eight years after it began, the war between Iran and Iraq finally ends. With the border between the two countries remaining exactly the same as when hostilities started, neither side has anything to show for the conflict other than a combined total of one million citizens killed. Iraq struggles to recover economically in the war's aftermath, as it owes billions of dollars to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait for wartime loans.
OPERATION DESERT SHIELD (1990–1991)
(August 2) Iraq invades Kuwait. Saddam Hussein accuses Kuwait of exceeding its OPEC quotas for oil production by slant drilling into the Iraqi share of the Rumaila oil field that straddles their joint border, thus depressing the overall price of oil, Iraq's main export. He also revives the decades-old charge that Kuwait belongs to Iraq, no matter what past agreements may say. Add in Kuwait's refusal to forgive the loans made to Iraq, and the result is Iraqi invasion.
(August 7) Operation Desert Shield is launched. Saudi Arabia's King Fahd is concerned that Iraq's forces in Kuwait will attack his country next, and many Western nations are aware that an Iraqi takeover of Saudi oil fields will enable Saddam Hussein to control international oil supplies. The United States negotiates with King Fahd to allow a coalition of countries to assemble troops in Saudi Arabia. The king agrees, and a week after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait an international force led by American troops begins amassing in Saudi Arabia, ostensibly for defensive purposes.
(August 8) Iraq annexes Kuwait. Six days after the invasion, Saddam Hussein installs a puppet government and takes control of Kuwait. After being forced to flee their country, Kuwait's ruling Sabah family calls for an international response to Iraq's aggression. The United Nations passes a resolution that basically prohibits all countries from trading with Iraq, and follows it with another that authorizes a naval blockade to enforce these economic sanctions. At that point, all eyes turn to Saudi Arabia.
Troop buildup continues. By mid-autumn the number of troops stationed in Saudi Arabia grows to more than 500,000 from a total of 34 countries. Because there is concern that the Iraqi army will attack before the coalition forces have a chance to become fully deployed, the U.S. Air Force sends 48 F-15s to Saudi Arabia early on. These jet fighters immediately begin patrolling the Saudi-Kuwait-Iraq border on a 24-hour basis to deter the Iraqi Army from making any further moves.
(November 29) United Nations authorizes use of force. The United Nations passes a resolution demanding that Iraq voluntarily leave Kuwait by January 15, 1991. If Iraqi forces do not exit by this date, U.N. member states are authorized to "use all necessary means" to ensure that Kuwait is liberated. Iraq rejects the ultimatum, but agrees to meet directly with the United States to discuss the situation.
(January 9) U.S. Secretary of State meets Iraqi Foreign Minister. Secretary of State James Baker emphasizes the looming deadline for Iraq to voluntarily exit Kuwait; Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz reiterates Iraq's intention to ignore it and threatens to attack Israel. The failure to create a compromise through negotiation gives President George H.W. Bush further ammunition for his contention that force is necessary to resolve the conflict.
(January) Call for war ignites controversy in the U.S. Those opposing military action are concerned about large casualties and believe economic sanctions against Iraq will eventually force it to leave Kuwait. Those in favor of using force say that sanctions are not enough, and point to human rights abuses committed against Kuwait by the invading Iraqis—although some of the worst atrocities described are later shown to be fabrications cooked up by a public relations firm hired by Kuwait's exiled rulers. While President Bush makes it clear he believes the UN resolution gives him all the authority he needs to authorize force, others, including members of Congress and former Pentagon officials, contend a Congressional declaration of war is required and that it should be used as a last resort only if economic sanctions fail.
(January 12) Congress passes war resolution. The debate over the authority to send troops into battle culminates when the U.S. Congress passes a resolution calling for the use of military force to remove Iraq from Kuwait. Though the vote is narrow (52 to 47 in the Senate, 250 to 183 in the House of Representatives), the passage of this declaration ends the debate in America. It also has an effect on other members of the Desert Shield coalition, who follow with similar votes of their own in succeeding days.
OPERATION DESERT STORM (1991)
(January 17) The air war begins. One day after Iraq makes good on its refusal to leave Kuwait by January 15, coalition forces initiate Operation Desert Storm by commencing an air attack. Hitting targets in both Kuwait and Iraq, the coalition focuses on Iraqi air defenses, command and control centers, and positions held by military forces. More than 100,000 sorties are flown over the course of the war, and the non-stop bombing inflicts heavy damage on Iraqi forces and severely disrupts Iraqi society.
(January 17) Iraq retaliates . . . against Israel. Saddam Hussein orders Scud missiles to be fired at Israel shortly after the first coalition air attacks hit Iraq. These missiles continue to hit Israel throughout the six weeks of war. Although they cause much property damage and prove disruptive to Israeli civilian life, in the big picture they are relatively ineffective. That's because Israel refuses to retaliate, thus nullifying Saddam's strategy of splitting the coalition by portraying its Arab members as fighting alongside Israel.
(January 29) The Battle of Khafji. The lone Iraqi attack on Saudi Arabia is launched when it sends forces to invade and occupy the city of Khafji, just across the southern border of Kuwait. After achieving initial success, the Iraqis are expelled some 48 hours later by coalition forces, which sustain some of their heaviest casualties of the entire war.
(February 24)The land war begins. Coalition ground forces begin moving into Iraq and Kuwait. U.S., British, and French troops first head north before turning east in the direction of Al Basrah, an Iraqi port city. During these maneuvers, the elite Iraqi Republican Guard troops are engaged in battle, and the quick disposition of these forces effectively leaves Kuwait surrounded by coalition troops. This allows other coalition forces (mainly Arabs led by Kuwaitis) to advance up the coast and liberate Kuwait's capital city.
(February 26) Iraq retreats from Kuwait. Coalition forces progress much more quickly than anticipated, and a mere two days after the coalition ground offensive begins, the remaining Iraqi troops that have not been captured or killed begin to move out of Kuwait. Along the way they destroy as much of Kuwait's infrastructure and industry as they possibly can. More than 700 oil wells are set on fire, creating massive oil lakes and tremendous environmental damage.
(February 26–27) The "Highway of Death." This actually refers to a pair of roads: the main Highway 80 that runs from Kuwait City to Basra in Iraq, and a smaller coastal road to Basra. Retreating Iraqi troops (along with some civilian refugees and Kuwaiti captives) form convoys on both roads consisting of mostly military vehicles along with some civilian cars, trucks, and buses. Coalition planes bomb the beginning and end of each convoy, leaving the remaining vehicles stuck in place, where they are destroyed by further air attacks.
(February 28) The war ends. The coalition declares a cease-fire; only 100 hours have passed since the ground assault began to liberate Kuwait. With the cease-fire announcement, U.S., British, and French forces pursuing retreating Iraqi forces turn around after getting within 150 miles of Baghdad, Iraq's capital. The question of whether they should have continued on to capture Saddam Hussein arises later; ramifications from the decision to stop will be felt in the U.S. more than 10 years down the line.
THE AFTERMATH (1991–PRESENT)
(March 2) Saddam Hussein agrees to cease-fire. After agreeing to the cease-fire terms issued by the United Nations, Saddam Hussein remains as president of Iraq and still controls what's left of the nation's armed forces. This becomes crystal clear when, soon after signing the cease-fire agreement, Saddam uses what's left of his army to brutally suppress a pair of rebellions within Iraq—one started by Shiite Muslims in the south, and the other involving the Kurdish majority in the north.
(March) The Shiite rebellion is crushed. After suffering for years as second-class citizens under Saddam Hussein's government, the majority Shiite Muslim population in southern Iraq believes they'll receive international support in an attempt to overthrow Saddam after the coalition victory. Nothing of the kind happens, however, and Saddam's armies returning from Kuwait crush the loosely organized Shiite rebels.
(March–April) The Kurdish rebellion is crushed. The collapse of the Shiite rebellion causes some coalition partners to rethink their lack of support, but ultimately they decide that if Saddam Hussein's government disintegrates, the region will likely become further destabilized. Unfortunately for the Kurds, they believe American verbal support for an uprising will result in something more tangible when the fighting begins. That doesn't happen, and by the time an agreement is reached giving the Kurds UN-guaranteed sanctuary in the north, many have fled to Turkey and Iran.
(April 3) Iraq remains under UN sanctions. Saddam Hussein believes that Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait should be enough to have the UN economic sanctions, which created a trade embargo against Iraq for all goods and services other than food, medical supplies, and humanitarian aid, lifted. However, in response to Saddam, the UN passes a new resolution on linking removal of the economic sanctions to a list of terms that Iraq must meet.
(April 3) UN asserts terms for lifting economic sanctions. In order to lift the economic sanctions still in place, the new UN resolution calls for Iraq to destroy all of its biological and chemical weapons along with its ballistic missiles, cease work on any nuclear weapons programs, accept an international inspection regime to ensure compliance, and accept liability for damages caused by its invasion of Kuwait. Although Iraq accepts these provisions, over the next several years, its level of cooperation waxes and wanes.
(March 14) The ruling Sabah family returns to Kuwait. Kuwait's emir agrees to new National Assembly elections in 1992, honoring a pledge he made while in exile during the war. Many Palestinians living in Kuwait are ejected from the country due to the Palestine Liberation Organization's support of Saddam Hussein during the war. Iraq mobilizes 60,000 troops near the border in October 1994, but backs down and recognizes the UN-demarcated border and Kuwait's independence after the U.S. sends assistance to Kuwait.
Economic sanctions continue. Iraq's lack of cooperation in meeting the terms created to prevent further military aggression causes the U.S. to insist that economic sanctions remain in place. Early on Iraq rejects a provision that allows it to sell oil for food because it considers the program an infringement on its sovereignty. By 1996, however, the sanctions have taken a toll on Iraqi civilian life, so Saddam Hussein permits the program. It remains in place until 2003.
Gulf War Syndrome. American troops begin to deploy from Saudi Arabia within 10 days of the war's end. Soon after, the first reports of health problems among troops appear. Eventually more than 150,000 veterans report symptoms that range in severity from headache and fatigue to memory problems and cancerous tumors. In addition, studies show Gulf War veterans have a higher incidence of children with birth defects. Multiple causes, including exposure to chemical weapons, insecticides, and smoke from burning oil wells, are thought to be likely.