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Iraq, Saddam Hussein and the Unites States


The outcome of the recent conflict between Iraq and the United States is yet to be properly assessed. However, it is undeniable that the war did not begin overnight as it had been preceded by a variety of events, including its rise of Saddam Hussein, his wars with Iran and Kuwait, and, finally, the Gulf War. In order to define the reasons of the conflict, it is important to analyze these events from the point of various theories of international relations. Such ones include, particularly, a human theory (the aggression is a natural human emotion), the theory of realism (in order to acquire benefits for his country, a leader can use any measures, including violence), the theories of globalism (political and economic isolation striped the country and its leaders of any power on the world arena) and cognitive theories (isolation, being combined with dictatorial power leads to the distorted perception of reality and results in unreasonable and dangerous actions). Moreover, this study will also allow defining whether the conflict has ended as well as predicting its possible outcomes.

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ISIS, Iraq and the Unites States

Iraq belongs to a special group of countries that do not have permanent political partners. This independence is due primarily to economic reasons, i.e. the low level of involvement in international economic relations, the lack of cooperation ties, and underdeveloped manufacturing industry as well as the possession of surplus stocks of energy. Under these conditions, the possibility of establishing an authoritarian regime in the country increases, as its funding is almost unlimited due to significant export opportunities. The acquisition of control over energy resources is a main domestic political interest of the government. In addition, the country of this type does not feel the dependence on an external energy market. This factor reduces the contact of the country and its citizens with the outside world. A closed society is always easier to control, imposing messianic myths about its special features, and instilling an image of an external enemy (Arnold, 2009).

All these factors contributed to the emergence of the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein, whose actions led to a number of conflicts from Iraq-Iran War of 1980 to the Second Gulf War of 2003. The last conflict has ended with the destruction of Hussein’s regime and the execution of the dictator. However, up to this day, the situation in Iraq remains unstable and has a negative impact on the entire Gulf region. It plays an important role in the world politics. It is considered a vital area for the United States. In order to understand the origins and purpose of the recent Iraqi war, it is necessary to examine the development of bilateral relations of the U.S. and Iraq in the 1980s as well as the factors that had influenced them. Therefore, the following research is dedicated to the analysis of the conflict between the United States and Iraq, the definition of its reasons and critical outcomes as well as the applications of various theories of war to the particular episodes of the conflict.


Historical Background of the Conflict

Rise of Saddam Hussein. Modern day Iraq was formed in 1920 due to the efforts of the United Kingdom, which continued to control the country even after the declaration of its independence in 1932. Since 1925, a concession to develop oil in this country has belonged to the Anglo-French-American consortium Turkish Petroleum, later renamed to Iraq Petroleum (Arnold, 2009). As a result, the money from the extraction of valuable resources was leaving the country. In 1952, the state’s share in the oil industry rose to 50%, but it still did not satisfy the majority of Iraq. Among disaffected by the governmental policy was Saddam Hussein.

In 1956, Saddam became a member of the Ba’ath Party (a new organization founded by Arab Communists) and took part in an attempt to overthrow the king of Iraq Faisal II (Arnold, 2009). The attempt ended in the failure, which, however, did not change much. In 1958, the king was overthrown by General Qasim (Arnold, 2009). Ba’ath Party opposed the new government and was stripped of all political power. As a result, it has undergone a deep modernization with Hussein being one of the five new leaders of the party. In 1968, Ba’athists became the leading political force of the country, making the party leader Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr the president of Iraq and Saddam Hussein – his right-hand man (Arnold, 2009).

Due to the nationalization of the country’s oil industry, Iraq had become one of the major players in the Middle East by the early 1980s. The standard of living in the country was the highest in the region. Significant revenues from the oil trade were invested in the construction of roads and infrastructure, providing an efficient system of healthcare, building schools, universities, power plants, water supply, and sewage systems (Arnold, 2009).

By that time, Saddam Hussein had received almost the unlimited power over the country. He controlled the security organs of the Ba’ath, which allowed him to eliminate all the opposition factions in the party. The leading governmental positions were occupied by prot?g?s of Hussein, mainly originating from Tikriti clan. As a result, a one-party system was established in the country. In 1979, Iraqi President al-Bakr resigned, leaving Hussein as his successor. From this moment, Saddam Hussein had received the absolute power over the one of the strongest and richest countries in the Middle East (Arnold, 2009). However, the relationship between Iraq and the neighboring countries, particularly Iran and Kuwait, remained rather tense.

Iran-Iraq War. Iran and Iraq have a long story of conflicts based on the territorial claims. The shores of the Shatt al-Arab River, formed by the merger of the Tigris and the Euphrates serving as a natural border between these two countries, have rich deposits of oil. The eastern shore of the river belongs to Iran and the western one – to Iraq. Iraq tried to claim the east coast of the river while Iran insisted on the border passing through the middle of the riverbed (Karsh, 2009).

In 1937, Iran and Iraq signed a contract, according to which the border was running along the left (Iranian) side of the river. On April 19, 1969, Iran, using the political instability in Iraq, unilaterally withdrew from the agreement (Karsh, 2009). In March 6, 1975, at the OPEC conference in Algiers, the Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and the vice-president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein signed a border treaty based on the principle of thalweg (the border passing through the middle of the riverbed), thus cancelling the agreement of 1937 (Karsh, 2009).

In addition to the uncertainty with the border, the relations between the countries were difficult due to the support of mutual insurgencies: Iraq indulged separatism in Khuzestan while Iran supported Kurdish rebels in the territory of Iraq. In February 1979, the Islamic revolution took place in Iran, resulting in passing the control over the country to the Revolutionary Council led by Ayatollah Khomeini. He began to implement his ideas of exporting the revolution to other Gulf countries. In April 1980, Shiite militias, supported by Iran, made an attempt to assassinate the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, Tariq Aziz (Karsh, 2009). This event sharply aggravated the relations between the two countries and led to an increase in border clashes. On September 17, 1980, Saddam Hussein formally denounced the agreement of 1975 and declared the eastern shore of the Shatt al-Arab River the Iraqi territory, leading the army of Iraq to cross it and invade the province of Khuzestan (Karsh, 2009).

The war between Iran and Iraq ended without a convincing victory of any of the parties, although both sides stated their military triumph. The economic damage for Iraq and Iran was estimated at 350 billion dollars. Over the eight years of war, the loss of Iran’s military and civilians amounted to 900 thousand people (Karsh, 2009). Most of the populated cities on the border with Iraq were ruined, and the infrastructure of the oil industry was damaged. Casualties in Iraq were lower than those in Iran. However, the economic consequences of the war were many more severe. The war led to the emergence of Iraq’s substantial debt to a number of Arab countries. In particular, Iraq’s debt to Kuwait exceeded 14 billion dollars being one of the reasons that propelled Saddam Hussein to the decision to invade it in 1990, beginning the Gulf War (Karsh, 2009).

The relationship between the U.S. and Iraq. By the time, Iraq had a broad political and military support from the United States. The country had received not only the American weapon, but also the data on the deployment of Iranian units obtained by American intelligence. Such an attitude towards Iraq and, particularly, Saddam Hussein was due to the fact that the U.S. government perceived him as the lesser one of two evils as well as the means of deterring the Islamic Revolution in Iran. In October 1989, President George W. Bush signed the directive on national security issues. It stated that an access to the oil riches of Persian Gulf and the security of friendly regimes in key countries of the region was a vital matter of the national security of the U.S.A. With respect to Iraq, normal relations between it and the United States were to serve the long-term interests of both countries and promote stability in the Middle East (Arnold, 2009).

The outcome of such policy could have been predicted by analyzing the situation from the point of realistic theories of war. In order to achieve success, the leader of the state may use any means, including violence and lethal force, and ignore the principles of political ethics. As a result, the realistic theory is pessimistic about the idea of the existence of perpetual peace between the countries. Of course, there is a possibility of peaceful co-existence, but there is no will that would establish such a state for centuries. On the other hand, such state of affairs does not mean that the governments’ will remains completely uncontained in international relations (Ghosh, 2009). On their quest for peace, the countries impose a contractual relationship, but each of them acts in its favor. Therefore, the peace will always be shaky. This theory was proved on August 2, 1990, when Iraq launched an invasion of oil-rich Kuwait (Carlisle, 2003). Thus, overnight, an ally of the United States turned into the country’s mortal enemy.

The First Gulf War

After the termination of Iran-Iraq war in the summer of 1988, the situation in the Middle East stabilized. However, the period of peace was short-lived. New rising tensions were provoked by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, whose foreign policy was aggressive and unpredictable. Despite the fact that the armistice between Iran and Iraq was not signed, and the question of a final settlement of the conflict had remained open, Baghdad began to plan the seizure of Kuwait and the east of Saudi Arabia, with the main oil reserves of the country. In support of his actions, Saddam Hussein claimed that the Arabian oil was a pan-Arab property (Arnold, 2009).

Since the second half of 1989, the Iraqi press has begun a propaganda campaign against the Persian Gulf states, accusing them of interference with the restoration of the Iraqi economy. It occurred by preventing an increase in the OPEC production quotas for Iraq. The policy of the Gulf countries was qualified as an economic war. On May 30, 1990, at the meeting of the Arab League Council, Saddam Hussein declared that the economic war had become unbearable (Arnold, 2009).

On June 17, Baghdad directly accused Kuwait of being an initiator of the economic war and the theft of Iraqi oil by its illegal extraction from the Rumaila field near the Iraq-Kuwait border. As compensation, Saddam Hussein demanded the Kuwaiti government to pay 10 billion dollars. Latter, trying to avoid a conflict, the country agreed to provide a loan of 9 billion dollars to Iraq and discuss the contentious issues. However, the decision to go to war had already been made in Baghdad. On August 2, 1990, Iraqi army invaded Kuwait (Carlisle, 2003).

The reaction of the world community to the Iraqi aggression was swift and decisive. The UN Security Council had adopted resolutions ensuring the full economic blockade of Iraq. However, having enough information about Saddam Hussein’s intentions, the administration of the U.S. President had no illusions about the possibilities of appeasement in the region. It was declared a zone of vital interests of the United States. As a result, on January 17, 1991, the multinational forces launched a military operation to liberate Kuwait called the Desert Storm. It had lasted for 42 days and ended with the defeat of the Iraqi forces (Carlisle, 2003).

On February 25, 1991, the Iraqi government announced its recognition of all the resolutions of the Security Council. Kuwait was liberated, but Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq remained. However, its survivability had been limited. First, the economic sanctions were implemented against Iraq. Second, the U.S. had acquired allies against Saddam Hussein in the face of the Iraqi Kurds (Carlisle, 2003). Iraqi forces could not use force against the Kurds as Iraqi aviation flights over the territories inhabited by Kurds had been banned.

The victorious outcome of the war in the Persian Gulf ensured the dominance of the United States in the Middle East. It had also substantially changed the balance of power in the Arab world. Egypt, who supported the United States, has regained its status as a leading country in the Arab world. It has greatly improved its relations with the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf.

As it has been mentioned before, the First Gulf War can be viewed through the prism of realistic theories of international relations. The main reason of the conflict was Iraq’s desire to improve its financial and economic situation after the war with Iran. As a result, the Iraqi government neglected the principles of political ethics, accusing the neighboring countries of theft and anti-Iraq plots in order to justify a future invasion. On the other hand, human theories can also be applied to the case of the First Gulf War. According to them, aggression is one of the natural states of a man. It is fueled by sublimation and projection, when a person turns dissatisfaction into prejudice and hatred (Ghosh, 2009). Therefore, the ambitions of Saddam Hussein as well his intolerance to other ideologies also were among the primary reasons for starting the conflict.

The UN Resolutions and Sanctions

On March 2, 1990, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution, which formulated the conditions for the establishment of peace in the Persian Gulf (Carlisle, 2003). According to this document, the Iraqi leadership was to unconditionally accept all twelve previous resolutions on the crisis in the Gulf. In addition, Iraq was obliged to renounce all actions aimed at the annexation of Kuwait; accept the responsibility for damage to Kuwait and the third countries as a result of aggression against Kuwait; and release all Kuwaiti nationals from custody. Besids, it had to cease hostile actions of Iraqi troops against the multinational force; appoint military representatives to discuss the cessation of hostilities with the multinational command; and provide the immediate access to prisoners of war and their release. Moreover, Iraq was obliged to provide all the information and assistance in finding Iraqi mines, booby-traps and other explosive devices, as well as chemical and biological weapons in Kuwait and the areas of Iraq, where the multinational forces were located (Carlisle, 2003). The country accepted the resolution without any reservations, on the conditions of a loser.

Economic sanctions against the state were imposed on August 6, 1990, in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution №661 (Carlisle, 2003). According to it, all the countries were to prohibit the import from Iraq, impede the sales of weaponry and other military equipment to the country, as well as the financial and economic assistance. For a complete cessation of maritime trade relations with Iraq, the UN Security Council adopted the Resolution №665, and later –the Resolution №670 on the introduction of the air embargo against Iraq, providing for a ban on the transportation of any goods other than food and humanitarian aid (Carlisle, 2003). On April 1991, the UN Security Council approved the Resolution №687, according to which the decision to lift the embargo could be taken only after Iraq fulfilling the requirements of the international community on the elimination of programs for the production and distribution of chemical and biological weapons by Iraq. On April 1995, the UN Security Council agreed to a partial lifting of the oil embargo of Iraq, according to the oil-for-food principle (Carlisle, 2003).

It should be noted that despite losing the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein was not only left alive, but also managed to retain his power over the country. However, in accordance with the theories of globalism and transnationalism, the sanctions and resolutions by the UN had severely limited his opportunities on the international arena. These theories claim that the power of any country depends on its relationship (both diplomatic and economic) with the others. In the case such connections are not present, it is impossible to talk about any influence of the state on the world arena (Ghosh, 2009).

In fact, Iraq has become an exile. Moreover, with the international (both diplomatic and economic) relationships of Iraq being severed, its government was unable to assess the situation on the global scale. It should be noted that since 1990 Saddam Hussein had never left Iraq (Arnold, 1990). As a result, he was mostly unaware of the changed balance of powers in the Middle East and in the world, as a whole. Therefore, in accordance with the cognitive theory, which emphasizes the processes of thinking, awareness, and judgment as the main components of human behavior, Hussein had created a false picture of the world for himself. Retaining his power as a dictator, he remained as arrogant as before, which combined with almost unlimited political power could lead to a new round of the conflict (Ghosh, 2009). In a few years, this statement was proved by the events that led to the Second Gulf War.

The Second Gulf War

According to resolutions of the UN Security Council, the UN Special Commission had to oversee the elimination of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (chemical, nuclear and biological weapons) and long-range missiles. The Commission had successfully fulfilled its functions until 1998, when it was forced to leave Iraq because of the refusal of the Iraqi side to further cooperation (Moskaitis, 2013).

Throughout the 1990s, the process of the elimination of weapons of mass destruction periodically faced some difficulties related to the reluctance of the Iraqi authorities to cooperate with the Special Commission. In December 1998, after Iraq’s refusal to cooperate with the international inspectors, the United States and Britain conducted a military operation named Desert Fox against the country (Moskaitis, 2013). After its completion, the Iraqi air defense system started regular attacks on American and British planes patrolling the air space, which led to a retaliatory strike, often accompanied by casualties among the local population. The armed incidents in the Iraqi sky had taken place between December 1998 and March 2003, with their number increasing markedly since mid-2002 (Moskaitis, 2013).

The first suggestion of a possible American military operation against Iraq appeared after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, performed by Al-Qaeda (Moskaitis, 2013). Under pressure from the United States, Saddam Hussein finally agreed to the return of international inspectors into the country. The commission arrived in Iraq and searched for the weaponry of mass destruction, but found no evidence of the production resumption. In 2002-2003, the American administration accused Iraq of resuming the development of weapons of mass destruction and cooperation with international terrorist organizations, especially Al-Qaeda (Moskaitis, 2013).

The invasion of Iraq started in March 2003, in the framework of the military operation, which had lasted until September, 2010. At various times, up to 49 countries participated in it, but in August 2009, only the American military contingent left in Iraq (Moskaitis, 2013). During the operation, Saddam Hussein’s regime was overthrown and the dictator was executed. However, neither the weaponry of mass destruction nor the evidence of Iraq’s cooperation with Al-Qaeda had been found. After the Operation Iraqi Freedom a non-combat operation New Dawn started. Under this activity, the American authorities promised to help in the development of Iraq’s own security and counter-terrorism forces. In 2011, the American forces left Iraq (Moskaitis, 2013).

The outcome of this war is rather difficult to assess. On the one hand, the regime of Saddam Hussein was completely destroyed. On the other hand, financial and human losses of both Iraq and the U.S. were rather significant. Many cities of Iraq were destroyed, and the civilian infrastructure was not functioning, while the population of the country experienced an acute shortage of drinking water. In addition, people of Iraq clashed on political and religious grounds. There is a wide variety of extremist groups in the country (particularly those representing Sunnis and Shiites). The majority of the population lives below a poverty line, meaning it has nothing to lose (Moskaitis, 2013). Therefore, Iraq has become a center on instability; and the possibility of civil war is rather high. As a result, the true outcome of Iraq war is yet to be defined.

In a theoretical perspective, it is possible to apply cognitive and global theories of the international relations to the outcome of the Second Gulf War. As it has been mentioned before, after the First Gulf War, Iraq was isolated from the other world, resulting in the loss of the country’s influence on the world arena and making it difficult for its government to assess the situation on the global scale. As a result, Saddam Hussein became a victim of his own arrogance and ignorance, clearly demonstrating how dictatorial power could deprive a person of a sense of reality (Ghosh, 2009). After his mistake in 1990 (and by being unaware of the scale of changes taking place by the time in the world), Saddam did not learn the lessons and tried to toy with America once again – in 2002-2003 (Moskaitis, 2013). Bluffing about the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, he somehow thought that the United States would not risk attacking Iraq again. As a result, he lost everything.


In conclusion, it is possible to say that the conflict between the United States and Iraq had been preceded by a variety of events that shaped the personality of Saddam Hussein, his attitude towards other countries and, particularly, the relations between his country and the U.S. From the theoretical perspective, the whole history of the conflict can be viewed and its reasons can be explained by using the following theories. The first of them is a human theory (the aggression is a natural human emotion), which helps explaining the development of the personality of Saddam Hussein before and during his dictatorship. The next is the theory of realism (in order to acquire benefits for his country, the leader can use any measures, including violence). It explains the reasons for invading Iran and Kuwait.

Finally, the events that took place in the 1990s, as well as the Second Gulf War, can be explained by using the theories of globalism (political and economic isolation had striped the country and its leaders of any power on the world arena) and cognitive theories (isolation, being combined with dictatorial power could lead to the distorted perception of reality and results in unreasonable and dangerous actions). As a result, it is possible to conclude that the main reasons for the conflict were the dictatorial ambitions of Saddam Hussein. This all threw not only his country but the whole territory of the Persian Gulf into chaos and caused an irreparable damage, as well as his desire for revenge after his defeat in the Gulf War.

More than ten years have passed since the beginning of the last conflict between the United States and Iraq. However, despite it ended officially in 2011, it is possible to say that the flames of war have not been doused completely. As it has been mentioned before, the main objectives of the American forces were the prevention of manufacturing the mass-destruction weaponry in Iraq, as well as weakening the international terrorism. However, judging by the today’s situation, it can be stated that many of the goals set by the United States on the eve of invasion of Iraq have not been achieved. As for the fate of Iraq itself, the situation there is unlikely to return to normal in the nearest future.

On the one hand, as a result of the American military operation, one of the most brutal regimes of modern times, which destroyed thousands of innocent people, was deposed. However, on the other hand, the actions of the Americans had fired out a long feud between Sunnis and Shiites. As a result, the United States must look for some ways to bring peace to Iraq. Therefore, it is possible to say that the conflict that started in 2003 has yet to be ended.

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