January 16

This Day in History

Presidential

Jan 16, 1991:

Bush waits for deadline in Iraq

On this day in 1991, President George Herbert Walker Bush waits to see if Iraq will withdraw from Kuwait by midnight, a deadline mandated by the United Nations, or if war will ensue.

Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and hard-line Iraqi nationalists did believe Kuwait should be part of Iraq, but acquiring control of Kuwait's oil fields was Hussein's primary interest. Control of Kuwait also represented a strategic military objective should Iraq be forced into a war with its western-friendly Arab neighbors. Hussein calculated, incorrectly, that the United States and the United Nations, who were closely tracking the military buildup along Kuwait's borders, would not try to stop him. When Iraqi ground forces entered Kuwait on August 2, 1990, President Bush immediately proclaimed that the invasion would not stand and vowed to help Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in their efforts to force the Iraqis from Kuwaiti land. To that end, Bush authorized an increase in U.S. troops and resources in the Persian Gulf in the following months.

On November 29, the United Nations Security Council authorized the use of all means necessary to remove Hussein's forces from Kuwait, giving Iraq the deadline of midnight on January 16 to leave or risk forcible removal. After negotiations between U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz failed, Congress authorized President Bush to use American troops in the coming conflict.

Just after midnight in the U.S. on January 17, Bush gave the order for U.S. troops to lead an international coalition in an attack on Saddam Hussein's army. U.S. General Norman Schwarzkopf led Operation Desert Storm, which began with a massive bombing of Hussein's armies in Iraq and Kuwait. The ensuing campaign, which is remembered in part for the United States' use of superior military technology, introduced the term smart bombs to the global vernacular--precision bombing devices aimed primarily at destroying infrastructure while minimizing civilian casualties. In response, Hussein launched SCUD missiles--notoriously inaccurate weapons designed to terrorize civilian targets--into Saudi Arabia and Israel. He hoped an Israeli military response would draw neighboring Arab nations into the fight on Iraq's side. Hussein again committed a grave miscalculation: Bush reassured Israelis that the U.S. would protect them from Hussein's SCUD attacks and Israel resisted the urge to retaliate. The U.S. then installed Patriot defensive missiles batteries in Israel--Patriots could destroy Iraq's SCUDs in flight, foiling Hussein's plan to goad Israel into a holy war.

Following an intense bombing of Baghdad, U.S.-led coalition ground forces marched into Kuwait and across the Iraq border. Regular Iraqi troops surrendered in droves, leaving only Hussein's hard-line Republican Guard to defend the capital. After pushing Hussein's forces out of Kuwait, Schwarzkopf called a ceasefire on February 28 and accepted the surrender of Iraqi generals on March 3.

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