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Posted on Jun 3, 2007 in Front Page Features, War College

Deja Vu The Desert Rats

By Wild Bill Wilder

British tanks occupy a dug in position near a landfill just
outside Kuwait City


Eight years of harsh war with neighboring Iran had left Iraq with little to show for it. The despotic dictator, Saddam Hussein, now found himself faced with two big problems. The first was a wounded ego. Iran had not crumbled before the armor-infantry forces of Iraq as he had promised. Hussein needed a stunning victory to bolster the morale of the people and to make them realize what a great leader he was.

There was also the matter of an empty national treasury. Even though Hussein himself helped himself to generous portions of the monthly income from petroleum sales internationally, the country was on the verge of bankruptcy. A quick influx of funds was what was needed.


The solution was to be found in another next door neighbor, tiny yet very wealthy Kuwait. Here he could achieve a quick and easy victory. Doing so would bring the biggest oil producing area in the Middle East under his domain. Yes, Kuwait would do nicely.

There would be the international "wailing and gnashing of teeth," but it would soon pass. And Kuwait would be his. His Arab brothers would understand and soon stand behind him. If not, they might also come under his wrath. And if Kuwait was not enough, there was oil-rich Saudi Arabia right next door. If needed, it could also be assimilated.

The Iraqi Army

At this point in history, the Armed forces of Iraq were the fourth largest in the world, following behind the USSR, the United States and China. It was a formidable force with over 4,500 tanks, 4,000 artillery pieces, 1,000 modern aircraft, and a standing army over 500,000 men.

That is not to say that it was a totally modernized army by any means. Weapons had been purchased and received as gifts or loans from many different countries. Small arms varied in units from the antiquated, yet venerable M-1 rifle to modern AK-74s and M-16s. Modern or not, it was a force big enough to offer serious problems to any adversary.

Thus Saddam began rattling his sabers towards Kuwait as soon as the war with Iran had come to an end. In addition to being the richest country in the Near East, Kuwait offered valuable access to the Persian Gulf, which Iraq desperately needed. It was a settled matter in the mind of Hussein. Kuwait would have to be taken and assimilated into his own country.

During the first seven months of 1990, Iraqi troop movements and political thundering by the Iraqis were blissfully ignored by all concerned, including Kuwait itself. On August 2 1990, Iraqi tanks rolled across the border into the tiny country and took it be violent force. In less than a week, the forces of Hussein had taken Kuwait, announced that it was no longer an independent country and lined up his troops along the Saudi Arabian border, guns pointed in their direction.

President George Bush of the United States took the initiative and began a campaign to get backing from many of the world’s leaders against this forceful intrusion and violation of international interests. Within days, the United Nations officially condemned the invasion and gave a clear statement for Iraq to get out of Kuwait at once. Hussein simply ignored the threat. The stage was now set for the beginning of defensive operations to protect Saudi Arabia, known as Desert Shield. Hussein’s further incalcitrance would lead to the second step, or Desert Storm.

There seemed to be a definite parallel between Hussein’s actions in the Middle East and Hitler’s opening moves in the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. Hussein had placed the challenge. Now it was up to the world to respond to it.

King Fahd of Saudi Arabia sensed the imminence of the threat and appealed to the United States for aid. The first American troops arrived on August 9th. They were followed by contingents from many other nations, including the United Kingdom. As the months passed, both sides continued to build up their forces until there were nearly 400,000 Iraqi troops equipped with over 4,000 tanks facing a coalition force of 600,000 with over 3,600 tanks.

"The Mother of all Battles"

Saddam used his cunning and promised a harsh war with many casualties among the attackers. He further intimated even more disastrous consequences if any effort were made against his taking of Kuwait. The media hopped upon the theme and spoke in awe of the fearful Iraqi defenses and what such a confrontation might cost in lives. It further elevated the status of the Republican Guard (Primarily chosen out of their loyalty to the Ba’th Regime and Hussein) as elite first line fighters. In reality, the Republican Guard was lavishly equipped with the best in the Iraq’s arsenal, but their fighting abilities certainly did not qualify them as "elite."

Protests broke out in the United States and other parts of the world against the action of the United Nations coalition. Congress seemed initially divided over the matter. The whole event began to resemble Vietnam all over again. But it was not the same.

A new military had been born out of the experiences in Southeast Asia. A new modernized, "green screen" soldier, with technologies that had been developed for 20 years was waiting for a chance to use them in combat.

[In the United Kingdom, the British forces had not been involved in any major armor engagements since the Second World War. Two brigades still existed, however, and were now equipped with the new Challenger tank.

They were the 4th and the 7th Armored Brigades, descendants of the famed Desert Rats 7th Armored Division that had fought in North Africa and across Europe. They now formed the nucleus of the British 1st Armored Division. Some experts considered their main Battle Tank, the Challenger, an equal to the vaunted American M1A1 Abrams tank. Desert Storm was to be the proving ground for the many new military innovations and improvements of all the armies involved, especially Britain and the United States.]

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1 Comment

  1. the united kingdom fought Argentina in the Falkland wars in the eighty’s although it was dominantly a navel and marine based they did fight to retake the lost island.