In an emotive gesture, Iraq on Thursday handed over the remains of 48 Kuwaiti nationals, more than 28 years after the Gulf War ended.
The Gulf War, which lasted between August 1990 and February 1991, was an international conflict that erupted after Iraq, under dictator Saddam Hussain, invaded neighbouring Kuwait, claiming it as its “19th province”. After Hussain defied UN warnings, the US and its allies forced Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.
According to the Kuwaiti government, around 605 people went missing during the Iraqi occupation of their country. Now, for the first time since the Gulf War ended, Iraq has handed over the remains of Kuwaiti citizens exhumed from a Saddam-era mass grave.
What happened during the Gulf War?
On August 2, 1990, Iraq annexed Kuwait, its south-eastern neighbour 25 times smaller in size. Although Hussain claimed Kuwait to be a part of Iraq, he invaded the region so that Baghdad could cancel a massive debt that it owed Kuwait, as well as acquire Kuwait’s large oil reserves. Hussain also sought to link the annexation with the Palestinian conflict.
Immediately after, the United Nations Security Council strongly reprimanded Iraq and warned of military action if its forces did not retreat by January 15, 1991.
As Hussain refused to pay heed to the UN’s many warnings, a US-led coalition, consisting of 7 lakh troops from 35 countries assembled in Saudi Arabia — Iraq’s neighbour also threatened by Hussain’s adventures in the region.
After the January 15 deadline was flouted by Baghdad, coalition forces first launched Operation Desert Storm, which destroyed Iraq’s air defences, oil refineries, and key infrastructure. This was followed by Operation Desert Sabre, a ground offensive that went on to free Kuwait. The war finally ended on February 28, 1991, when the US declared a ceasefire.
During the war, the Iraqi military is known to have lost between 8,000-50,000 people, as opposed to around 300 casualties incurred by coalition forces.
India during the Gulf War
New Delhi had been one of the first powers to recognise the Baathist regime when it came to power, and Baghdad, in turn, had consistently maintained a pro-India stance, especially during the era when the rest of the region was seen to have gravitated towards Pakistan.
When the Gulf War started, India, which at the time was led by PM Chandra Shekhar, maintained its signature non-aligned stance. However, it rejected Baghdad’s demand for linking the hostilities that were unfolding then with the Palestinian conflict.
Between August 13 and October 20 of 1990, India evacuated over 1,75,000 of its nationals from war-torn Kuwait, the biggest such operation by the Indian government. The feat has been mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest number of people being evacuated by a civilian airliner, and was depicted in the 2016 Hindi film ‘Airlift’.