July 27—September 28, 2003
OIL POLITICS WERE AT THE ROOT of Saddam Hussein's 1 990 invasion of Kuwait. Eight years of war with Iran (1980-1988) left Iraq with billions of dollars of debt and anger with its Arab neighbors about low oil prices, its chief source of cash. Hussein sought to solve his cash problems by seizing lucrative oil fields in neighboring Kuwait. In early August 1990, Hussein invaded Kuwait in an attempt to annex it and control their oil fields. For six weeks, during January and February 1991, the United States conducted air attacks on the invading Iraq forces. In a final vengeful gesture, Hussein ordered his retreating troops to set fire to the Kuwait oil wells. The torched wells took an international team of fire fighters over nine months to extinguish and burned more than one billion barrels of crude oil. Some 700 destroyed wells caused incalculable environmental damage. Oil lakes covered vast areas and contaminated ground water. Bullet-ridden oil storage tanks, charred remains of cattle and camels, and oil-soaked birds littered the Kuwait oil fields. The burning wells released harmful gases and oxides into the atmosphere and created enormous smoke plumes that carried soot and ashes over great distances.