Iraq and Kuwait: synthesis and findings

As summarized in Table 5.1, with the breakdown of Iraq's monarchy, the ingroup identification between Iraq and Kuwait also fell apart, resulting in significantly and persistently more hostile relations.

Table 5.1 Deterioration of Iraqi-Kuwaiti Relations


Period I

Period II


« -J-

! 11


Shared language, culture, history, and religion



5 S

C/2 tz


Similar political system


But asymmetric development


Similar economic system


Socialist vs. capitalist

  • 1
  • 2

— /+

Majority, but falling

Not applicable



Low/decreasing share

since 1952



Common threat


increase since 1952

(later Iran)



Absence of divisive ideology


(Except Ghazi’s period before




Muhial recognition


quasi-recognition before independence



Personalization of bonds between ruling elites



(Con tin tied)

Table 5.1 (Continued)


Period I

Period II

3.2.1 Frequent high-


Yes, esp. since 1950


Yes, esp. since 1950

level state visits

  • 3.2.2 Kinship, intermarriage and friendship bonds
  • 3.2.3 Shared socialization

•2 3.3 Affirmation of

Closer bonds since Abd al-Ilah and King Faisal II + shared socialization via British institutions and royal identity


Separate socialization after Iraq cut ties with Britain

8 commonality



M) 3.3.1 Kinship and

Stronger with developing institutions and monarchic identity in Kuwait

family references




£ 3.3.2 Emphasis on


used mostly in ref. to population

£ similarity

g 3.3.3 References to


Strong othering discourse

00 shared historical


3.3.4 Common ceremonies/shared institutions

s 4.1 Military restraint

Prelude to AFU establishment


Anti-colonialist/-imperial narrative fostered by Ba'thist Iraq, contradicting pro-Western outlook of Kuwait

Less-common ceremonies (mostly restricted to Arab League protocol)

Invasion attempt

  • 4.2 Non-military restraint +
  • (except in Ghazi’s period)
  • 4.2.1 Refraining from delegitimization

Delegitimization of dynasty, system, and even state itself


Period I

Period II

4.2.2 Refraining from subversion


Frequent subversion attempts

4.2.3 Rhetorical restraint


Claim to Kuwait whole instead of negotiable parts (“19th province”)

4.3 Alliance and solidarity


Prelude to AFU


Iran-Iraq War, but outpouring of monarchic solidarity at attack of fellow monarchy

The massive escalations in 1961 and 1990 are not sufficiently explained by irre-dentism and aspirations for regional hegemony or great power-small power relations alone. Saudi Arabia also had territorial and hegemonic ambitions vis-à-vis Kuwait but reacted in a completely different way to the declaration of Kuwait's independence. Rather than delegitimizing the new state, the Saudis welcomed it into the monarchic club. The Saudi ambassador was the first to present his credentials to the Kuwaiti authorities, even preceding the British (Joyce 1998, 121). For the Saudis, a new monarchy was an asset and an ally, while for Iraq, it was an illegitimate "reactionary” regime that was fair game.

This adversarial perception of Kuwait was not mere an elite affair. That Kuwait "rightfully” belonged to Iraq was the "prevailing view on the streets of Baghdad and elsewhere within Iraq” (Schofield 2001, 228). This irredentist vision was deeply ingrained in society at least since the monarchical period and had even been formally taught in schoolbooks all over the country since Iraqi independence in 1932 (Finnie 1992, 126). Still. Iraq's regime raised the level of hostility toward Kuwait only once they encountered one another as different types of states.

Divisive ideology played a major role in the deepening rift. By framing the conflict in pan-Arabist terms (of “Arab unity”), Qasim and (later) Saddam delegitimized the norm of territorial integrity, the Kuwaiti political elite, and even the overall existence of Kuwait. This process was facilitated by the different political systems: Iraq's was revolutionary republican and thus intrinsically opposed to traditionalist monarchic rule. Had Iraq been a monarchy, the lack of ideological rigor would probably have precluded a war between the two countries.

This interpretation is supported by the exception of Ghazi’s reign. Although also a proponent of pan-Arab unity and incorporation of Kuwait, Ghazi's ideology was restricted to his convictions and was not shared by other regime members. Consequently, the impact of his ideological inklings remained limited, and he could successfully be deterred from acting on his convictions without major costs.

In contrast, the strict ideological line of the Iraqi Ba'thists (especially after the 1968 coup) entrapped them in a conflict that they were unable to de-escalate. The longue-durée view therefore shows that Iraqi belligerence toward Kuwait is an effect of the republican system under different Iraqi regimes that cannot be reduced to a "Saddam effect”, as suggested by psychological explanations of his idiosyncratic psyche and his behavioral patterns.

The recognition as a viable, autonomous, and "real” state is a precondition of the development of an ingroup identification. Because Iraq's republican leaders rejected the legitimacy of Kuwait as a state, they were unencumbered by any sense of moral wrongdoing.

This sentiment when facing "illegitimate states” is prevalent in many cases of bilateral relations between Middle Eastern states, many of which have artificial borders and developed state institutions only under (generally) British control or protection. Some extent of condescension by older states with a history of independence toward younger, "more-artificial” states can be found even between monarchies. Similar sentiments were prevalent among the Saudi rulers, although they allied with Kuwait: as Joyce notes of Saudi perception toward newly independent Kuwait, "the only acceptable alternative to independence for the smaller states of the Arabian peninsula was inclusion in Saudi Arabia” (Joyce 1998, 104). Even during the Hashemite period in Iraq, British authorities recommended caution in dealing with Iraq to the Kuwaitis, because there were “numerous issues which led to friction, including boundaries, water and ownership of date gardens” (cited in: Joyce 94). These frictions persisted throughout the whole period of Iraqi independence, as a quote in 1959 by political agent Halford illustrates:

So long as Iraq was a backward province of the Ottoman Empire or even the unsteady nursling of the British mandate, the question of her relations with Kuwait remained academic. Since the attainment of independence in 1930, however, every Iraqi Government has had its eye on Kuwait and no Iraqi Government has ever made the suicidal political mistake of committing itself to formal recognition of Kuwait’s independent status.

(quoted in: Joyce 101)

Nevertheless, both monarchical Saudi Arabia and monarchical Iraq refrained from acting on their sentiments of superiority toward Kuwait. Republican Iraq did not.

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